GRAND LAKE — The T Lazy W Park has long served as a mountain oasis for vacationers looking to escape the summer heat and relax in Colorado’s picturesque high country.
The park for recreational vehicles, nestled alongside U.S. 34, sits between Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Lake, its cool blue waters reflecting the surrounding mountains. Just up the road, visitors can hike the vast west side of Rocky Mountain National Park or cast a line in the Colorado River.
The grounds sport 55 RV and trailer sites, with another 23 mobile home units. The 80-some owners only come during the summer months as the park doesn’t have running water or sewage systems during the winter. None use it as their primary residence.
Residents call it an RV park. But the state says it’s a mobile home park subject to the Mobile Home Park Act, a series of laws aimed at protecting low-income residents from predatory owners looking to jack up rents. This distinction, T Lazy W Park’s owners contend, “threatens to destroy the recreational community.”
Meanwhile, a statewide group that represents RV parks and campgrounds says these rulings could completely change the business model for its members.
“This is a massive distraction from the (Colorado Department of Local Affairs’) primary purpose: to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” said Colin E. Moriarty, an attorney representing the Grand County park owners. “Instead they’re wasting taxpayer money squabbling over vacation homes.”
The park’s lawsuit against the state is one of two legal battles that cut to the core of Colorado’s recent legislation: Which communities, exactly, should be counted as mobile home parks and afforded increased protections?
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, in a recent court filing, said the legislature’s intent is clear: Any park containing five or more occupied mobile homes falls under the act — regardless of how many days a year someone lives there. The lawmaker who spearheaded recent mobile home legislation, Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, said he’s comfortable with that designation.
“We don’t tier property rights in this state based on whether it’s someone’s first or second home,” the Fort Collins Democrat said.
“Arbitrary, capricious and clearly erroneous”
The difference between a mobile home park and an RV park or campground designation is hardly a matter of semantics.
The Colorado legislature in recent years implemented a host of new laws aimed at protecting America’s last bastion of naturally occurring affordable housing in the face of skyrocketing rent and home prices.
The nascent Mobile Home Park Oversight Program oversees a state-run park registration system, a dispute resolution program and added eviction protections. The state also passed laws designed to help residents purchase their own parks in the face of increasing consolidation from out-of-state investment firms.
The new laws added stringent regulations surrounding tree mitigation, snow removal and limit how often landlords can raise rent on tenants, among a host of other protections.
Landlord-tenant issues in private RV parks and campgrounds, meanwhile, are not regulated by a state agency. There is no comparable licensing or registration program, though the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment does regulate health and safety issues at these properties.
These owners don’t have to limit rent increases to once per year or comply with certain notices to tenants. They’re under no obligation to give residents a right of first refusal when the park goes up for sale.
Mobile home parks, as defined by state law, encompass a “parcel of land used for the continuous accommodation of five or more occupied mobile homes and operated for the pecuniary benefit of the owner of the parcel of land or the owner’s agents, lessees or assignees.”
This issue came to a head for T Lazy W Park in December when the park informally inquired with the state as to whether it met the definition of a mobile home park. Two months later, the Division of Housing ruled it did.
The park’s owners say the state did not give them due process or a chance to plead their case. In March, they decided to sue the Department of Local Affairs, seeking a judicial review of the agency’s determination. (The lawsuit remains in litigation.)
“This determination is arbitrary, capricious and clearly erroneous,” Moriarty argued in the complaint filed in Denver District Court.
The legislature did not intend for the Mobile Home Park Act to apply to seasonal vacation homes, the attorney argued. The park only services second-home owners between May and September, he wrote, meaning it cannot be “continuously occupied.”
“The result of trying to comply with the act would be that the park loses its community character and raises rents to accommodate all of the new liability and responsibilities,” the lawsuit contends.
Jim and Beth Wann have been coming up to the T Lazy W during the summer for the past 19 years. The designation has never been an issue until now, the couple said this week from their porch. They’re happy to see the park sue the state.
“The fewer regulations the better,” Jim Wann, 74, said.
Royce Harrell, a retired truck driver who lives in Lakewood most of the year, said the state’s involvement feels unnecessary.
“I don’t feel we need more protection,” he said from his nearby mobile home. “I’ve never seen people mistreated here.”
The state enters the fray
While the residents in Grand County wave away the need for more stringent regulations, those who use a park across the state feel much differently.
Three residents of the Junction West Vallecito Resort, an RV park and campground abutting a reservoir northeast of Durango, filed their own lawsuit against that park’s owners in August 2022, saying the landlords have not complied with the Mobile Home Park Act. Alleged violations include attempting to change the use of the park without notice, increasing rent without notice and prohibiting occupants from advertising or selling their mobile homes.
The plaintiffs declined to comment when contacted by Pointypress.
The allegations and desire from residents to be considered a mobile home park “came out of total left field,” said Ryan Siemens, co-founder and manager of Cielo Cornerstone, a California-based investment management firm that operates the park.
None of the guests are Colorado residents, he said. And much like T Lazy W, the park only operates during the summer.
“We don’t think state law intended to cover out-of-state second-home owners regardless of whether they’re RVs or mobile homes,” Siemens said.
The state is not a party to the La Plata County lawsuit. But regulators, in a brief, made their position clear.
It doesn’t matter whether the mobile home in the RV park is continuously inhabited by residents, Torrey Samson, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the July 31 court filing on behalf of the Division of Housing. If a mobile home remains on a lot year-round, he argued, then the park is continuously accommodating mobile homes.
“The General Assembly did not include a requirement that home owners be accommodated, only the homes themselves,” Samson wrote. “The General Assembly’s choice not to include this requirement shows that home owners need not be present year-round for the land to qualify as a mobile home park.”
The state’s interpretation ensures that mobile home owners who rent the land on which their home sits do not lose protections simply because they temporarily leave, he wrote.
Boesnecker, the legislator who helped pass recent mobile home protections, said property rights should remain regardless of whether you spend a week, a month or all year in a home.
Mary Arlington, executive director of the Colorado Campground & Lodging Owners Association, worries how many of the state’s 450 RV parks might be impacted by these rulings.
She said the intent of the mobile home laws was positive in protecting vulnerable Coloradans. But her organization didn’t even lobby the bills or get involved in crafting their language because they never imagined parks geared toward summer tourists would qualify as mobile home parks.
“We were not expecting our campground owners to suddenly need to be fluent in this law and adhere to its codes,” Arlington said. “What are we doing being pulled into this arena?”
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