1. Moving In
Mobile home park tenants in Massachusetts have a number of very important rights before moving into a mobile home park. A park owner cannot refuse to rent a lot to you if you meet the current rules of her park and provide reasonable evidence of your ability to pay the rent.7 This applies whether you are buying a mobile home that is already located in a park or if you are bringing in your own home from another park, and even if you want to move your home from one site to another in the same park.
When you move in, the park owner must offer you, as an option, a five-year lease at fair market rental rates.8 If you plan to remain at least that long, this option may be preferable to a shorter term, because it offers predictability in your rent.
Before you decide to purchase a mobile home and rent a lot in a particular park, the park owner must also inform you about all of the terms of your tenancy and the rules of the park. At a minimum, the park owner must inform you about:
- The total amount of rent.
- All extra charges or fees, which can include a local mobile home tax of $6 to $12 monthly9 and charges for fuel, goods like mobile home parts, or services that are part of your rental agreement.10
- The names and addresses of all owners of the park.
- The rules and regulations governing the use of the lot and park.
- Certain changes in her plans for the park. If an owner has discontinued or plans to discontinue use of the park as a mobile home community, she must give you written notice that a change is planned or has taken place.11
- Your rights as a tenant. The park owner must give you a special written notice under the heading "Important Notice Required by Law." This notice must inform you of your rights and be in the exact language contained in the law.
The park owner must give you all of this information at a reasonable time before you rent the lot.12 This information must also be in writing and be signed by both you and the park owner.
Long Term Stability of the Park
While you are considering whether to move into a particular park, there is information that may give you some clues about the park's long-term stability. Here are some things to check out:
- Whether the town or city in which the park is located has a local mobile home rent control ordinance. If it does, you should read the section in this chapter called Rent Control to find out how your rent is protected.
- Whether the town or city requires park owners to get permission to sell or close a park. For more about park closings, see the section in this chapter called Park Closings and Sales.
2. Park Rules
Many of your rights as a park tenant will be determined by your mobile home park's rules and regulations.13 Since the park owner is the person who writes the rules, every park will have different rules. However, park owners do not have free rein regarding park rules.
The Massachusetts Attorney General has issued regulations governing mobile home parks.14 These regulations further define what a park owner may or may not include in rules. Park rules must be submitted to the Attorney General for review at least 60 days before they are put into effect.15 The park owner must give you a copy of her rules, in writing, before you begin your tenancy.16 The owner must also post a copy of the rules and the Attorney General's regulations in an easily seen place near the entrance of the park or in the on-site manager's office.17
a. Rules Must Be Fair
The law and regulations prohibit rules that are "unreasonable, unfair or unconscionable."18 The definition of "unfair" or "unreasonable" is not precise. Here is a list of some of the things an owner can and cannot do with her rules:19
- An owner can impose age restrictions on who lives in a mobile home park if it was created as a "retirement park." A retirement park is a mobile home park designed for people at least 55 years old. The law allows age restrictions only when the park is at least 20 acres in size.20
- Rules must be the same for all tenants, unless the park owner has a legitimate reason for treating different tenants in different ways.21
- The park owner cannot demand initial occupancy charges greater than the combined amount of a first and last month's rent and a security deposit.22
- The rules cannot allow a park owner to impose a charge for late payment of rent until your rent is at least 30 days late.23
- An owner can have a rule that requires you to pay for increases in her real estate taxes, but can only require you to pay a fair share of the increase based on the total number of rental units in the park.24
- An owner can make and enforce reasonable rules about keeping your home and lot neat and in good repair.25
- An owner can establish reasonable aesthetic standards, but only if they are applied consistently and were disclosed before you moved in.26
- An owner can claim a right of first refusal if you decide to sell your home,27 but only if you have agreed to it. An owner cannot give herself this right by rule.
- An owner cannot charge fees for guests who reside in the mobile home for fewer than 90 days in 12 months.28
b. How Are Rules Set
Park owners create park rules. In order to ensure that park rules are reasonable and do not violate the law, if a park owner makes any changes in the rules, she must submit them to the Attorney General and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for review at least 60 days before she wants them to go into effect.29 Proposed rule changes must be posted and provided to any tenants association at least 75 days before the proposed effective date.30 At least 30 days before the new rules go into effect, the owner must also send or deliver to each tenant a copy of the proposed new rules and any amendments and copies of the certified mail receipts from the Attorney General and DHCD, proving that she sent the rule changes to both the Attorney General and DHCD for approval.31
If you believe a rule change is unfair, you should submit your comments to the Attorney General as soon as possible within the Attorney General's 60-day review period.32
If a park owner does not follow the proper procedures, or does not give you and the Attorney General's office notice of a rule change, the change is illegal. Even if the park owner follows the proper procedures, but you feel that the change is unfair, the rule is illegal and cannot be enforced. In this case, you have a right to sue your park owner for violation of the consumer protection laws.33
If you feel that a rule is improper, you can contact the Attorney General Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400 or file a complaint online.
10 . The owner cannot force you to buy these things from her. You may purchase fuel, furnishings, goods, services, and accessories from any seller who complies with the law and applicable rules and regulations, including reasonable insurance requirements. The park owner can also make "reasonable" rules about the purchase of centrally metered fuel and gas, but she can charge you only "the average prevailing price in the locality for similar goods and services." G.L. c. 140, §32L(3).
13 . This differs greatly from the non-mobile home tenancy, where the basis of the park owner/tenant relationship is the lease or tenancy at will agreement, as modified or limited by statutes and regulations. While mobile home tenants may have a lease or tenancy at will agreement, the power of the mobile home park owner to terminate the mobile home tenancy is so limited under G.L. c. 140, §32J that the traditional legal significance of those rental agreements is rendered obsolete. In addition, the ability of the mobile home park owner to enforce the provisions of those agreements through eviction is so restricted, again by G.L. c. 140, §32J, that the provisions contained in those agreements are less meaningful than the rules.
19 . Some of the Attorney General's regulations contain a detailed discussion of permitted and prohibited rule provisions, as well as acts and practices deemed by the Attorney General to be unfair and deceptive. See 940 C.M.R. §§10.02, 10.04.
20 . G.L. c. 151B, §4(8). There can be no age restrictions unless the park is a qualifying retirement community within the meaning of G.L. c. 151B and the Federal Fair Housing Act. 940 C.M.R. §10.01. A park may not be advertised as a "retirement" or "adult only" park unless it qualifies under these laws. 940 C.M.R. §10.03(1)(e).