After years of hitting mostly dead ends on Capitol Hill, Utah's mobile-home owners believe they have found the key to achieving future success: clout through size.
"Park owners are still lord and master and it's time for that to change," said Steve Anderson, president of Utah Manufactured Homeowners Action Group.
"The way in which that change will occur is for each and every one of us to get out of our armchairs and get involved," Anderson told the group of about 40 mobile-home owners who gathered in the falling snow Saturday to rally at Salt Lake City's Library Square.
Many carried signs that wilted in the weather. One read, "What happened to my American dream? Rest in Peace." Another read, "Stop greedy landlords feeding at the trough. Enough is Enough."
The dilemma most of them face -- about 75,000 Utahns live in mobile and manufactured homes -- is that they own their homes but rent the land underneath. And for years, Utah's lawmakers have balked against passing any laws that restrict landowner rights.
Last year, mobile-home owners gained ground with a new law that allows nine months notice, rather than 90 days, when parks are changing hands and they'll have to relocate.
Data compiled by Anderson showed that since 2004, lot rents have risen between 15 and 87 percent, while the consumer price index rose 11.2 percent each year.
"We're treated as if we're a closed market," Anderson said. "We're not a closed market. We're a captured market."
That captive situation exists, Anderson added, because it costs up to $20,000 to relocate a manufactured home from one park to another. And many mobile-home dwellers are retirees, widows, senior citizens and veterans living on tight budgets.
"No one's getting a raise on Social Security this year," said Ed Schultz, a Korean War veteran and vice president of the Riverside Manufactured Homeowners Association. "So they'll have to miss a dinner or they won't have a pill, and that's totally wrong."
One solution to the problem of rising lot rents is for homeowners to form cooperatives and buy out their landlords.
"Let's see if the wise men up in the Legislature will give us the opportunity to purchase our communities," Anderson said, adding that financing is available to do just that.
Anderson also hopes to see state lawmakers enact rent-justification legislation and an enforceable mobile homeowner's bill of rights.