Two bills relating to manufactured housing are moving through the Legislature – one that cleans up wording in existing code and the other creating a new fund paying attorney's fees for homeowners.
House Bill 45 is the result of a task force on manufactured housing created a year ago through a House resolution sponsored by Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown.
The task force, made up of homeowners and community owners, took six months to organize about 75 pages of Delaware code pertaining to manufactured housing. “The task force rewrote code to make it more readable for residents,” Briggs King said.
The bill received unanimous support March 5 in the House, and now awaits action in the Senate’s election, government and community affairs committee.
A second bill, House Bill 46, was voted out of House committee March 6, and awaits action by the full House. The bill would create a fund for homeowners who pursue legal action against a community owner to help pay attorney fees. The attorney's fee fund would come from a monthly 50-cent fee on each home in a community governed by the Manufactured Home Owners and Community Owners Act, according to the bill.
Briggs King said she added an amendment to the bill to prevent people from bringing frivolous charges against a community owner, and allowing the community owner to recoup attorney's fees from the fund if they prevail in court.
Briggs King said there are already mechanisms in effect to protect manufactured home owners. She said more discussion is needed on the proposed attorney's fee bill.
The Consumer Protection Agency, which operates under the Delaware Department of Justice, protects homeowners in cases of fraud, negligence and other complaints, while an ombudsman for manufactured housing was created through legislation and $500,000 in state funds, she said.
“When looking at this bill with taxpayers’ money, I have a lot of questions,” Briggs King said about the latest bill.
Legal Aid, a resource for low-income residents, has also helped manufactured housing owners in the past, she said, and the bill does not address second or vacation homes owned by higher-income people with the means to retain their own legal representation.
Briggs King said many task force members who worked on clarifying state code have said they want to continue meeting to address manufactured housing issues, and she would like to see them come to a consensus on those issues before legislation is created.
According to Delaware Housing Authority data, in 2016 about 17 percent of Sussex County homes were manufactured housing.
Briggs King said many small, family-owned manufactured housing communities have sold their businesses as county and state laws create more rules and regulation.
“As we make it complicated, now they are selling to large corporations from out-of-state,” she said. “Many are saying they are tired of the fight. We have to look at it both ways, or the smaller guys will say they're done.”