Officials: Licensing for manufactured homes, trailers aimed at maintaining standards

Dover councilman Fred Neil stands in his front yard in north Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Dover councilman Fred Neil stands in his front yard in north Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — All that it took was a single issue to pop up last fall for the city of Dover’s Department of Planning and Inspections to set a long line of dominoes falling down when it comes to manufactured homes and trailers in Dover.

“It started last fall when we issued a permit to allow a manufactured home on a regular single-family lot,” said Ann Marie Townshend, director of Planning and Community Development. “It got some people upset so we fixed the definition of single-family dwellings so that couldn’t happen again.

“Then we realized how [out]dated the provisions regarding manufactured homes were. They pre-date all of the current terminology and we felt that it needed to be updated.”

So City Planner Eddie Diaz went to work researching manufactured homes, mobile homes and leased-land communities and, about a half a year later, completed writing updated terminology for the Dover Code regarding those types of dwellings.

It is known as Ordinance #2026-16, a 20-page document that members of city council passed unanimously at their Aug. 8 meeting.

The ordinance updates the standards and terminology throughout the Dover Code as they relate to manufactured homes. The ordinance also implements standards for management and maintenance of land lease communities.

Mrs. Townshend said the ordinance was the culmination of a process that started in Nov. 2015 to update all of the provisions within the Dover Code that address manufactured housing and mobile homes, because the standards for that type of housing had changed significantly over time.

Councilman Fred Neil, who lives in Wild Meadows, an active adult manufactured home community located off Persimmon Tree Lane behind Dover International Speedway, said he believes the now-required annual licensing of manufactured and mobile homes will improve things for residents.

The owner of any land leased out as part of a land-lease community also has to obtain an annual land-lease community-operator license under the new code.

“What the update does, in essence, is provide a historic first in the state of Delaware,” Mr. Neil said. “It’s a licensing law, and while it’s only $25 per home on a lot, the fact is if [the community owners] don’t do what they have to do you can lift their license and put them out of business.

“The first and the most important thing for those of us who live in leased-land housing within the city limits is health and safety. That was the driving force for this change in the law because there was no oversight and no way to make [community owners] do it.”

Mr. Paul McDonald, the president of the Wild Meadows Homeowners Association, attended the Aug. 8 council meeting, said he was “a fighter against what they consider outrageous rent increases and imposition of fees for things that should be part of their rent.”

Mr. McDonald told council that he believes “the ordinance would go a long way to improving [a bad] situation.”

Under the updated code, owners and operators of land-lease community owners now have to: maintain all private streets, fix potholes, remove snow piles and debris; maintain landscaping; coordinate with the city regarding utility services and equipment; be present on site during regular business hours to facilitate communication and provide a receipt for lot payment to the homeowners.

Any land lease operator found in violation, regardless of corrective actions that may be taken, will be assessed a fine.

The complete update to the Dover Code regarding manufactured homes and mobile homes is broad. It even addresses the occupancy of recreational vehicles.

The entire Ordinance #2016-16 can be found at www.cityofdover.com. It is listed under the Government tab and then under Ordinances, Resolutions and Tributes.

Mr. Neil said the city took a bold step by establishing the ordinance and that he hopes the state will eventually do the same.

“This is the first step with a licensing law and oversight, with health and safety being the primary issues,” he said.

Mr. Neal said the new Dover ordinance adds a much-needed level of protection to the consumer.

“[Land-lease communities are] a non-free enterprise business which means that if you don’t like the way they’re doing business there’s a cost of walking away,” he said. “That’s not true with your dentist, your doctor, your lawyer, your restaurant, your supermarket, your department store or anything else that’s free enterprise. If you can’t keep your customer happy then they’re going elsewhere.

“When you are in a lease-land community, basically there is a very heavy cost to get out of doing business with them in addition to the fact, where are you going to go to live? So they basically have an extreme advantage over you.”

To the owners of manufactured homes and trailers in Dover, it appears as if the playing field has been leveled.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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