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Time to make manufactured housing complaints available to consumers

September 13, 2004 (updated)
Suzanne Henry, 512-477-4431, ext.121

Release manufactured housing complaint information to consumers

Consumers Union is working on a consumer letter-writing campaign to make it easier for consumers and housing advocates to get complaint information about manufactured housing.
“The time has come to put relevant information about the performance of manufactured home manufacturers and dealers in the hands of consumers,” said Kevin Jewell, Policy Associate for Consumers Union’s Manufactured Housing Project. “Housing is the largest investment most families will ever make. Buyers should be able to identify the companies with a history of complaints.”
People buy a home, in part, as a long term investment. Unfortunately, Consumers Union research finds that manufactured housing is a much riskier investment for families than conventionally built housing. In a 2003 study, more than twice as many manufactured homes lost value as compared to conventional housing. Homes can lose value for a variety of reasons, but poor construction and installation can easily ruin a family’s investment.
“Manufactured homes are often touted as an opportunity for low-income consumers to achieve the dream of homeownership,” Jewell said. “However, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare for unsuspecting consumers.”
Consumer experiences are documented in the complaint files of the state agencies responsible for regulating manufactured housing. The stories contain invaluable information for potential manufactured homebuyers, but the information is not readily available. Consumers Union developed a method for reporting complaint data to consumers by dividing the complaints received by a company by the number of homes sold by that manufacturer.
“If a company has a disproportionate share of complaints compared to their volume of business, buyers should know that up front,” Jewell added. “If consumers have the opportunity to view the past experiences of other consumers, it is less likely that they’ll repeat the same mistakes.”
A total of 38 states have administrative agencies responsible for regulating manufactured housing. Consumers Union is asking these states to compile complaint ratios and make the information available to the public. No state makes complaint ratios or any complaint information available to consumers.
Consumers Union calculated complaint ratios of the largest manufacturers doing business in Texas and published them in the 2002 report, Paper Tiger Missing Dragon: Poor Service and Worse Enforcement Leave Manufactured Homeowners in the Lurch.
Consumers Union is asking regulators to:
• Compile complaint ratios;
• Make ratios available to consumers who request it in writing or by phone; and
• Make ratios available for download from the agency’s website.
“If manufactured housing is to work at all as a viable affordable housing option, at a very minimum consumers must come to the table armed with the information they need to make wise choices and protect their hard-earned money,” Jewell noted.
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Examples of consumer complaints sent to Consumers Union

Michele Haloskey Roles purchased a new home in June, 2001 from a dealer in Millersville, MD. She was given incentives to place her home at Colonial Manor Estates Mobile Home Park in Annapolis, MD. After agreeing to the deal, she placed her new home at the park only to find out six months later that the park had been sold to developers. She has to move by January, 2005. She has tried unsuccessfully for three years to find another park in which to move. She will be forced to return her home to the bank because she cannot find private land to purchase that will allow placement of a manufactured home or another mobile home park.
J. A. McKinnis of Beggs, Oklahoma purchased a home from a Fleetwood dealer. The dealer hired a company to pour the foundation and put in sewer lines. The dealer also hired a trucking company to transport the home from Fleetwood Homes of Belton, Texas. The trucking company dropped one section of the home on the foundation and another section in a ditch. The section dropped in the ditch was then dragged out of the ditch on the ground due to failed hydraulics before being put onto the foundation. The homeowners later discovered problems with the ceiling, floors, plumbing, joists, kitchen wall and cabinets and most of the doors. The dealer assured the homeowners that the damage would be repaired so they closed on their loan. The repair crew has not been able to fix all of the problems. “They have not been able to do the job right,” according to McKinnis. “They left out major piers…..They did not support the mate line for a span of 31 feet!!” There are 20 ceiling cracks, boards are falling from the ceiling, and mirrors have been falling off walls, among other things. Most of the repairs remain unfixed. “Fleetwood has sent their own inspector’s out here twice and are aware of our problems—yet won’t stand behind their product, or make their dealer be responsible for his actions and the actions of the people he hired!!”