Dubuque County mobile home park residents fighting 'predatory practices'

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - Residents of a mobile home park are standing up to what they call predatory practices. It's something that's happened at mobile home parks across the state in just the past couple of years.

The Table Mound Mobile Home Park in Dubuque County on October 14, 2019. (Charlie Grant, KCRG)

Two years ago, a national company known as Impact Communities - and formerly known as RV Horizons - bought the Table Mound Mobile Home Park in Dubuque County. Since then, residents said their rent has increased and other fees have been introduced.

Karla and Frank Shepherd have lived in Table Mound for 10 years. They moved to the park for a place to retire, and a trailer was appealing to the couple because Frank is disabled. Before Impact Communities bought the Table Mound, Karla says their monthly lot rent was $270. Since Impact bought the park, the Shepherds' rent went up to $420.

"First they started raising the rent and then they started with the water, putting water meters in," Karla said.

Residents said water costs were included in their rents with the previous owner, and now they have to pay.

Residents are worried rents will continue to increase, pushing out seniors, veterans, and other people who are living on fixed incomes. So renters have come together to create a tenants' association to fight the increases. Elected officials have joined the fight, including Dubuque City Councilman Brett Shaw, Dubuque County Supervisors Dave Baker and Ann McDonough, and State Representative Lindsay James.

"We know that when people come together the power of their voice is much stronger and so the hope is this association will be able to push back against the predatory practices of this particular company," James said.

James has met with residents. She said many have already sold their homes or have been evicted due to rent increases. The people who do remain are in an impossible situation, according to James.

"When other people are looking to purchase a mobile home, if the lot rent is too high, then they’re not going to purchase in that area," James said. "That puts that resident in a really impossible position."

James has learned that these mobile homes aren't so easy to move.

"Their mobile home is actually not very mobile," James said. "Often if it sits on a lot for a number of years it’s too old or it’s too expensive to actually get up and move the home to another location.”

In addition to helping the residents organize, she also plans to fight for laws that will protect mobile home renters' rights.

"We need to take a look first at the right of first refusal," James said. "That is essentially giving the homeowner an option to purchase their land.”

"Rent stabilization is a controversial conversation but I think an important one when we’re talking about affordable housing. And that’s essentially what would it look like for us to cap a rental rate," James added.

Supervisor Baker said he doesn't like to see county residents being "bullied" by a large corporation. He hopes he and other elected officials will help residents bring awareness to this issue.

"If this was a major employer with 400 and some people and they were closing or let’s say cutting their wages in half, there would be rapid response teams and people would be up in arms," Baker said.

The Board of Supervisors hosted a work session on Monday to discuss this issue and get an update from James and other county officials. While the rent hikes are one concern, residents of one portion of the mobile home park are also concerned about water quality. The renters said the water is discolored and has a funny smell, although the Dubuque County Health Department Executive Director Patrice Lambert told the Supervisors the park is compliant with all water tests.

Karla said maybe the water source isn't the issue, but the infrastructure in the park.

"The pipes from the other owner, he used to flush them," Karla said. "Okay [the new owners] do not do that. So the pipes are the problem.”

Karla and the other mobile home park residents hope their efforts will lead to change.

"We do love it here and we love our neighbors and no, we do not want to move," Karla said. "That’s why we’re trying to fight back."