State budget abolishes mobile home oversight agency

South Point Village manufactured home community, Fairborn
Caption
South Point Village manufactured home community, Fairborn

State lawmakers voted this week to abolish the agency that regulates manufactured homes in Ohio, but the debate continues over the best way to oversee the hundreds of thousands of mobile homes in the state.

The move to shift regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Commerce was originally proposed by Gov. John Kasich and backed by state fire and environmental officials. It was included in the budget bill that passed both houses of the legislature on Wednesday.

The administration argued that the Ohio Manufactured Homes Commission was too beholden to corporate interests and didn’t do enough to address fire safety and water quality concerns in mobile homes and mobile home parks.

A spokesman for the Commerce Department also said licensing fees will decline under the new structure.

Opposition came from the Ohio Manufactured Homes Association — the trade group accused of wielding control over the commission — as well as representatives of manufactured home residents who disputed the administration’s claims.

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OMHA Director Tim Williams worries how the change will impact the 900,000 Ohioans living in manufactured homes.

“Now, the rigorous inspection process currently in place in Ohio will be absorbed into the Kasich administration’s 800-employee Department of Commerce bureaucracy where there exists no manufactured homes expertise or experience,” he said.

Williams questioned whether the state will continue to inspect all of the roughly 3,000 manufactured homes installed every year — the law allows less than 100 percent inspections — and said the state could raise licensing fees.

But Commerce Department spokeswoman Lindsey LeBerth said her agency remains committed to using both in-house and licensed third-party inspectors to conduct three inspections on all new installations as the current commission does.

The department will bring licensing fees in line with its current fee structure for other services, which could reduce fees by up to 40 to 60 percent, according to LeBerth.

“The Department of Commerce takes its regulatory responsibilities seriously, and is committed to ensuring the same standards of safety are available for all Ohioans,” she said.

RELATED: Lawmakers consider keeping mobile home commission, slashing budget

LeBerth said her department will also establish a dispute resolution commission to handle complaints that come in from the state’s more than 1,600 mobile home parks.

But Williams said the department lacks the expertise needed to handle those complaints.

“Today when a park resident has a complaint like potholes, standing water for mosquitoes, trash, whatever, there are 1,300 of those complaints a year…the department of commerce has no clue how to handle those issue,” he said.

The current commission board includes mobile home manufacturers, park operators and residents. Under state law, the General Assembly appoints six of the nine commissioners from a list provided by the OMHA.

The new law creates a seven-member board to advise the director of commerce on these issues. Five are appointed by the director, and include a fire chief, public health expert, water system expert and manufactured home dealer and park operator. The two appointed by the House and Senate cannot have a fiduciary interest in the industry and cannot be members of the OMHA.

“That provision right there violates our freedom of association and freedom of speech because it specifically says you can’t be a member of the association,” Williams said. “It’s discriminating against anyone who’s a member of the association.”

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