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Johnson County issues spark legislation discussion

Legislators look to protect renters, and rein in County Supervisors

DES MOINES — Johnson County’s legislative delegation has introduced bills this session addressing local concerns related to tenants in manufactured housing communities/mobile home parks, and the actions of the Board of Supervisors relating to animal agriculture.
Senators Kevin Kinney (D-39), Zach Wahls (D-37) and Joe Bolkcom (D-43), joined 27 other senators in sponsoring Senate File (SF) 2238, “An act relating to property law by modifying provisions relating to rental properties, manufactured home communities, mobile home parks, and manufactured mobile home communities.”
The legislation is in response to sudden lot rent increases in mobile home parks including Golfview in North Liberty in the wake of purchases by out-of-state corporations. Parks in Waukee, Iowa City, Coralville, and West Branch were also affected.
Golfview residents were notified last April that the park had been sold and lot rent was going to increase 63% from $284/month to $450. While some residents had their homes moved to other parks, many were unable to, and formed the Golfview Homeowners Association to fight the increase. Their efforts attracted the attention of Senator Wahls, and Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. Warren toured Golfview in September. Also, the Johnson County Mobile Home Task Force was created to address the issue. The Task Force presented a dozen recommendations for local and state remedies to protect residents last month.
SF 2238 tightens up restrictions on termination of a lease to include a material noncompliance with the rental agreement, a material violation of the park’s rules or regulations, a “legitimate and material business reason,” not specific to one tenant, and a change in the use of the land if change in the use of the land is included in the rental agreement as grounds for termination or nonrenewal.
The bill also places limitations on rent increases with a 180-day notice required along with justifications for the increase. Justifications include the increase being directly related to operating, maintaining, or improving the property; an increase in property tax due on the property; an increase in the cost of utilities paid for by the landlord; and an increase in insurance costs and financing on the property.
In addition, the bill establishes a Manufactured Housing Program Fund to be used to provide funding to financial institutions or other lenders to finance the purchase by an individual of a manufactured home.
SF 2238 was introduced on Wednesday, Feb. 12 and sent to a Subcommittee on Thursday, Feb. 13.
Representative Bobby Kaufmann (R-73), the Chairman of the State Government Committee, introduced House Study Bill (HSB) 632 on Wednesday, Feb. 5 to amend Iowa Code Section 335.2, which addresses county zoning procedures. Section 335.2 was referenced frequently during discussions and debates over Johnson County’s Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan) and the subsequent Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) as concerned farmers, and the agricultural community in general, expressed concerns over the Johnson County Board of Agriculture seeming to be desirous of regulating agriculture – an act specifically prohibited under 335.2.
Throughout the adoption process for the UDO, County Supervisors, Planning, Development & Sustainability Director Josh Busard, and the County Attorney’s Office all stated repeatedly that the document, and requirements relating to agricultural land, were within the County’s legal scope and not in conflict with 335.2.
One point of contention focused on a requirement in the UDO for an application for the Agricultural Exemption (Ag land is exempt from county zoning and building codes). HSB632 would amend Section 335.2 to include a paragraph stating, “A county shall not require an application, an approval, or the payment of a fee in order for an ordinance to be deemed inapplicable to land, farm barns, farm outbuildings, or other buildings or structures that are primarily adapted for use for agricultural purposes under this section.”
Kaufmann expressed several concerns about the UDO upon it’s adoption in December, and Rep. Mary Mascher (D-86), the Ranking Member of the State Government Committee, said at a public hearing “I am asking you to listen to what the people here have to say. Because if you don’t, we will end up dealing with it in the Legislature.”
Vicki Lensing (D-85) and Amy Nielsen (D-77) are also on the Committee.
HSB632 was discussed in a Subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Feb. 13 while it’s companion, Senate Study Bill (SSB) 3120 was introduced by Committee on Local Government Chairman Jeff Edler (R-36) on Thursday, Feb. 6 and sent to a Subcommittee. The Bill was approved as SF2264 on Thursday, Feb. 13.