Thefirst meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government was held on Wednesday, June 23, 2004, at 9:00 AM, in Room 149 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Alice Kerr, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Alice Kerr, Co-Chair; Representative Steve Riggs, Co-Chair; Senators Ernie Harris, Elizabeth Tori, and Johnny Ray Turner; Representatives John Adams, Adrian Arnold, James Comer, Ron Crimm, Mike Denham, Ted "Teddy" Edmonds, Derrick Graham, Jimmy Higdon, Charlie Hoffman, Stan Lee, Reginald Meeks, Marie Rader, Arnold Simpson, Roger Thomas, Ken Upchurch, and Jim Wayne.
Guests: Richard Seckel, Kentucky Legal Services Programs; Paul Eiden, resident, Pioneer Village Mobile Home Park, Louisville; Marlene Gordon, Coalition for the Homelesss; Cathy Murphy, AARP; Garnett Thurman, Public Service Commission; Stuart Pope, Louisville Legal Aid Society; Al Teper, Bardstown; Thad Vann, Nathan Smith, and Kreil Moran, Kentucky Manufactured Housing Institute; Bert May, Phil Huddleston, and Jerry Deaton, Kentucky League of Cities; and Owen Humphress, Simpsonville.
LRC Staff: Jamie Franklin, Donna Gaines, Mark Mitchell, Joe Pinczewski-Lee, Tiffanie Gray, Karen Crabtree, and Cheryl Walters.
Senator Kerr welcomed everyone to the meeting. She next asked for a moment of silence to remember Senator Paul Herron who had recently passed away. Senator Kerr then turned the meeting over to Representative Riggs.
Representative Riggs first referred members to an article that was included in their folders relating to fire districts. He stated that the article discusses a recent Kentucky Supreme Court ruling regarding the application of HB 44, which allows residents to challenge tax increases to fire districts. Representative Riggs noted that the Court found that HB 44 does not apply to fire districts. He said this could have some effects that the committee may want to discuss at a later date.
Representative Riggs stated that the purpose of this meeting was to discuss mobile home owner eviction issues. He introduced Mr. Richard Seckel, Director of the Office of Kentucky Legal Services Programs. Mr. Seckel told the committee that Kentucky is one of 14 states that has enacted no law governing the unique "landlord-tenant" relationship between mobile home park owners and people who own their mobile homes but rent lots. He noted that approximately 240,000 housing units in Kentucky are mobile or manufactured homes, which is about double the national average. Mr. Seckel stated that mobile and manufactured home owners disproportionately are elderly. He said 36 percent of the owners are 60 plus years old and 29 percent are retired.
Mr. Seckel explained that despite the term "mobile," moving a mobile or manufactured home can be both costly and damaging, especially to older structures. Under current Kentucky law, he said mobile and manufactured home owners can be evicted from the lots they rent simply with notice, for no reason.
Mr. Seckel stated that the worst variation of the eviction scenario occurs when the home owner is unable to move the home on short notice, leaves it behind, or feels forced to sell it at a "fire sale" price. He added that people faced eviction for complaining about an overflowing septic tank, requesting a handicapped parking space, or having "too many" children. Mr. Seckel said people are afraid to complain because they might get evicted.
Mr. Seckel told the committee that 04 HB 630, which came late in the session and was not considered, would provide protection for many of these individuals. He noted that a draft survey by the AARP shows that 33 states have enacted a "good cause" standard for eviction of a mobile or manufactured home owner from a rented lot.
Mr. Seckel then introduced Mr. Paul Eiden, a resident of Pioneer Village Mobile Home Park in Louisville to address the committee. Mr. Eiden told the committee that mobile home park owners are brow-beating the elderly, the poor, and single mothers. He said there is thievery and utility markup. Mr. Eiden stated the park owners jackup the utility rates. He noted that he had a 57% markup on his utility charges.
