Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 253

The Necessity of Structure For Your Residents

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In a society that has completely lost the concept of accountability, mobile home parks stand out as a perpetual experiment into the necessity of structure. Mobile home park owners have been using a “tough love” stance to keep their properties in good running order and to foster an environment in which the average resident stays in their home for around 15 years. But how do they accomplish this? That’s the focus of this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast, and it could not be more timely in an America that is running amok.

Episode 253: The Necessity of Structure For Your Residents Transcript

Never in history has America suffered from a greater absence of structure and of accountability. It's really crushing our society as we know it when people don't even feel the desire to go to work, to hold many of these traits that Americans have held dear for so many decades. Yet, that's where we're at right now. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. We're gonna be focusing on how you get structure and accountability into mobile home parks and then additionally why it's so vital that everyone works under these two traits. So let's first start off with the concept of why you need structure. Well, without structure then life pretty much just falls apart on a macro level.

If we didn't have a government, if we didn't have laws, if we didn't have a military, if we didn't have property ownership laws, if we didn't have just the basic concepts of morality and of working hard and family and all these other issues, imagine how rotten life would be. It would be complete anarchy. Yet, that's kind of what we're now becoming more thrust into in America every day. It reminds me of a book called Tough Love. This was a book written in 1968 by a guy named Bill Milliken. And that, of course, was back during the riots and all the things that were going on during the Vietnam War back in the '60s. And he wrote a book on how it's often better for people in the long run to force them to live under structure and accountability than to let them just run wild, which is what people were doing back in that era.

So how do we as park owners keep people from running wild? How do we create, at least in our little communities, our micro-level, how do we make people have a higher quality of life and a happier life by holding them accountable and creating some form of structure? Well, the first thing the park owners do comes in on the collections front, and that's called, "No Pay, No Stay." It's a very simple concept. You have to pay your rent or you can't live on the property, as opposed to the other option, which many of the old moms and pops did, which was, "No Pay, Stay," which meant you didn't have to pay the rent, and yet they would never evict you. The problem is, you can't get people to pay rent in an environment in which there's no ramifications to not paying rent.

And that's terribly unfair to all the other people who live in the mobile home park. You say, "Wait a minute, that person didn't pay their rent and there's no appreciable difference between them not paying rent and me paying rent. Where's the justice in that?" And of course, they're correct. You see that right now somewhat in this idea that we're going to forgive student debt. People will look back and say, "Wait a minute here, I paid my student debt off and I received nothing in return. And those who didn't do what they were supposed to do, those who shirked their responsibility, well now their debt is forgiven." Anyone can clearly see the unfairness of having an atmosphere where some people pay and then some people don't pay.

Now, back when I had my first mobile home park, Glenhaven, I observed this phenomenon firsthand, and I realized I was doing a horrible disservice to people in Glenhaven, that's the property I used to self-manage, if I didn't collect the money every month because here's what would happen if someone couldn't pay. And they came to me and said, "Hey, I can't pay my rent, I'll pay you twice next month." And they never did. And then the next month they said, "Well, I can't pay this either. I'll pay you three times next month." And they never did.

What I was really allowing them to do was to be homeless because the more I gave in and let them run amok and not pay the rent and they spent it on other items. They had the money and I knew it and they knew it, but they spend the money on other things that was a lot more fun than paying rent because of course what is not, then they were certainly gonna be evicted. At some point. I'd say, "Well, you can't go eight months without paying, so you've got to pay it all up now or you're out." And of course they couldn't, but they could have. If I'd made them pay every month, then they would have never been behind me. But since I let them get so far in arrears, it was impossible for them to catch up. So even then, not allowing people to pay rent and still live in your property, well, it's just an absolute death sentence to them as far as their housing needs. So don't do it.

Now, people actually appreciate the structure of, "No Pay, No Stay," collections, because people like to work in environments where they know what all the rules are and what is and is not allowed. So if you say... Tell the people you have to pay your rent every month, and if you don't, I'll evict you and you stick with that, that's clearly the most fair for everyone. It also keeps people from getting into trouble because that way every month they pay the rent as their number one priority. And let's all be honest, in mobile home parks, rent is not that high. The US average lot rent is about $280 a month. At least 80% of every mobile home in America is paid for in full. There's no mortgage, so I'm charging a rent that is a fraction of every other option in that market. And that makes it even more damaging if I let the person get behind because we're in the world, are they gonna go that they can actually afford? The answer is absolutely nowhere. So,"No Pay, No Stay," is the correct amount of structure. It does hold people accountable. It is one of the best forms of tough love because in the long run, people would thank you. Now they won't thank you. You'll never have a resident say, "Just want to thank you for making me pay rent every month. So I didn't end up being homeless." They won't do that.

But yet, you'll know what's happening. You'll know that that's the benefit of structure and accountability. Another way that we create structure and accountability in mobile home parks is by "no play, no stay" rule systems, which basically say, "If you can't play by the rules, you can't live here 'cause it's not fair to your neighbors." Same thing as collections, right? Maybe even worse, because if a resident doesn't pay the rent, people only hear the tale of someone not paying the rent and getting away with it, but they see it every day with rules. If somebody wants to go and put five jalopy non-running cars in their yard, push a dishwasher or refrigerator into their yard, not mow their yard at all, these are things that destroy all of the neighbors' quality of life. They all look out of their windows and they see that, or they walk by or they drive by and they feel very embarrassed to live there. That's simply not fair. If someone has their property well maintained and well mowed, what do they look out on? 

They don't look out on their property, they look out on everyone else's, and if those people don't maintain theirs to the same standard, that person is punished. It's not fair that they be punished. So you're right back at the same issue again. If I allow people to not follow the rules, what's going to happen? A, it harms everybody else, B, it's unjust and C, it ultimately will lead to their removal. And once again, I'll thrust someone with very low income, in many cases, into a world in which apartment rents start at about $1,500 a month, and they all end up living with a relative. So again, you've gotta have accountability and you have to have structure in your rules enforcement program. You cannot let people just run amok in the complete absence of any requirements as to how they live.

And then we have structure and accountability just in the park management hierarchy. You've got a manager, unless you self-manage, and that manager, that person's job is to interact with all of your residents. So the hierarchy needs to be the residents go to the manager with a problem. If there's a problem the manager cannot address, then they go to you. You cannot have it where the residents go to you, the owner, and not through the manager. That creates absolute anarchy.