More than 3,000 mobile home park residents and owners from around central Florida came to Countryside High School Tuesday to tell a legislative commission how they felt about rent disputes. They filled the school's auditorium, including the balcony, spilling into the aisles and doorways.
State Sen. Curt Kiser, R-Clearwater, is chairman of the seven-member Mobile Home Study Commission, which includes three other state legislators and representatives from mobile home and mobile home park owners' organizations.
"This is the only way most of these mobile home owners can explain their position other than at the ballot box," said Fred Yontek, executive director of the Federation of Mobile Home Owners of Florida.
Public hearings last week in Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers drew similar crowds. A final hearing will be at 10 a.m. today in Orlando's Expo Center.
For the most part, park owners said Tuesday they like the system the way it is and would settle for a few refinements.
Bill Turney, who owns a mobile home park in Plant City, called mobile home law in Florida "one of the finest consumer laws in the United States."
"You are our customers, youare our friends," Turney told the homeowners. "Let's work together on this."
By law, rent disputes are heard by a mediator who can do little except listen.
If the park owner does not agree that the mobile home owner's complaints are legitimate, there is little the mobile home owner can do except take the case to court.
Most of the mobile home owners at the hearing Tuesday want mediation scrapped. They want the Legislature to mandate binding arbitration.
In arbitration both sides would would appeal to an arbitrator, said Tom Munkittrick, general counsel for the Florida Mobile Home Owners Association.
The arbitrator's ruling would become binding if not appealed within 60 days.
Jerry Wallace, president of the Residents' Club at Oak Crest Mobile Home Park in Largo, said members of his group would "all agree that mediation is a failure. Park owners don't even have to show up for it. They can just leave you sitting there."
But Frank Williams, executive director of the Florida Manufactured Housing Association, said what the mobile home owners want amounts to "rent control and we just can't live with that. Nobody would make a major investment in (a mobile home park) with rent control."