COLUMBIA — After some confusion and much discussion, the three-month rent reprieve the city granted to trailer park residents in November still stands after a 5-2 vote during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Residents at mobile home parks that will close can still get three months of free rent after the council tweaked an ordinance it passed on Nov. 7, but the abatement now only applies to future rental contracts. The original ordinance could apply to any existing contract, which Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl thought violated the state constitution.
Mary Hussmann, a member of Grass Roots Organizing, had a few other suggestions for further protections for residents of mobile home parks.
- She urged the City Council to pass an ordinance mandating that signs be placed outside parks slated to shut down so that potential buyers know the property is about to close.
- She also called for annual surprise inspections of mobile home parks to catch zoning violations and sanitary issues before problems mount. She called the current inspection system a "complaint-driven" process and said residents might be too afraid of reprisal from their landlord to lodge complaints with the city.
At one point, Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said he mistakenly voted in favor of the rent abatement provision and a brief "parliamentary crisis," in Mayor Bob McDavid’s words, ensued as the council tried to ascertain just what it had voted on.
But two votes later, the rent abatement stipulation remained in the city's legal code.
"We've sent a strong message that we're going to support people in this position," said Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony.
McDavid echoed Anthony’s sentiment, saying it was important to send a message of support to residents of mobile home parks who are forced to move because the owners close the park down. However, McDavid said he worried owners would find a way around the ordinance, suggesting they could raise rents in advance of the abatement period.
Mary Hussmann, a member of Grass Roots Organizing, said after the vote that the rent abatement and eviction notification provisions protecting trailer park residents were "very helpful" when passed, and she expects owners to cooperate.
"I really feel that a lot of our park owners here are more connected with their residents," she said.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe originally proposed rent abatement for mobile home park residents at the November meeting. It was meant to help tenants save money for relocating. The council added this rent abatement provision to an ordinance requiring owners of mobile home parks to give tenants at least 180 days notice of eviction should they plan to close the park.
Kespohl proposed a bill repealing this rent abatement amendment and said it was a violation of the Missouri constitution to alter a rental contract without both parties agreeing to the changes. At Tuesday's meeting, Kespohl and Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley voted against keeping rent abatement in place.
Hussmann credited Hoppe with getting the council's attention to the plight of residents of Regency and other mobile home parks. "She doesn’t just hear people. She really listens."