Opinion: Standing up for the rights of mobile home owners

A recent survey by a consumer watchdog has found that more than 40 per cent of park homes residents have said that they feel unable to sell or buy their home freely due to a fear of site operators blocking sales. Consumer Focus Wales has discovered that almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of park home residents in Wales who were interviewed have experienced problems on their site in the past five years, while 29 per cent have experienced problems with site maintenance, security or safety standards.

Local councils have also told the consumer watchdog that penalties are not severe enough for rogue site operators, while it is almost impossible to revoke a licence. The high costs of potential court cases against rogue site operators means that local authorities are reluctant to take action which might affect vulnerable residents.

There are 92 Park Home sites in Wales with 3,423 people living on them. Park Home properties provide an attractive alternative to traditional housing options to many people. Being classified as ‘Mobile Homes’, however, they can also come with a host of problems for their owners and occupiers. The vast majority of park home owners are over 55, many of them are vulnerable. Despite that they do not have the same rights as those who live and own in other types of properties.

In the majority of cases sites are well run and within the law, however when they are not there is little recourse available for residents to settle matters amicably and inexpensively. The mechanisms for confronting illegal and unacceptable practices are expensive and unwieldy. Difficulties experienced by Park Home residents have included: unwarranted increases in pitch fees, issues around the resale of gas and electricity within the site, operators not carrying out necessary repairs or maintenance to site facilities, and, on rare occasions, site operators threatening and harassing residents over minor disagreements.

One way of tackling these issues is to form a residents association on site, but there is considerable anecdotal evidence that some site owners refuse to recognise associations and actively discourage residents to join. Those who do form associations against the will of the site owner can find themselves victimised. Because the land is owned by the site operator, whilst the home itself is the property of the resident, the law currently allows a sale to be blocked if the operator has good and reasonable grounds to do so. In some cases this provision has been abused so as to profit the operator.

That is why the private members bill I aim to introduce in the Welsh Assembly will seek to prevent sale blocking altogether. Instead it will bring in site rules and conditions that any new purchaser must meet and which have been agreed with existing home owners. I propose to introduce a modern licensing scheme that gives local councils the power to issue improvement notices, ensure they carry out regular inspections, respond to complaints and in the most extreme case, temporarily take over the management of the site. Any site operator interfering in the sale of a park home could be in breach of their licence and have to pay a substantial fine.

The Bill will also introduce a ‘fit and proper’ person test for site operators. Site operators will need to prove that they do not have a criminal record as well as meet other stringent criteria, before they can be issued with a licence. Residential Property Tribunals will be given a greater role in the arbitration of disputes and will be able to penalise operators who break the rules. The bill will also clarify when a park home owner needs consent to carry out an improvement to their home, when pitch fees can be increased to cover maintenance costs and what happens to a home when its owner dies and their heirs want to move into it.

I have just launched an eight week consultation to seek people’s views on these proposals. The consultation document is on the Welsh Assembly website at http://assemblywales.org/mobile_homes-e.pdf. I am hopeful that I will be able to take a bill to Assembly Members in October for them to consider and, if all is well the bill will be law next summer. Anyone wishing to contribute evidence as part of the consultation can either email: [email protected] or write to: Legislation Office, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, CF99 1NA by 20 July 2012.

Naturally, it will take some time for the new regime to bed in. I am proposing that all of the existing 92 site will need to be given a new licence and this will involve a fair bit of work inspecting them and ensuring that the necessary paperwork is in place. The outcome though will be more protection for park home owners and an end to many abuses that have plagued the industry for a number of years.

* Peter Black is the Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales West and is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Local Government, Heritage, Housing and Finance.

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One Comment

  • A very good Bill indeed.

    My Parents live in a park home and I have at times been horrified by the rules that the site owner imposes on them.

    They paid £40k for their van 6 years ago, and every year the site owner introduces new rules and regulations and expects them to sign new agreements every 12 months or risk eviction.

    They are not allowed to sell their homes directly to a new buyer and other residents have been told that they can not sell their vans for more than £15k even though they obviously paid much more, the Van ends up being brought by the park owner, who them sells the van himself for £35-£40K

    Every year their ground rents have gone up ludicrously, they are now up to £2800 and this year the landlord charged them 20% VAT on top of the rent. I am not sure if it is even legal to charge VAT on rent, but I do know that housing benefit have refused to meet the VAT charges for other park residents.

    Something really must be done about these park owners and give more rights and securities to residents. It is a shame to see many people who have reached retirement age, sold their homes to buy a park home and enjoy their retirements, only to be ripped off by unscrupulous site owners

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