In this case, Goliath= Rob Tunnell, Reybold Homes, and Rethuglican legislator Rep. Ruth Briggs King, among others.
David=The Delaware Manufactured Home Owners’ Association.
The issue? Whether the 30,000 to 45,000 Delawareans who reside in manufactured housing communities are to have ANY protection from the powerful development community.
For the uninitiated, let’s explain what we’re talking about and why it’s important. Rob Tunnell, through ‘Tunnell Companies, L. P.’, leases ground to tenants who situate their manufactured homes on that leased ground. The tenants pay Tunnell’s company rent on that ground to enable their families to live there. Tunnell, of course, is not the only owner of manufactured housing communities, but he’s perhaps the most egregious example of a powerful landlord seeking to screw his tenants. Pot-Nets is Tunnell’s kingdom, described by him as:
A unique opportunity to retreat to a home in one of six scenic residential and recreational waterfront communities – at half the cost of site-built structures and subdivisions.
Manufactured homes are the essential component of Tunnell’s mix, and are described thusly by Tunnell:
The term “manufactured home” describes a house that is constructed in a factory to comply with strict building codes.
These codes regulate and ensure a high level of performance in the homes design and construction — including strength, durability, energy efficiency and safety. Every home is inspected at the factory for compliance with the code throughout the manufacturing process.
In a factory environment, all aspects of the construction process are controlled. The weather doesn’t interfere or cause delays, all workers are efficiently supervised and inventory expenses are secured. These efficiencies and savings are passed on to you, the homebuyer.
Today’s manufactured home is indistinguishable in quality and appearance from conventional site-built homes… at one-third to one-half of the cost! You will be able to select from a wide variety of architectural styles and interior designs, including floorplans, options and upgrades.
Tunnell then encourages readers to access the New Dimensions homesite, a company that sells manufactured homes and that, well, well, has the same address as Tunnell’s own company. Oh, and get this. New Dimensions charges a 10% commission on sales of homes on Tunnell properties. And, if you want to get a more reasonable realtor, you have to deal with 25 Del. C. 7022, which requires that the landlord ‘accepts’ the buyer as a new tenant. Wonder what’s the over/under on how many buyers pay a commission of less than 10%. I’m guessing zero.
So now, with the promise of beach area living with all the amenities, you’ve got a community of people who own manufactured housing purchased from Tunnell, utilizing realtors approved by Tunnell…on land owned by Tunnell.
By now, you can figure out the rest. These are permanent dwellings, and they are on land owned by Tunnell. All that is left is for Tunnell to try to squeeze every last cent out of the tenants, and to throw them off once someone or something more lucrative comes along. And here’s the point: These people have nowhere to go. Neither do their homes. They’re screwed, and Tunnell couldn’t care less. Read this court case for just one example of Tunnell’s chicanery.
Which is why some brave members of the Delaware General Assembly have tried to rein in Tunnell and his, wait for it, ilk. Sen. George Howard Bunting, who came into the General Assembly with a conscience and will leave the General Assembly with a conscience, has perhaps been the Patron Saint for these tenants, and has joined with Rep. Valerie Longhurst, Sen. Bruce Ennis, and Rep. John Kowalko, among others, to try to protect them from the avaricious overlords.
The cause of the tenants has been helped immeasurably by the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners’ Association, a tiny volunteer ‘kitchen table’ 501(c)3 not-for profit that so far has subsisted on table scraps. A $1400 grant-in-aid from the state, and the occasional small grant. That’s it.
Here’s where Goliath enters the picture. Although Tunnell and Reybold Homes, the company that manufactures Tunnell’s manufactured housing, have showered legislators with contributions and have virtually unlimited legislative access, that’s not enough for them. They must kill off the tiny thorn in their sides, the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners’ Association. It’s not enough for Tunnell’s underlings to intimidate residents who file complaints with DNREC or the police, no, they’ve got to squash the opposition. Their willing ally is Representative and ‘Realtor’ Ruth Briggs King (hmmm, wonder if she is one of Tunnell’s ‘approved’ realtors), who has demanded in a letter crafted by the Controller General’s office that this tiny kitchen table not-for-profit provide her with all of their tax information for tax years 2009 and 2010. Never mind that the association is in full compliance with Federal Form 990, which is the proper tax form for charitable organizations of that size. A form, by the way, that is readily available to Briggs King and the public online. Ruth Briggs King wants more. But, of course, she doesn’t want more. She wants to bury this volunteer organization in so much paperwork that they’ll have no choice but to give up the fight. People ask why I use the term Rethuglican. I only use it when an R behaves in a thuggish manner, which happens a lot. What Ruth Briggs King has done defines the term ‘Rethuglican’. Destroy the defenseless on behalf of the greedy economic overlords.
This is where the slingshots come in. One way that landlords exploit the defenseless is by raising rates at levels far above what normal people would consider reasonable. Legislators have had the same difficulty dealing with this scourge as they have with designer drugs, b/c just as nobody can anticipate the next pharmaceutical ‘breakthough’, legislators have had difficulty in anticipating just what outrage the landlords might come up with next. So, they’ve done a lot of ‘reacting’.
SB 205(Ennis) seeks to keep the tenants at least even with Goliath. It would provide that, if an owner desires to raise the average rentals charged to homeowners in a manufactured home community more than the increase in the Consumer Price Index For All Urban Consumers for the preceding year, the owner must seek approval of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Manufactured Housing. The bill would enable the Council to consider information provided by the landlords that would warrant an increase above the increase in the CPI. The bill would essentially take the arbitrariness away that had enabled landlords to suddenly impose huge rent increases with no warning. In other words, this bill seeks to protect 30-45 thousand people who live in Delaware, and live in fear that they can be uprooted at any time. The landlords would still get their increases, they could even be higher than the CPI if they can justify them.
This bill passed the Senate with the bare minimum of 11 votes. I have been told that many senators considered this a ‘free’ vote b/c they think that it will not pass the House. They probably think that it (a) will not come to a vote; or (b) a killer amendment will be added. After all, you don’t have to kill Bambi, you just have to starve Bambi. The House has 26 D’s and 15 R’s. In other words, if Democrats truly represent a Democratic constituency, there’s no reason the bill can’t pass.
I urge you to notify your Democratic legislators and place them on notice (politely, of course): The Democratic Party that we identify with would not hesitate to protect the 30-45 thousand Delawareans being hounded by the greedy economic overlords. We expect you to do the same. And don’t let them get away with the “It’s a well-intended bill, but…” line. Those are just weasel words for “We’re bought and paid for”.
Whether it’s your legislator’s sense of shame, conscience, dim recollection of what the Democratic Party once stood for, or their fear of being held accountable this November, your slingshots can help these representatives find the nerve to help David slay Goliath. Or, at least, to keep Goliath at bay. The Delaware Bay, that is.