Mr. Eiden explained that the mobile home park owners are using the practice of "churning," which is buying old mobile homes and reselling them to poor people. He said the park owners, once they have sold the home to the residents, then harass them about code infractions until the mobile home owner walks away from the mobile home. The park owner then re-sells it and starts the process over again. Mr. Eiden also stated that to leave a mobile home on the lot when moving, the tenant has to get permission from the mobile home park owner to sell it, which essentially places the control of the sale of a mobile home in the hands of the park owner. He noted that some of the mobile homes are so old that if they were attempted to be moved, they would fall apart.
Regarding the utility markup, Representative Lee asked Mr. Eiden if he paid the bill or paid the mobile home park. Mr. Eiden replied that he pays the mobile home park. He added that he had found out that the utility company has a contract with the park owners to provide service. Representative Lee asked Mr. Eiden if he had directly contacted LG&E. Mr. Eiden said he had not. Representative Lee asked if the lease agreements were from month to month. Mr. Eiden replied yes. Representative Lee commented that it would be helpful to see some of the sale and lease agreements. He also suggested that someone from the Public Service Commission (PSC) should be invited to address the committee.
Senator Tori asked if these problems were only local or widespread. Mr. Seckel replied that they are learning as they go, but they have received stories from several parts of the state. Senator Tori also asked why no one has done anything. Mr. Eiden said people are scared.
Mr. Seckel lastly introduced Ms. Marlene Gordon, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless. Ms. Gordon told the committee that many of the mobile home owners that are evicted are elderly and poor, so their next stop is at the homeless shelters. She said they certainly do not want this because there are enough people in the shelters as it is without adding another population. Ms. Gordon then proceeded to read Catherine Cunningham's testimony, a resident of Colonial Estates Mobile Home Park in Louisville, who was supposed to appear before the committee but was unable to appear due to illness. Ms. Cunningham's letter said she had moved into the park with two contracts--one as a tenant with a contract for lot rent and a purchase contract for her mobile home. She said when she started to complain in writing to the management about repairs, she was told to just wait, her trailer needs would be taken care of. Ms. Cunningham noted raw sewage emptying right out of her bathroom under her trailer. She also complained about the ramp they had haphazardly put together after it caused her to fall out of her wheelchair causing injuries which require surgery. Since the management was not taking any action, she turned to her councilman to ask for help. Ms. Cunningham said she then tried to lead the charge with the other residents and found an amazing fear factor. Everyone was scared to death to make waves because they were afraid that the smallest thing would cause eviction. Ms. Cunningham said she had held an open community meeting and asked the other tenants to come and listen to their officials, Doug Hawkins and his aid, along with representatives from the Louisville Tenants' Association and the health department. She said 200 flyers were handed out to come to this meeting, but only a very few attended. When Ms. Cunningham asked the people why only 30 people were there, they all replied that they knew if the manager found out that they were at the meeting, they would get an eviction notice. Ms. Cunningham said within five days of that meeting, 11 people that had attended that meeting, including Ms. Cunningham, received eviction notices. But Ms. Cunningham said she was well-armed with help from the Louisville Tenants' Association and was able to send the management back a signed notice that they indeed had gotten unlawful eviction notices. The management still pressed on, and they went to court with all cases dismissed. Ms. Cunningham noted that since she started her crusade to clean up her trailer park and make the management do the repairs like they should be doing, in the seven months of her residency, she had been brought into court three times for eviction. She said not one of them valid in any way and all of them were a retaliatory action because she has called city agencies for help. She said HB 630 would have helped because management would have had to shown "good cause" for eviction.
Ms. Gordon stated that she can only speak to the committee of her experience working with people evicted from mobile home parks as the representative of individuals who are homeless. She told the story of a retired couple who was evicted from their mobile home. The unit, which was all they had left, could not be moved, so they lost their retirement investment and ended up in a homeless shelter. Ms. Gordon said this was an extremely sad story of proud people who had worked all of their lives, and thought they would have a small nest egg along with their social security for their retirement years. She stated that these kind folks never quite understood how this could happen to them because they did nothing to be evicted. They could not believe that there was no help to get their mobile home back or to have it moved.
