County extending mobile home moratorium despite possibility of lawsuits
By Lou Ortiz
Brushing aside warnings it could be inviting lawsuits, the Miami-Dade County Commission Tuesday extended its moratorium on mobile home park conversions for six months, a measure that was temporarily imposed in October to help residents keep their homes.
The moratorium was extended for a second 90 days in February and while in place prohibits the issuance of building permits or rezoning for 40 mobile home parks — with about 8,000 units — in unincorporated areas of the county. But the moratorium does not bar eviction of tenants.
Before the commission vote, Assistant County Attorney Joni Coffey warned commissioners that the longer the moratorium remains in place the greater the likelihood of legal action against the county. "No building permits can" be issued, she said.
The county's action is illegal and "they have no legal grounds to stand on," said Jeff Bercow, a land use and zoning attorney, adding that the county could only extend a moratorium for the purpose of rezoning.
He said the county has been fortunate that no mobile park owner has come forward and challenged the moratorium for interfering with his or her property rights.
"The county has been approaching this as a zoning issue, and it's a landlord-tenant issue," he said.
Mr. Bercow added that Florida law is clear that only the state can deal with landlord-tenant relationships.
Despite the potential for lawsuits, commissioners said they wanted to continue to protect residents of mobile home parks while the county staff comes up with other ways Miami-Dade could help.
"If we're going to talk about affordable housing, we have to talk about mobile home parks," said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa. "I think the administration needs more time to come up with other ideas. I don't see the response I personally asked for."
Subrata Basu, interim director of the Department of Planning & Zoning, told the commission the land where mobile home parks are located could be used for commercial or industrial uses, or high-density residential, all of which would result in more property tax income for the county.
One idea would be to offer lower property taxes for owners of mobile home parks as an incentive, and another would be to help trailer park residents organize homeowner associations, Mr. Basu said.
"These are things," he said, "that would help keep units in place." But as far as evictions and displacements "that's a business decision that the property owner can make."
Assistant County Manager Alex Munoz told commissioners the landlord-tenant relationship is "controlled by the state, not here locally."
Other commissioners asked the staff to explore the possibility of the county buying mobile home parks and either allowing the residents to stay there or building affordable housing on the sites.
"I'm trying to find solutions to try to help these people," Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz said.
Commissioner Sally Heyman agreed. "These are business people who are making business decisions," she said. "This is clearly a problem of displacing residents of Miami-Dade County."
After they extended the moratorium in February, commissioners asked county staff to come up with proposals to help mobile home park residents. But some commissioners were dissatisfied and others wanted the staff to explore other options.
The staff recommendations included the county providing rental assistance, asking mobile park owners to voluntarily restrict the use of their property to mobile homes, and Miami-Dade partnering with other organizations to help mobile park residents buy the land at their current sites.
"I fail to see where there is significant relief for these individuals," Ms. Heyman said.
As the staff goes back to the drawing board on the issue, Mr. Basu said his department would not be involved in rezoning or any zoning issues regarding mobile home parks.
"This is a very difficult issue," Commissioner Katy Sorenson said. "We have to figure out how they can stay."
In 2006, there were 12,647 mobile home units in the county, according to county documents, with a population the previous year of 34,883 people.