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Incentives for tenant-owned mobile home parks head to gov's desk

A proposal to help mobile home residents avoid being priced out of their homes due to new trailer park ownership is headed for the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 269, sponsored by Sen. Brian Hoven, R-Great Falls, cleared the House with bipartisan support earlier this week.

Rep. David Fern, a Whitefish Democrat who carried the measure in the House, argued that it could help preserve affordable housing, which has experienced a deepening shortage in the state in recent years.

It was significantly scaled down from the original proposal, which would have required that owners of mobile home parks give residents a 90-day notice to allow them to band together and purchase it instead. The current version offers mobile home owners an enhanced, one-time break on their capital gains taxes if they choose to sell to a resident association.

Noting that his community is “in great need of workplace housing,” Fern argued that large firms have a history of buying up trailer parks and then jacking up rent prices on captive tenants. Despite the moniker, mobile homes are notoriously expensive to relocate elsewhere.

“It has become very convenient to sell these to the highest bidder, without the consideration of the input of the tenants,” Fern said. “So it means a lot to me if we can preserve a few of these.”

He said there are just 14 tenant-owned trailer parks elsewhere in the state.

During a lengthy floor debate, several Republicans also supported the idea, including Great Falls Rep. Jeremy Trebas, who noted that residents on a park in his district have recently been getting priced out by a new landlord.

“It had been kind of nice and steady and routine, and now it’s gone to a group that’s raising land rent pretty quickly,” Trebas said, while arguing that the earlier language in the bill had gone too far. “This is a nice soft touch to let the owners of the park to form a co-op, like has been done elsewhere.”

Other Republicans, however, argued that the bill still does too much to meddle in the private sphere. Rep. Derek Skees, a Kalispell construction consultant, suggested groups that help organize mobile home tenants for that purpose could begin aggressively pressuring park owners to organize their tenants.

“This is a reaction to that, to put the foot on the scale by trying to have the owners of these trailer parks associate, build up these organizations and then the Department (of Commerce) itself is letting them know the individuals that are in control,” Skees said.

Rep. Barry Usher, a Billings Republican who ultimately voted in support of the measure, attempted to table the bill to give the House another day to mull it over, but that motion failed on a 45-53 vote.

The House ultimately passed the bill 76-22 after passing the Senate last month on a 46-4 vote.

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