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How Florida law fails to protect mobile home owners facing eviction

Janie DeCoil, 70, stands outside of the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City during a break in her two-hour eviction hearing on Sept. 20.
Daylina Miller
Janie DeCoil, 70, stands outside of the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City during a break in her two-hour eviction hearing on Sept. 20.

Janie DeCoil shows up to court alone.

She’s representing herself in an eviction case over mobile home park rule violations.

She’s a spunky 70-year-old woman in a colorful top and bright-blue eyeshadow. Her gray mullet is pulled back at her shoulders.

DeCoil takes a seat across the aisle from the mobile home park’s owner and her attorney. Her table is bare except for the single, plastic folder filled with handwritten notes on her defense.

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The hearing begins with an examination of DeCoil about the state of her yard.

“There’s a great deal of debris here, what is all of this?” the plaintiff’s attorney questioned.

Poring over more than a dozen photographs of her yard, DeCoil identified objects one by one: a gardening hose, a trellis, an empty terracotta pot, an outdoor sink.

On the witness stand, DeCoil admits ignoring the violation notices at first, which began last year.

“I have to say I didn’t do much in December simply because I could not fathom that this was … grounds for eviction,” she said.

Grounds for eviction

When DeCoil failed to clean up her yard after several notices, it made her vulnerable to eviction.

That’s because Florida’s law is clear: Mobile home park owners hold the right to evict tenants who break their rules. Under Chapter 723, everything outside of DeCoil's mobile home falls under the purview of the park owner.

DeCoil lived in the park nearly a decade. In fact, she picked the lot at the Lakeview in the Hills mobile home park because of the side yard space.

But when new management took over, about three years ago, DeCoil’s yard became subject to new park rules.

That included Section E of the lot rental agreement that states, “no bottles, cans, equipment, tires, lumber or debris of any matter shall be stored outside or under the mobile home.”

After a two-hour hearing in DeCoil’s case, the judge ruled in favor of the park owner.

DeCoil was evicted. She would have to sell her home or move it. Florida law states that homeowners must do that within 10 days, but the judge provided DeCoil with an extra five days.

Immobile homes
Renters outside of mobile home parks are only given 24 hours to vacate after an eviction.

Bay Area Legal Services attorney Tom DiFiore said the law provides mobile home owners extra time so they can move or sell their property.

But it rarely works out that way, he said.

“Most people that own the mobile home will be facing loss of the mobile home itself,” he said.

DeCoil estimates her home was worth about $10,000. She said she tried selling her home, too, but a pending eviction was a black mark for buyers.

Experts estimate the cost of relocating a mobile home can cost between $5,000 and $15,000.

And that’s assuming it can be moved, Eviction Lab research specialist Jacob Haas said.

“They're called mobile homes, but they're often very immobile," he said. "It can be really costly, or often an impossible, process to relocate a mobile home to another site.”

The last affordable option
When DeCoil lost her mobile home, she lost her retirement plan, too.

She planned to live out her days there paying less than $500 a month to rent the lot.

Anne Ray, at the UF-based Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, said mobile home parks play an important role in Florida’s affordable housing market.

"There's a couple pieces: One is that mobile home parks do provide some of the most affordable unsubsidized rental housing out there," Ray said. "The other is the mobile home parks have been a way for people to retire affordably to Florida."

When these options are threatened by climbing evictions or other market forces, it puts more pressure on Florida’s already limited affordable housing supply, Ray said.

While information about the rate of evictions in Florida's mobile home parks is not well tracked, early estimates from the Eviction Lab show there were roughly 300 eviction cases in Pasco County alone in 2022.

Data from the Shimberg Center also shows the number of available mobile home parks in the greater Tampa Bay region is decreasing at the same time housing costs are rising.

This trend is most pronounced in Pinellas County, where the number of mobile home parks has dropped 26 percent since 2009. In Hillsborough and Pasco counties, there was a nominal increase, unlike other counties in the region.

That doesn't mean the overall number of mobile home parks isn't decreasing in those counties, Ray said. Instead, the large parks may be getting larger, he said.

Standing in her garden after the court’s decision, DeCoil considers what it means to own her home but have nowhere to move it.

“Everything here is going with me – everything she called clutter and an eyesore,” she said. “I’m out of here and I’m gone.”

During the first week of October, she rented a moving truck with her social security check and moved to Naples to rent a place at a discount from a family member.

On Oct. 24, DeCoil transferred possession of her mobile home to her former landlord.

According to neighbors in the park, the landlord is cleaning it up before listing it for rent.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.
Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7

Gabriella Paul
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