Trailer park living standards debated at College of Design

Kaleb Warnock

It’s not easy to miss the mobile home parks that dot the Iowa landscape, especially when driving through Ames on Highway 30 or west of town on Lincoln Way.

There is no question as to whether or not some trailer park tenants are in a difficult situation, but what about landlords? Problems in mobile home courts are a double-sided coin that is an ongoing debate for Iowa lawmakers.

Both perspectives were manifest Wednesday night in the College of Design.

Lee Rood, projects and investigations editor for the Des Moines Register, discussed her recent series of investigative articles regarding trailer parks in Iowa.

Rood, an award-winning author, is currently working on a series of articles exploring life in mobile home parks in Iowa and the Midwest.

Her research focused on problems tenants of mobile home parks face and what possibilities exist to mediate them. Through her investigative reporting, she examined the terrible conditions many low-income families in Iowa have to face.

“What I learned about Iowa is that you have a lot of people that are interested in buying these old trailers thinking that buying anything is better than renting something to provide for their families,” Rood said. “The people that I went to were of all walks of life, you know, just like you or me.”

She also explored the issue of corporate speculation, which takes advantage of many mobile home owners and tenants. Many large companies purchase mobile home parks and attempt to manage them without interacting with the people who live there.

In some cases, they are taking advantage of those who can’t afford to live anywhere else.

“People were giving this company all of the money they had to buy whatever trailers were available and they were paying the highest lot rent in the county to boot,” Rood said, “just to call those places home.”

One argument Rood discussed was the lack of regulation for older mobile homes and how many tenants are taken advantage of because of their desperate situation. Landlords sometimes evict tenants and sell their homes when the tenant is unable to afford to relocate their mobile home.

However, Andy Kelly, Nevada mobile home park owner, responded to Rood’s lecture with a series of prepared statements defending small-time landlords.

“It’s terrible to evict a mobile home,” Kelly said. “To evict a mobile home, first off, you don’t have to have much of a reason legally, but I’ve never made money on an eviction. It’s not easy to evict a mobile home in Iowa; the same cost a homeowner faces to move a home, I face.”

Also, many mobile home owners fall through the cracks and have to live in decrepit trailers nowhere near basic standards of living. One of Rood’s investigations of a corporate-owned trailer park in Kansas revealed that a company had refused to pay for a hazardous-materials team to clean up after a person had lay dead in a trailer for several days.

Most of the criticism accused owners of failing to maintain basic necessities for the homes and being slow or reluctant to fix the problem. Rood called on the State of Iowa to make changes and put pressure on landlords to maintain their properties at a higher standard.

Accordingly, Kelly presented his argument for legislation, citing his own experience as a landlord managing 31 homes.

“The appeal of the cheap homes is gone by making them more expensive,” Kelly said. “The problem with everything isn’t the home. It’s the people in that situation. I just don’t see the problem being fixed with more legislation because either the cost of living is going to go up, or it’s going to be passed to the government.”