Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- Once a mobile home has been on a rented lot for a while, it can be expensive, difficult and risky to move it somewhere else.

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday on a vote of 29-20 that would give tenants in mobile home parks more legal protections, so if they have to leave their rented lot, they don’t end up in a bad situation. 

The bill would make sure mobile home park owners give tenants ample notice of changes in rent rules or leasing contracts. Tenants would also be able to organize without retaliatory action and, if they do end up having to move, it would give them a chance to sell their mobile home without interference from the park owner.

House Bill 889 is sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Karlen, D-Missoula, but Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, carried it in the Senate. 

“These changes bring Montana just a little bit closer to other states. Not nearly as far in terms of renter rights in mobile home parks like Arizona and Utah. But one step -- one step better. To be clear, this bill does not impact rent, does not impact eviction or what a park owner can do with their land. Rather, it focuses on transparency that allows residents and park owners to make the best decisions for their own situations,” said Flowers. 

Opponents of the bill said that it would strip landlords of the power to evict, raise rent and manage their property. They said anything could be construed as “retaliatory action” and landlords would be walking on eggshells.

Sen. Chris Friedel, R-Billings, said if this bill passes, landlords could be taken to court over pretty much anything they do. And the tenants wouldn’t be the one paying for the landlords’ court costs. 

“People don't quite understand that even frivolous lawsuits, you still have to defend yourself in the courts. And if I were to increase my rent to one of my renters and they would pull me into court for supposedly retaliatory actions because I raised the rent -- I think this could be a disservice to any landlord or any owner of property that, you know, frivolous lawsuits happen a lot,” Friedel said. 

Proponents reiterated that the bill would just make sure landlords are legally required to give their tenants a fair lease and notice of any major changes. They said it shouldn’t be a problem for landlords. Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, supported the bill.

“You can boot them out for not paying their rent. You can boot them out because they got Narcan everywhere. It's in the law. All this says is we are going to treat them fairly and give them a miserly 60 days to find a place to put their family,” Molnar said. 

The bill will now be sent back to the House for approval.