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    Program pays to relocate mobile homes


    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- It has become a familiar story in Florida: An old mobile home park is sold to make way for new development. Evicted residents face the expensive prospect of relocating.

    Thursday, the Florida Legislature stepped in to help, creating a new state program that will pay up to $10,000 in relocation costs for mobile home residents displaced by new development.

    The money will come largely from state taxpayers. Lawmakers put $500,000 in general tax dollars into the new "Florida Mobile Home Relocation Trust Fund." Mobile home park owners will contribute as well, generally paying $2,000 to $2,500 for each mobile home displaced.

    It is the most significant reform in 15 years to the laws that balance the rights of mobile home park owners with the rights of residents. And it comes seven years after a court ruling that essentially overturned a requirement that mobile home park owners pay to relocate residents.

    The change created havoc in a state dotted with some 1.2-million mobile homes, most of them in rental communities that can be uprooted if park owners decide to use the land for other purposes.

    "We finally have found a way to lessen the pain and suffering of these people," said Don Hazelton of Largo, who is a director-at-large of the Federation of Manufactured Home Owners of Florida.

    His group, and the Florida Manufactured Housing Association, representing park owners, negotiated for months on reforms to the landlord-tenant laws for mobile homes, leading to the legislation approved Thursday.

    "It is an almost unheard of marriage of the two warring groups," said Senate Majority Leader Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who has over the years aligned himself with mobile park owners while Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, has represented the interests of park residents.

    "When the Wal-Marts of the world come along and want to redevelop the land where that park is located, we have in this bill the mechanism to get assistance from the state," Latvala told his colleagues in the Senate on Thursday.

    In Tampa Bay, several mobile home parks or campsites have been taken over for redevelopment in recent years.

    For example, Lake Seminole Campsite in Pinellas County closed in 1998 to make room for a Home Depot. The company gave an undisclosed sum of money to the campsites' mobile home residents.

    And in Tampa, residents of Sunnydale Mobile Home Park were told they had to move after the owners sold the land to a developer of apartment complexes. At the time of the sale early last year, about 200 people, nearly all of them elderly or disabled, lived in the park.

    The mobile home relocation bill apparently would not help people who are displaced from recreational vehicle parks. The bill addresses only mobile homes, and existing state law distinguishes those from anything "originally sold as a recreational vehicle."

    Yet people who live in recreational vehicles say that the name can be deceiving and that many RVs end up with permanently enclosed porches, decks and landscaping. Residents of the Cypress Pointe RV Resort on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor recently learned that the park's owner is considering selling to a developer who wants to put up a Target store.

    Bob Kozlowski, president of the Cypress Pointe Association, said he got an estimate of $3,800 to move his unit.

    "You can see these aren't travel trailers," he said last week. "They're homes."

    Latvala sponsored the relocation legislation in the Senate and Rep. Bruce Kyle, R-Fort Myers, sponsored the bill in the House. The Senate unanimously approved the legislation Friday, sending it to Gov. Jeb Bush for approval. A separate bill by Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, which specifically creates the new trust fund, also was approved Friday and sent to the governor.

    His legislation creates the Florida Mobile Home Relocation Corp., which will distribute money to mobile home owners forced to move because of a change in land use.

    The mobile home owner will be entitled to whichever is less: the actual cost of moving expenses to relocate within a 50-mile radius of the vacated park, or $5,000 for a single mobile home or $10,000 for a doublewide home.

    The mobile home owner is not entitled to moving expenses if the park owner moves the home to another space in the mobile home park, or to another park; if the homeowner abandons the home; or if the homeowner already gave notice that he or she was vacating the premises before the notice of the change in land use was given. Now, tenants must be given a minimum of one year's notice of eviction because of a change in land use. The new legislation shortens that notice time to six months, a compromise worked out between the groups involved.

    To get money from the state, the mobile home owner has to provide a copy of the notice of eviction to the Florida Mobile Home Relocation Corp., as well as the contract with a moving or towing contractor.

    Park owners will have to pay the state $2,000 for every single mobile home and $2,500 for every doublewide home that is displaced, and for which the home owner has applied for moving expenses.

    Lawmakers originally envisioned building up the relocation trust fund by adding a $2 per year surcharge to the annual tag fee paid by mobile home owners, as well as an additional surcharges on fees paid by mobile home park owners. Both groups had agreed to the charges, but Latvala said the state House rejected the idea.

    House Majority Leader Mike Fasano said Thursday that the House felt the additional surcharges would not be affordable for senior citizens in mobile home parks. Instead, the House preferred using $500,000 from a state budget of about $50-billion to help pay relocation costs for evicted residents.

    - Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.

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