Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 108

Why Residents Behave Like They Do

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Mobile home park residents are great people, but they often have trouble adjusting to living within rules and regulations after often decades of loose management. In this third of our four-part series on “Park Psychology” we’re going to discuss the causes of some negative resident behaviors and how to correct these so that everyone in the community can live happily side-by-side and enjoy a high quality of life.

Episode Transcript

Some people watch a few episodes of Trailer Park Boys, and they think they understand mobile home park residents, but none of us really do because 8% of all Americans live in mobile homes. It runs from a very wide range of billionaires in Montauk in the Hamptons to millionaires in the parks in Malibu down to folks who might just work at Arby's or Taco Bell. How in the world can you talk about residents in any kind of realistic fashion when the range of incomes is so very different?

Well, this is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series. We're in our third of a four-part series called Park Psychology. We're going to talk about why residents behave like they do, but before we even begin, I have to put a giant asterisk, and this would say that it's very difficult to talk about mobile home park residents when they're so extremely varied.

I'm going to focus on just three areas, which I think everyone shares to a small degree, but our most prevalent in what we do, which is an affordable housing. We're going to be talking about people who have incomes typically have about $30,000 a year or so. Let's start off with one key issue to residents who don't have a lot of hassle income, and that's money.

One reason residents behave like they do is simply because they don't have often a lot of money, particularly in a modern world where things are so very expensive. Because they're often strapped for cash, they have many things they need to spend their money on, obviously, paying rent is a very difficult item for some of them to do as far as their priorities level. They have the money to do it. That's not really an issue.

The issue is the priority of those payments of all those different bills, all the many people who are all raising their hands saying, "No, wait. Pay me. Pay me." It's very, very important when you deal with residents who don't have a lot of income to make paying the rent a very, very high priority. That's important. Remember that the average mobile home park lot rent in the US has only $280 a month. Even if you earned minimum wage, and that was the entire household income, just that one minimum wage check, and minimum wage being $7.25 an hour, means you have roughly about $1,200 a month, which means our $280 amount is roughly about 20-25% of your revenue. You pay almost no income tax in that range, so we're still affordable even then. It's always amazing to me, and I think to other people, that we are the only form of housing in existence that you can live on comfortably, even at minimum wage.

But, nevertheless, there's many things you'd rather pay other than your rent. The problem is if you go down that path, if you say, "Well, I'm not gonna pay my rent because I would much rather go to the football game or go out to dinner," whatever the case may be, that's not gonna really work for you because you're going to end up without a roof over your head, without having a home, and then also with the track record of being someone who doesn't pay their rent, so you're denied housing in some other property.

The way we get residents to do what they need to be doing is called "no pay, no stay." What it means is it's kind of a tough love that says you've got to pay your rent, or you can't live here. It's not judgemental. It's not done in a non-friendly manner. It's simply a statistical, factual thing. The rent must be brought into the office or sent in every month, and if no rent is received, then they'll get a demand letter followed by an eviction.

Again, well, all we're trying to do is to set the priority of payments. The rent is number one. We're not trying to do anything beyond that. It really is for the resident's own good. We've had many residents that if we had not enacted tough love and said, "You gotta pay the rent, or you can't live here," they would have not paid the rent that month or perhaps the next month, and fairly soon, they would have dug themselves into a hole they could never get out of all to the detriment of their family. No pay, no stay, absolutely essential if you're trying to keep the residents on the right path as far as money goes.

Now let's turn to rules. Now, what are rules? Why do we talk about rules? Well, everyone's got rules. Federal government has rules to live inside the United States. Gotta pay taxes. State government has it, county, local government, but their rules simply aren't as strict as most mobile home parks.

If you have a home in the city somewhere, the rules on how high your grass can go before the city takes action, the grass can be much higher than it can in a mobile home park. There are also a lot more tolerant of other items, junk in yards, all kinds of things.

Mobile home parks are a little tighter. Why? Because we're higher density. You have people living, many, many more people per acre than you do in a subdivision, and so we can't afford to have rules that get out of control because it'll be to the detriment of the community at large very, very rapidly.

How do you get the residents to behave regarding the rules? Well, the first thing you have to do is you have to set a great example. All of your common areas have to be perfect. You can never try and get people to abide by rules when you yourself do not abide by them. Before you even think of pointing the finger and saying, "Hey, resident, I want this done, I want that done to your home or yard," you better do it yourself. You better get out there and make sure that your grass at the park that you own, your common areas, your vacant lots is mowed properly, you got Roundup on all of the vacant pads so there's no grass growing in pads or curbs, everything is beautifully edged. Your common buildings should be painted, well-maintained. Get that done first, then start thinking about enforcing the rules.

Now, as far as the rules go, how do you get residents to abide by the rules? Well, the key item is you do it in a friendly manner. There's no point in making enemy over the rules. Often, when we buy these mobile home parks, they've had years or decades of absolutely very, very poor rules management. Mom and pop kind of lost interest or lost energy somewhere along the way and let people do all kinds of things with which they shouldn't because it wasn't in the best interest of any of the residents to be living as they were under mom and pop, and some of them who knew better, they just threw up their hands and gave up. They had a sense of futility because no matter what they did, their neighbors weren't, so why should they put in the effort to make their yard and home look great when nobody else did?

