Dover city council must approve any changes to Ordinance 2016-16.
The head of Dover’s planning office said Friday a city ordinance meant to update rules for building manufactured housing in the city may need to be amended.
Unanimously adopted Aug. 8 by city council, Ordinance 2016-16 also set out standards for maintaining and managing neighborhoods where residents own their homes, but lease the land beneath from a third party.
The owner of one of those properties, Harry Miller, has complained to city council that the ordinance puts an unnecessary burden on operations in the manufactured home community of Wild Meadows.
However, Dover city Councilman Fred Neil, who lives in Wild Meadows, feels the new rules help improve manufactured home communities. State law requires landowners to maintain the property to ensure the health and safety of the residents, but provides no way of enforcing that requirement, he said.
Ordinance 2016-16, which will not take effect until July 2017, sets up the means to ensure landowners meet that requirement, he said. Neil was one of the cosponsors of the ordinance.
Neil said the problem with Wild Meadows started because the community was built on wetlands, requiring a community-wide drainage system. The system began failing in 2006, about four years after Wild Meadows opened, he said.
“There were deep sinkholes at the drains around the entire community,” Neil said. “It was extremely dangerous, down as deep as six feet. They put grandchildren and pets at risk.”
Miller fixed the problem but decided to pass the costs, estimated to be about $102,000, on to community residents in the form of rent increases.
Wild Meadows homeowners requested arbitration of the rent hike under a 2013 state law that requires landlords to justify rent increases above a standard set based on the Consumer Price Index. Although a Chancery Court arbitrator initially found in their favor, that decision was partially overturned in July. The case still is pending.
Townshend said work began on the new ordinance in November 2015 when her office, working on a request to place a manufactured home in a different part of the city, realized the rules regarding mobile homes and manufactured homes were out of date.
“The primary purpose of the ordinance was to update the terminology and requirements in the code as they relate to manufactured housing,” Townshend said.
The new regulations also included a number of maintenance requirements for leased-land communities, she said.
“This was the basis of Mr. Miller’s complaints,” Townshend said.
In statements made Oct. 10 at council’s open forum, Miller said new billing requirements levied on landowners meant he might have to hire more administrative personnel and also deal with additional payroll and other expenses. He called upon council members to repeal the ordinance.
That request was backed up by attorney Robert Valihura, who said the company would sue the city if the ordinance remains.
Neil, however, has countered by saying Miller is concerned this new oversight means he could lose his license if city officials feel he has failed to live up to requirements in the ordinance.
“The point of the law was that we can make them accountable,” Neil said. “The law is very, very clear.”
However, Neil said, Miller does have some valid points about particulars in the ordinance, which he would be in favor of amending. Miller and Townshend went over those issues on Oct. 13.
“I talked to Mr. Miller earlier this week. We went through the ordinance to discuss his concerns,” Townshend said Friday. “Now I am in the process of looking at potential amendments.”
Neil said Saturday he and fellow cosponsor Councilman Scott W. Cole would not object to some amendments, but that the ordinance’s provisions about ensuring landowners comply with federal and local laws remain.
“I would hope the city council legal representatives would counter any legal action as a frivolous lawsuit,” he said.
Any amendments to the ordinance would require approval by the full city council.