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    Law helps mobile home owners

    Displaced residents will receive up to $10,000 from a trust fund under a bill Gov. Bush has signed.


    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 14, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- Mobile home owners who live in parks that are gobbled up by new development can now get as much as $10,000 to help them relocate, under a bill Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law Wednesday.

    It's the first significant reform in 15 years to the laws that balance the rights of mobile home park owners with the rights of residents.

    Florida's 1.2-million mobile home owners have long complained that they are unfairly booted out of parks when the owner decides to sell out to a strip mall or chain store.

    Beginning July 1, they'll get help from both state taxpayers and mobile home park owners. This spring, state lawmakers created the new "Florida Mobile Home Relocation Trust Fund," funded by $500,000 from general tax dollars. In addition, mobile home park owners will pay $2,000 to $2,500 for each mobile home displaced.

    "It's dramatically going to help some people who were getting absolutely nothing before," said Don Hazelton of Largo, who is director-at-large for the Federation of Manufactured Home Owners of Florida.

    The new law won't help people who are evicted from recreational vehicle parks when the owners decide to develop. The law addresses only mobile homes, and existing state law distinguishes those from anything "originally sold as a recreational vehicle" -- even if the RV is parked in place and the owners have added porches, landscaping and carports.

    Mobile home owners 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 and $10,000 for a doublewide home.

    The mobile home owner won't be compensated if the park owner pays to move the mobile home owner to another park or to another space in the same park.

    Mobile home owners have to provide the state with a copy of their eviction notice and a copy of their contract with a moving or towing contractor.

    The relief for mobile home owners was sponsored jointly by state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Palm Harbor, and Rep. Bruce Kyle, a Fort Myers Republican.

    "I think it's the most significant new law to protect the rights of mobile home owners in 15 or 16 years," Latvala said. "It's a very happy day for mobile home owners."

    Originally, lawmakers proposed paying for the relocation fund by putting a $2-per-year surcharge on the annual tag fee for mobile homes, instead of having to fight for new money from the state's general tax fund every year. Park owners would also have contributed $1 for each mobile home. That would have raised an estimated $2 million, and supporters believed that the surcharge was a more stable way to fund relocations.

    But, in the end, the House and Senate couldn't agree, and decided to appropriate the $500,000 out of general revenue dollars.

    "This is a step for us," said William Hannaford, who represents the Tampa Bay area for the Federation of Manufactured Home Owners of Florida. "We didn't get as much out of the Legislature as we originally planned."

    Mobile home owners vow to go back to the Legislature next year to search for a more stable source of funding.

    Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday he plans to hold a ceremonial bill signing of the new mobile home law soon, probably in Pinellas County.

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

    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 last year, residents of Sunnydale Mobile Home Park -- about 200 of them, many elderly or disabled -- were told they had to move after the owners sold the land to an apartment complex developer.

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