How do you fix that? Well, that system, kind of like the collection system we call no play, no stay, which means if you can't play by the rules, then you can't live in the property. Again, not in a judgmental way, but it's not fair to the other residents. They have somebody in their midst who's not even attempting to abide by the park rules. Again, the park roads are designed for the benefit of the park residents, not necessarily the park owner.

How do you deal with that when someone's not meeting the rules? Well, the first thing you do is you send your manager over to the resident to have a frank-but-friendly conversation on what the problem is. Have them go over and say, "We noticed that your home needs a coat of paint. Do you have a plan to paint it? What's going on with the painting?" If they say, "Well, I'd paint it, but I don't have the money to buy the paint," then we'll typically buy them the paint.

If they say, "Well, you know what, it does need a coat of paint. I'm going to go out and try and paint it this weekend," well, then case closed once they get that done, or if they say, "You know what, I not only can't afford the paint, I don't have the ability to paint it physically," in which case we'll say, "Well, what if we were to have it painted for you, and then charge it back to you in 12 easy installments of $30 a month, something like that?" but your manager needs to be a problem solver regarding the rules. So many of these rule situations can all be readily resolved if only your manager actively gets in there with the resident and tries to seek resolution to figure out what needs to be done, and always in a friendly manner.

You don't want to put your manager in the position of having to be the negative person. They're supposed to be kind of a cheerleader for the park. Park mayor. All these things rolled into one. They need to just go over there and in a very friendly fashion decide how to fix it, and then go ahead and get it fixed.

Now, rules properly maintained lead to what's called pride of ownership. That takes me into my third point, which is a sense of community. How do you build a sense of community? How do you make your residents care about their neighbors because that's what sense of community is all about, isn't it? That's when you really have gotten somewhere with your mobile home park is when people have strong feelings for their neighbors and want them to do well. There was a Time Magazine article on this very topic, oh, it's about a year or so ago. It was called The Home of the Future. It was very, very positive article on our industry. There was a quote in it that said that mobile home parks are the gated communities of the less affluent.

What does that mean? Well, it seems like the writer was really impressed with the fact that in a lot of mobile home parks, you have very strong bonds among the residents, and there's a lot of respect and care that goes between them. How do you cause that? How do you create that sense of community? Well, the first thing you can do as a park owner is you can create areas for residents to gather and to meet each other.

Now, a very popular thing that park owners across America are doing right now is taking any area that's not usable in the park, a grassy area, and bring in picnic tables and grills. If you can afford it and the room is there, put a pavilion roof on top of that makes it even better. This gives people a space that they can go, and they can sit, and they can cook, and they can converse, and they can meet each other.

Here's an interesting statistic. The RV industry, which does a lot better studies in the mobile home park industry does. We do hardly any studies at all as an industry. They did a thing where they tried to figure out why people use RVs. They asked thousands of people, "What's your favorite thing about your RV and your RV experience?" and the number one of all items was outdoor cooking. That's what people loved more than anything else.

You know what? They're exactly right. I'm as excited about outdoor cooking as anybody else. Whenever I see someone cooking on an open flame, a steak, a hot dog, a hamburger, I want some of that stuff. I love outdoor cooking. It's probably everybody does. When you can deliver outdoor grills and picnic tables, it's basically saying, "Here, let's have some fun. Let's do some outdoor cooking." It kind of draws other people in. If you have areas for people to sit and chat and meet each other, it does a world of good for creating that sense of community.

Building gathering spaces is one important thing that park owners can do, and doesn't have to be strictly outdoors. If you've got an old clubhouse, if you have an old laundry building, why not make it something that people can use maybe to host parties, host any kind of event, quilting class, whatever the case may be, but create these areas for people to gather. It's very, very important.

Also, try and hold events. It doesn't take much to hold an event in a mobile home park. Typically, all you have to do is offer free food, but you don't, even then, don't have to do that. This year, we've been trying to do very aggressive spring cleanups. We try to do one in every property. Brought in a roll-off dumpster. We organized everyone in the property, and we said, "Let's make this the nicest it can be. Let's jumpstart the new year," and we went out there and tried to clean up everything we could.

We did painting of houses, painting of decks, taking debris out of yards, anything we could to help things out. You'd be amazed at the outpouring of support from the residents who all want to make that park as nice as it can be. When you do that, it once again brings people together. They meet each other. They get into conversations. They get into relationships. Very, very important way to build that sense of community.

A sense of community in many mobile home parks is extremely advanced. Dave lived in a park down in Hondo, Texas back when it had a tornado. This is years ago. He was blown away at how advanced the support network was. They had ride-sharing before the invention of Uber. Needed to get to work, car broke down, no problem. Someone in the park would take you. They had meals on wheels decades before the advent of the program. If you needed food, if you couldn't afford it, if something had happened, if you were infirmed, if you had an accident, they would bring you food. That's when mobile home parks really take off to a new level is when people really deeply care about their neighbors. Once again, if you're trying to get residents to behave in a certain fashion to their own betterment, then creating that sense of community is super important.

Again, this is Frank Rolfe on this third of our four-part series on Park Psychology talking all about residents and what we can all do to make them not only behave for the good of the mobile home park, but also for the good of themselves and their neighbors. Hope you enjoy this. I'll be back again next week.