Ms. Gordon explained that she has worked with homeless people and there is a lot of recourse under landlord-tenant law. But, she said these were owners of mobile homes, not renters, and they did not have any recourse. Ms. Gordon told the committee that she would appreciate them considering and looking at the issue of eviction from mobile home parks. She stated that it is an injustice that mobile home owners have no rights even though they own property.
Representative Meeks suggested that the PSC be contacted regarding the contracts between the utilities and the park owners. He also suggested that the Consumer Protection Division in the Attorney General's Office be contacted to see if any complaints had been filed and if so, their status.
Representative Upchurch asked if there had been any evictions due to non-payment of rent. Ms. Gordon replied no, that the evictions can be for anything. She added that the reasons for eviction can change from moment to moment and the owners never know.
Representative Adams commented that Jefferson County has a joint city/county planning commission that should have adopted minimum standards of housing. He asked if there has been any contact with the planning commission. Ms. Gordon replied that there has not been direct contact but that Metro Council Member Doug Hawkins has been in contact and says there are a lot of gaps in the planning and zoning laws.
Representative Hoffman commented that the majority of states without laws to protect home owners who rent lots seem to be southern states. He asked if there was a lobbying effort on behalf of the mobile home owners. Mr. Seckel replied yes.
Representative Riggs asked if this was a statewide problem. He recognized Ms. Cathy Murphy with the AARP. Ms. Murphy stated that the AARP believes it is a statewide problem which they are investigating. Representative Riggs asked if someone can still get help even if they do not belong to the AARP. Ms. Murphy stated that the AARP still gets calls from people who are not members. She said the AARP does not care if they are a member or not, that the AARP will help them. Representative Riggs asked Ms. Murphy if the AARP has contacted the Attorney General's Office. Ms. Murphy replied that they have met with the Attorney General's Office. Mr. Eiden added that his group is waiting to meet with the Attorney General's Office and they have filed a complaint on the utility fraud issue.
Representative Crimm stated that he was appalled and could not believe that Jefferson County lets this kind of behavior go on. He said he would like to see a special committee set up to study this issue. Representative Crimm added that he would also like LRC to look at the entire problem of housing. Representative Riggs stated that a subcommittee of this committee could be formed to study the issue.
Representative Wayne explained that 04 HB 630 was filed late in the session. He said the bill is not unreasonable and only extends the same rights to mobile home owners as renters enjoy. Representative Wayne asked if was true that there was a letter from the Kentucky Manufactured Housing Institute opposing HB 630. Mr. Seckel answered that the letter stated that current law was good enough. He said they did not think it is. Representative Wayne asked if Thad Vann, Executive Director of the Kentucky Manufactured Housing Institute, would like to speak on this issue. Mr. Vann told the committee that he was not prepared to speak at this time, but would like to address the committee at a later date.
Representative Comer asked how many days renters have to get out once they get the eviction notice. Mr. Stuart Pope, an attorney with the Louisville Legal Aid Society, stated that the leases are month to month and 30 days is the standard notice.
Mr. Garnett Thurman with the PSC, told the committee that current statutes allow for a "master meter" that is set up to measure all consumption in a mobile home park. He noted that a contract for a mobile home park would be directly with the utility, not the PSC. Mr. Thurman stated that the PSC has no control over the park owner and if the owner is charging more than the actual bill, that would be an issue for the Attorney General's Office, not the PSC.
Senator Kerr suggested that a letter be sent to LG&E asking them if they are aware of these problems.
Representative Riggs announced that the next meeting of the committee would be July 15, in conjunction with the joint summer convention of the Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association and the Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association, in Owensboro.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 10:25 a.m.