Gianforte vetoes mobile homes park bill, CPS reform, among other legislation

By: - May 17, 2023 5:57 pm

The Montana State Capitol in Helena on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (Photo by Mike Clark for the Daily Montanan)

Gov. Greg Gianforte vetoed a bill that would have given protections for mobile home park residents, like requiring park owners give 60 days notice before taking action like increasing rent.

House Bill 889 is among more than a dozen other proposals to get rejected by the governor, including a bill for reforms to Child Protective Services and another bill requiring the state health department to issue reports of abuse from the state hospital.

Gianforte said in his veto letter Tuesday that House Bill 889 “increases regulation of mobile home parks, disincentivizes landlords from maintaining or increasing the inventory of mobile home rental lots, and, in general, compromises the property rights of mobile home park owners.”

HB 889, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Karlen, D-Missoula, passed out of both House and Senate chambers with bipartisan support, with Republicans testifying in support of the bill in committee. Karlen said in a statement that the bill was a bipartisan compromise made alongside stakeholders who recognize mobile home park residents deserve the same rights as other homeowners.

“The governor’s veto made it clear that — when it’s time to act rather than talk — he stands with a minority of bad landlords and out-of-state corporations rather than with the tens of thousands of hardworking Montanans and senior citizens suffering from unfair and predatory practices,” Karlen said in a statement Tuesday.

Montana Democrats said in a release that Gianforte’s decision lets landlords continue practices like giving little to no notice for changes in park rules or when they let a homeowner’s lot lease expire; interfering with the homeowner’s right to sell their home; and engage in retaliation against homeowners by increasing rent or decreasing services in the mobile park.

Gianforte said in his letter the bill would have increased regulations that would have reduced incentives for investments in mobile home parks. He cited changes like prohibiting park landlords from factoring in the age of a mobile home before allowing lease transfers and requiring extended notice periods before being able to terminate or modify longer leases.

Other changes proposed in the bill that Gianforte didn’t approve included a requirement landlords give one year’s notice for a proposed change of use for all or part of the mobile home park.

“This provision encumbers the property rights of the landlord and his or her ability to use the land as he or she sees fit within the rule of law,” Gianforte said in his letter.

Rep. George Nikolakakos, a Republican from Great falls who testified he is a mobile home park owner, spoke during a hearing on the bill as a proponent. His own bill requiring notice for mobile home park tenants was tabled before it could get out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Nikolakakos said in the April hearing it was important to highlight the power imbalance between owners and tenants, who own their property but not the land underneath it. He said that a large investor likened it to owning a restaurant except all of your customers have a chain to the booth that they’re in.

“I realized I had a tremendous amount of power,” Nikolakakos said. “I could charge rents that were aggressive. I can make changes that were quickly implemented. And really these folks had nowhere to go because they didn’t have five or ten thousand dollars to move a home — or maybe this home couldn’t move.”

Cindy Neuman, who said she lives in the Highwoods mobile home park in Great Falls, testified during the same hearing about lot rent going up drastically under new corporate owners.

“They’ve built a highly profitable business model that relies on our limited mobility to squeeze large profits out of moderate-income residents,” Neuman said as a proponent. “We residents are suffering greatly and are reaching out in crisis.”

The property was purchased by Havenpark Communities, located in Utah, in 2019.

Residents of the mobile home park facing difficulties in Great Falls aren’t alone in the state. A Missoula mobile home park was acquired by a managing partner at Grove Ventures Real Estate and is charging higher lot rents, as reported by Lee Enterprises.

Resident Jay Raines told Lee Enterprises he wished residents had notice so they could have pooled together to submit a competing offer.

Karlen said in committee the bill wouldn’t impact what landlords could charge, be it market price or higher.

“We just ask that they give two months’ notice,” he said.

Karlen’s bill isn’t the only one thwarted by a veto.

A bill that came out of the interim committee on Children, Families, Health and Human Services with reforms to Child Protective Service, including requiring a warrant for a removal of a child, was nixed by Gianforte’s veto pen last week. The bill also would have required legal counsel for all children involved in CPS cases.

House Bill 37, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Carlson, R-Manhattan, received bipartisan support, passing second reading unanimously in the House in January and with significant support as it advanced.

Gianforte said in his veto letter House Bill 37 that delaying the removal of a child potentially at risk of abuse or neglect was “undoubtedly a step too far.”

Gianforte had proposed amendments, which he said would have “preserved the intent of the bill while modifying the warrant requirement” and giving the state and judicial system time to prepare for the new warrant system. But the legislature moved to end the session before it could vote on them.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Legislature failed to consider those amendments,” Gianforte said.

Carlson said during a press conference after the session ended that she didn’t see the proposed amendments until 6 p.m. the day the chamber would adjourn, and she said it was hard for her to process. At the time she hoped there would still be an opportunity for discussion with Gianforte’s office.

Another Carlson bill, House Bill 29, dealing with involuntary commitment in the state hospital for residents with dementia or traumatic brain injuries, was also vetoed after Gianforte’s proposed amendments didn’t get voted on in either chamber.

A bill from Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings, that would have required the Department of Public Health and Human Services share reports of abuse and neglect at Warm Springs, also got the boot from Gianforte. Not one legislator voted against it in either chamber.

Gianforte also vetoed House Bill 485, which would have raised legislator’s hourly compensation. The governor pointed to the per diem increase as well as a $3 pay increase for legislators included in other legislation in his veto letter, saying he opposed what he said would have been an “inappropriate” 74% pay increase for legislators.

The bills Gianforte said would already adjust compensation and reimbursements included: House Bill 28, which allows legislators to be reimbursed for lodging, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and incidental expenses during the session at the rate federal employees receive; and House Bill 13, which includes a 4% pay increase for all state employees, including legislators, and was signed into law in April.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.