02/10/04 — Inspecting mobile home parks

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Inspecting mobile home parks

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on February 10, 2004 2:02 PM

People may think of mobile home parks as dirty, nasty, even dangerous. They have had good reason, Julian Nelms figures.

Last week Nelms, Wayne County's code enforcement officer, drove through some parks and pointed out why some have a bad reputation.

Nelms' truck bounced along rutted-out dirt roads, avoiding puddles of standing water and going past weeds strewn with litter. Bald tires were leaning up against trees. Dogs were chained out in bare yards.

In a Genoa Road park, a line of refrigerators was set out in one person's yard like the statues on Easter Island. "He must want every junked refrigerator he sees," Nelms said.

But Nelms also showed some examples of how the reputation could be improved. Just down the street, another park had paved streets, fire hydrants and landscaped yards. All the lots were marked with numbers.

"If you see a junked car in here, it'll be unusual," Nelms said. "I'd live here. Some others, I wouldn't even think about it."

A lot of people rent spaces and mobile homes in Wayne County. The county has approved more than 200 parks in areas outside of towns or cities, and the Planning Department estimates that between 8,000 to 9,000 people live in them.

County officials became concerned in 2002 that mobile home park residents were at risk in case of emergency, due to the lack of signs. A call to the 911 center would give the dispatcher a street address, lot number or park name, but that didn't mean the fire trucks or ambulances could find the homes.

"If you're home alone, you might not have anybody who can run out to the road and jump and wave," county planner Chip Crumpler said.

A year ago, the county Planning Department began annual inspections of the parks. To pass, a park must have a sign that identifies it by name. It also must have passable roads, street name signs, parking for all lots, lot number markers and street lights, landscaping, open areas and trash disposal. The park owner must maintain a register of occupants.

The park cannot have damaged homes, junked cars, or weedy or overgrown lots.

A park can also fail inspection if it doesn't provide fire hydrants in areas where water service is available.

Only 28 of the 203 parks met every standard last year.

This year, with park owners knowing the inspections were coming, 51 parks were in compliance on the first inspection. Parks were given 90 days to correct omissions, and Nelms is now doing follow-up inspections with the goal of finishing by April.

Park owners have a potential reward for a passed inspection. Officials at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base have decided only to assist in rent at the parks that are certified.

"The others, the base doesn't even want to know their names," Nelms said.

The county has two tools for forcing parks to comply. It can fine owners $50 a day for non-compliance. It can also deny the parks' permits they need to replace tenants who leave.

But so far the county is still trying to work with property owners, most of whom are trying to be cooperative, Nelms said.

Junked cars tend to be the biggest problem, he added. Nelms can provide park owners with stickers to mark the cars. Wrecker services will tow away the clunkers, at no charge to the park owner.

The park owners find that it is easier to keep up their property when residents begin to take some pride in the neighborhood, he said. And the nicer parks don't tend to have empty spaces.

He added, "We just want to change it so that when someone says 'mobile home park,' you don't automatically think shabby."