Earlier this month 300 residents of a Newbury Park 55-plus mobile home park were left without running water for nearly a week. The stoppage, caused by a main break within the community’s private water system, didn’t get fixed until city and county officials intervened.
The ordeal got me thinking about the pros and cons of such living arrangements.
Age-restricted mobile home parks offer seniors an affordable alternative to single-family homes without the crowded living of an apartment complex. Most tenants pay rent on their space and own their mobile home. That means they pay a lower monthly rent and can live in a larger home.
Another benefit is that the parks’ amenities are designed around the needs of seniors and offer opportunities to socialize with people in the same age range.
On its website, this particular property in Newbury Park boasts “resort-style amenities” and “professional staff.” For instance, residents have access to several putting greens as well as a heated pool and clubhouse with billiards.
Many residents of age-restricted mobile home parks age in place, making alterations as necessary to stay mobile. Some of them may be using walkers or wheelchairs and, when they can no longer drive, may use Dial-A-Ride services to get around.
A mobile home community is much like a condominium association in that common spaces are maintained by the park owners, and the tenants are responsible for their small lots.
So when utilities like water, gas or electricity are interrupted, especially when the incident is not due to a natural disaster, what responsibility does the property management have to its residents? How are issues communicated? What is an acceptable period of time in which repairs must be made?
Days after the situation in Newbury Park, I learned that an age 55-plus apartment complex in Simi Valley had been without a working elevator for several days.
A local bank officer was alerted to the situation when her 95-year-old client, who uses a motorized wheelchair, told her about it. The resident wondered how her neighbors with mobility issues on the second and third floors were getting out to run their errands and attend their appointments.
In both instances, these properties are considered independent living locations.
Assisted-living facilities for seniors, like Atria or Sunrise, are under the umbrella of the state’s Community Care Licensing Division, whose mission is to promote the health, safety and quality of life of each person in community care. This includes annual site visits and evaluations, and the enforcement of rules and policies.
Independent-living sites— whether they are age-restricted single-family homes, mobile home parks or apartment complexes—don’t have that same level of oversight and, depending on the management, bring a wide variety of responses to interruptions in service.
Residents are at the mercy of the management company’s response—many of whom may know little about the special needs of residents who live there.
Situations can be tragic when a natural disaster, like a wildfire, occurs within these independent living sites. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that older adults are more than twice as likely as the general population to die in fires.
A quarter of Paradise, Calif., residents (where the 2018 Camp fire led to more than 80 fatalities) had a disability, which is more than double the statewide rate. The disability rate is often similar in age-restricted housing sites.
During the wildfires last year, assisted-living facilities like Atria bussed their residents to a safer location with similar amenities to provide uninterrupted service and care. Not so for the independent living apartments and mobile home parks nearby.
Do we, as a community, have a responsibility to place some minimal regulations on operators of age-restricted properties?
Would offering disaster preparedness training for residents be appropriate?
Would arranging in advance for transportation services to be available in case of disaster be warranted? If not tied to a natural disaster, would regulations regarding the maximum amount of time there can be interruptions in utilities be in order?
In both local cases mentioned previously—at the mobile home park in Newbury Park and apartment complex in Simi—it took days for authorities to become aware of the issue, contact the management company and put interventions in place to protect and serve the senior residents.
Until that can improve or if it ever will, if you have a friend or relative who has special needs such as mobility or transportation and lives on an age-restricted property, you might consider volunteering yourself as a point of contact if an interruption in service occurs.Re