Commentary: Manufactured home owners have their rights

By Madinah Wilson-Anton

When I was a legislative aide, I remember receiving phone calls one morning because members of the community had gotten notice that their water would be cut off, even though they had paid their bills. It turned out hundreds of families had gotten this notice — because the landowner of Glasgow Court hadn’t paid the water bill. The residents of Glasgow Court own their homes, but they live on leased land. Like thousands of other Delawareans, that can leave them completely at the whims of absentee or abusive landlords.

This has been a constant struggle for the residents of Glasgow Court. There was the water bill payment. There was the time the landlord’s husband moved a portion of the homes in the neighborhood, breaking several in the process and causing many to go without heat in the winter. Now, they are faced with the possibility that the land their homes sit on will be sold out from under them.

There are some legislative protections that could help. In 2008, a bill was passed giving residents right of first offer when their community is sold. Residents now have a chance to raise the money to match the initial purchase and buy the community themselves. In 2013, the legislature passed a rent justification bill that limited unreasonable rent increases and implemented an arbitration process for these increases. These are necessary protections that many states do not have.

But these protections only offer so much. Often, the legal rights afforded to manufactured housing residents are complicated and hard to navigate. There is also the fear of retaliation. Even given the protections in place, most residents are working-class people with limited time and access to legal help. Most of these rights are only available to communities with homeowners’ associations, and of 183 communities in Delaware only 42 have an HOA.

To overcome these obstacles, we need the active participation of residents, activists, candidates and politicians for all homeowners living on leased land to fully realize the rights they deserve.

That’s why I’m thankful for organizations like the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners’ Association (DMHOA) who are doing amazing advocacy work every day. DMHOA’s mission is “to educate and inform our members, our public servants, and the general public, and to work for legislative and legal remedies to protect and strengthen the rights of everyone who lives in manufactured housing on leased land in Delaware.”

It’s a completely volunteer-led effort and their work benefits thousands of Delawareans across the state. Their “Know Your Rights” training sessions are an inspiring example of community members helping community members.

I had the pleasure of attending one of these sessions. My husband and I drove down to Millsboro to sit in on the training a few weeks back so we could learn how we could become better advocates for our neighbors. The session was not only incredibly informative but empowering. DMHOA’s members are well-informed, confident and truly committed to building power within the communities they serve up and down the state.

We’re excited to be co-hosting a similar “Know Your Rights” session on Saturday, Feb. 15, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Tarbiyah School in Newark. If you live on leased land, please join us to learn more about your rights and how you can begin to organize your community. This event is free and Spanish-language interpretation will be available. For questions please call (302) 533-8357 or email info@madinahfordelaware.com.

While I was working in the legislature, I witnessed the utter disregard some landowners have for the families who live in their communities. I was appalled and frustrated. I hope through collaborating with groups like DMHOA we can work to address injustices in our communities before they happen.

An organized community is unstoppable. As Cesar Chavez said, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

Madinah Wilson-Anton is a resident of Newark.