Apple Tree Park’s flooding, lease problems could be eased with state legislation

Janelle Vega looks at the water from the tap at her home in Apple Tree Park.
Chelsea Self/Post Independence

Residents of Colorado’s mobile home parks are relying on new and pending state legislation to help them work with park owners on a variety of issues and secure one of the last bastions of affordable housing.

Colorado’s Mobile Home Park Oversight Program It could also be an avenue for residents of Apple Tree Park near New Castle to deal with the new owners there over recent revelations of water quality issues and other issues.

Several pieces of legislation approved in recent years and one under consideration this year aim to amend the state’s Mobile Home Parks Act (MHPA) to provide greater protections for rental tenants in mobile home parks.

Recent changes include more tips for tenants when parks sell and more time to rectify rent arrears, or make room when they are evicted.

A new bill, HB22-1287, passed in committee last week, seeks to amend the MHPA to bar landlords from raising rents for mobile homes by more than 3 percent a year.

It will also give park owners more responsibility to address any park improvements deemed necessary for the health, safety and welfare of residents.

Many mobile home park residents own the home itself but lease the land it sits on from the park owner.

This can become a dilemma whenever a park is sold for redevelopment, or if the owner substantially increases the lease rate to the point where it is no longer affordable.

Homes built before 1976 cannot be legally relocated under federal HUD standards.

Apple Tree Park, a 294-space mobile home park on the south side of the Colorado River in New Castle, changed hands in 2020 and is now owned by Investment Property Groups (IPG), which owns multiple mobile home park properties in multiple states .

After the water quality issue was brought to the attention of the Garfield County Commissioner last week, several park residents told The Independent that water was not their only concern.

Resident Janelle Vega has started collecting petition signatures from neighbors asking state regulators to inspect the park for potential violations.

She said the new park owners have asked her and other owners to remove storage structures and other additions allowed by the previous owners and make various improvements to their properties.

It may be necessary for safety reasons and park aesthetics, she and other residents said.

But if tenants are required to do those things, owners should also make some general park improvements that have been delayed for too long, Vega said.

Janelle Vega talks about various complaints with the new owner of the Apple Tree trailer family community.
Chelsea Self/Post Independence

Elms are allowed to breed throughout the park, and residents are not allowed to remove trees that affect fence lines, she said.

“We’ve remodeled everything since we came here,” said Vega, who has lived in Apple Tree for 17 years with her husband and two children. “We don’t have any issues or issues until we get approval for something that needs to be improved.”

Meanwhile, she said their rents rose 17.5 percent in early April, from $455 to $535 a month. The space under some of the recently sold units is now double or more than the rent, she said.

“A lot of us here are grandfathers, so rents are still relatively manageable,” she said. “But they also seem to be trying to push some of the long-term residents out, and it’s getting out of hand very quickly.”

The water situation is one of the most obvious problems, she said. Because of the high iron levels in the water — which park rangers have acknowledged and state regulators say it’s not a health safety issue — Vega says her family drinks bottled water and she takes all her white clothes to the laundromat to wash them .

Janelle Vega watches the water in the toilets of her apple tree home turn black.
Chelsea Self/Post Independence

The increased costs don’t stop there, she and other residents said. They also had to replace appliances such as water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines and fixtures more frequently because of water quality.

Last week, county commissioners ordered state water inspections after hearing concerns from Apple Tree residents and asked park owners to consider having the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment implement a water system upgrade plan.

One of Vega’s neighbors, Rachel Price, said she loves landscaping around the park. But it goes both ways, she said.

“Honestly, if everyone held the same standards, I’d be okay with that,” she said. “My house isn’t rubbish compared to some other houses, but my shed is going to be demolished?”

The Apple Tree Community is located on County Road 335 west of New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independence

A provision in HB22-1287 requires landlords or representatives to participate in up to two public meetings with residents per year to discuss any general mobile home park issues.

Additionally, it will:

  • Make it clear that the landlord is responsible for the cost of repairing any damage to the mobile home or lot caused by the landlord’s failure to maintain the park grounds;
  • Trigger events that clearly indicate the park owner’s intent to sell the park so that homeowners are notified and the method by which they are given;
  • Changed the period for making an offer to buy a park from a group or association of mobile home owners from 90 days to 180 days;
  • Provides the right of first refusal to public entities that accept buying opportunities from groups or associations of mobile home owners.

These are just some of the regulations.

Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, who represents the 57th District, said he could agree to some parts of the bill, but ultimately it came down to his private property rights.

“I’ve heard from some (park owners) in the area that if it passes, they can’t do it,” he said mostly of the cap on rent increases.

“I understand the residents’ point that a mobile home park is a great affordable housing option and our community needs it,” Will said.

But he said any legislation aimed at protecting mobile home parks would have to work for both owners and residents.

He agrees that the water problem in the apple tree not far from Will’s house does need to be addressed.

“That’s a problem,” Will said. “If they charge these people ground rent, that needs to be corrected, they have to have clean drinking water.”

Senior Correspondent/Editor-in-Chief John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

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