Edmonton mobile home owners ask politicians for help addressing concerns
'I'm not aware of another jurisdiction in Canada where there's not a step before court for mediation'
In January a collapsed sewer line spit up sewage into the mobile homes of Crystal Dawson and her neighbour.
"It collapsed so bad that there was feces in our bathtubs, feces in our sinks, feces in his dishwasher," said Dawson, who has lived in Maple Oak Ridge Communities in southeast Edmonton since 2008.
"He actually had to renovate his entire bathroom because it came over the tub, and down onto the floor."
Dawson's family went a week without plumbing before the line was fixed, she said.
According to residents in the community of about 1,200 — a mix of renters and mobile home owners — it's one of many examples showing why they need a way for their concerns to be addressed.
Lots are owned by the property management company Parkbridge Lifestyle Communities. It is responsible for maintenance of the ground below the lots, as well as roadways, playgrounds and community spaces.
But when disputes arise, mobile home residents and landlords don't have access to the same legislated arbitration mechanism as tenants in apartments and homes.
Plumbing is one of the ongoing maintenance concerns long raised by Dawson, president of the Twin Parks Community League, and other residents who spoke to CBC News Thursday.
"We have these laws in place from the city and the Mobile Homes Sites Tenancy Act but nobody is enforcing them," Dawson said.
She pays $600 monthly in mortgage fees while Parkbridge receives $130 for sewage and water and $600 for lot fees.
In a recent letter asking city and provincial politicians for help, Dawson said poor maintenance of roads and sidewalks has damaged vehicles while flooding has rotted the foundations of homes.
Drained financially making repairs, as well as emotionally, Dawson told CBC moving isn't an option and taking a company with deep pockets to court isn't affordable.
She and other residents pointed to a nearby empty lot, one of dozens they say where owners have abandoned their mobile home.
"You are physically stuck, you are financially stuck," said Dawson, noting that raising her concerns publicly has had its drawbacks. "Who's going to buy it ... and how could I find the heart to sell that to somebody?"
After hearing some of the concerns, Laughlin MacLean, vice president of property operations for Ontario-based Parkbridge, said he drove up and down the tree-lined streets of Maple Ridge last month.
MacLean said the potholes are consistent with what he would see in any other Canadian municipality coming out of winter.
Sewer lines are flushed on an annual basis, but it can take some time to locate and repair blockages encountered from the roots of mature trees or non-biodegradable flushed items such as diapers, he said.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't suit us or our homeowners if we skimp on maintenance, most notably because if we short cut on maintenance it typically ends up costing more to fix the problem further down the track," he said.
Parkbridge has extensive real estate experience, owning more than 30 mobile home parks across Canada.
The company is owned by British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI) through its real estate arm, QuadReal. BCI manages pensions for clients including B.C.'s Teachers' Pension Plan.
MacLean would also like to see Alberta's legislation updated to better deal with property challenges.
"I'm not aware of another jurisdiction in Canada where there's not a step before court for mediation or hearing of concerns between the landlord and the tenant," he said.
No arbitration mechanism
Last month, Edmonton city councillor Mike Nickel wrote an open letter to provincial candidates asking them to give mobile home residents the same rights as renters.
Legislation under the Residential Tenancy Act offers renters and landlords an arbitration mechanism to resolve disputes which the Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Act doesn't have.
"When a problem crops up on these sites, what happens is they come to the city and the city doesn't have jurisdiction, so we shift it to the province and then the province throws it back," Nickel said.
The city's power of enforcement is very limited because Maple Ridge is private property, he said.
"There are legitimate concerns that are being raised on these sites that the city does not have the legal ability to go remedy.
"And conversely the park management side, they have rights too. And so we need clarity, we need assigned roles and responsibility," said Nickel. "It's an easy fix."
A spokesperson for Service Alberta said officials plan to meet with Nickel to discuss concerns.
An emailed statement noted that under the legislation, mobile home landlords and tenants have fewer avenues to resolve disputes than those in traditional residential dwellings.
"This is something we will monitor and take a closer look at so we can determine the best course of action," the statement said.
"We have heard about a number of challenges facing mobile home site tenants and landlords in many areas of Alberta, and are committed to ensuring a safe living environment for everyone."
In January, former MLA Robyn Luff called on the previous NDP government to change how mobile home parks are governed.