A new law goes into effect Wednesday that proponents say will curb investor activity in Maine’s manufactured housing market, which is on the rise.
LD 1931 will require the owners of manufactured housing communities — sometimes known as mobile home parks — to give residents notice if the land under their homes is going to be put up for sale. Though many people own their manufactured homes, they don’t own the lots under them and pay a monthly fee to rent those from a landowner.
About 10 percent of Maine’s population lives in a manufactured home, according to U.S. census data.
Landowners now have to give residents 60 days from the time of notice to make a purchase offer. They’ll also have to notify MaineHousing, the state’s housing authority, of their intent to sell. If 51 percent of residents decide to form a resident-owned community and take on collective ownership of the land, they’ll have a further 90 days to come up with financing.
Rep. Traci Gere, D-Kennebunkport, introduced the bill in May because she said out-of-staters are eyeing Maine’s manufactured housing market for investment, and tend to price people out of their affordable homes after a purchase.
“You have mobile home park owners who are approaching retirement, looking to sell, and investors are looking at opportunities like this and might purchase; they often do then raise the [lot] rent,” said Gere, who co-chairs the state’s joint select housing committee.
That fear is founded, as recent data from CoreLogic found that 1 in 5 single-family homes in Maine has been snapped up by investors.
“We constantly get phone calls from realty groups saying, ‘We’re buying up manufactured home communities and we’re wondering if you wanted to sell,’ which of course we’re not,” said Carol Hodgkins, who runs the resident-owned community that manages Wardtown, a manufactured home community in Freeport.
Since buying the property in 2015, Hodgkins said that the resident-owned community has only raised lot rents by $30. Hodgkins has heard of other locations where the owner, whether a single investor or a corporation, has increased lot rents anywhere from $50 to $100 a year.
Manufactured homeowners are a captive market for investors, said Pat Schwebler, who runs the Cooperative Development Institute, a non-profit that has already helped form and finance 10 resident-owned communities around Maine, including Wardtown.
“The people we serve in general definitely fall under the [area median income] of 80 percent. And they genuinely don’t have money to go out and buy a piece of land and place their home there,” Schwebler said.
Even if one can find an affordable piece of land in today’s market, most manufactured homes are unable to physically move elsewhere, Schwebler said. If you do manage to get the home on a flatbed, it can cost $5,000 to $10,000 to move.
Buying a new manufactured home isn’t easy, either. Typical homes in Androscoggin, Aroostook, Cumberland, Kennebec, Penobscot and York counties all saw significant price increases from 2019 to 2022, and are now costing $100,000 or more.
Though Gere said there was broad support for LD 1931 this summer, Rep. Dick Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, the president of Maine’s manufactured home association, said he remains opposed to it. He pointed out that the law passed without Gov. Mills’ signature, too.
“This law puts a freeze on any contract that a community’s seller might have with a potential buyer until the residents organize and see if they want to make an offer. So there’s a potential for community owners to lose the sale,” Bradstreet said.
Though he appreciates that LD 1931 requires a majority of residents to sign on in order to take on collective ownership of their land, Bradstreet said it might force people to be involved in property management when they don’t want to be.
“If people are going to want to run their own community, they’re going to have a lot more headaches than they anticipate. A lot of people won’t move there because they want to live life quietly,” Bradstreet said.
Not everyone has to be a member of the association that owns their community, Hodgkins said, though those people are subject to a slightly higher lot fee than members in Wardtown. Only two of Wardtown’s 58 homes opted for that, but all benefit from collective ownership, Hodgkins said.
“When we moved in here, we knew one person that lived on the corner and another person that lived across the street from us, but we didn’t know anybody else in this community. When we became resident-owned, it seemed like the community itself opened up and blossomed into what I remember as a kid living in a neighborhood. I have a second family here,” Hodgkins said.