By Brian Schaeffer, executive director, TACO
In part one of this discussion we left off with the questions: How do you set yourself up for a victory with local (field) law enforcement and avoid the courts? Moreover, how do you not get caught up in national housing issues (remember that HUD reference), which will cost you nothing but time, money and heartache.
Let’s jump right into it with the old adage; “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck!” Translated, if you are running a campground that looks like a mobile home park and functions like one, expect to be treated like a mobile home park. Especially when it comes to your field law enforcement and the courts.
What are some specifics to remove you from the duck (mobile home / trailer park) category and get you to looking more like a swan (transient / tourism venue)?
- If you have no agreement governing your extended stays, that’s a problem.
- If you are using a standard ‘rental agreement,’ that also puts a landlord/tenant bullseye on your back. You should adopt some form of site services agreement and embrace the mentality that you are providing monthly service hook-ups (water, sewer, electric) and not ‘renting a site.’
- Furthermore, if you have some form of a mini-post office set up in your front office and you receive daily mail for your guests (NOT tenants), that is problematic. If the primary address you have on file for your guests is your park – that’s a big NO-NO! Please tell me your guests don’t have your address on their driver’s license – yikes! That’s an eviction nightmare waiting to happen.
Even if you aren’t doing the things I just described and you are trying to run a good transient operation, there are some pitfalls out there.
Remember our conversation about the latest HUD law where it is now a federal violation to discriminate against someone by not allowing extended guests in your park if they have criminal backgrounds?
Under the recent Obama administration they decided that there are an unfair number of folks being incarcerated and therefore an unfair number of folks being discriminated against who have criminal backgrounds. So, now if you use any form of an application format, you cannot simply decline a guest (not tenant) because they have a criminal record.
You now have to consider the nature of the crime, how long ago it occurred, etc., and you better not turn down that application without having some set standards. Obviously, child molesters are still considered an absolute ‘no-go’ but distribution of a controlled substance five years ago, not so clear cut.
How about a subject that’s very near and dear to everyone’s heart – cash! We get so many calls at the association office from parks that have let guests (not tenants) skip out on several months’ rent (should be fees!) and then they want to know how to utilize theft of services laws.
OK folks, to be treated like a hotel / motel or local restaurant, where folks get arrested or at least thrown out if they don’t pay for their hotel stay or their meal, you can’t let someone eat for free every day for two and half months and then call the cops on the 75th day and claim theft of services.
Yet, we do this in the campground business. If you act like a duck when it comes to collecting the money then you can expect law enforcement to send you to eviction court where other ducks (landlords) go to get rid of tenants (instead of guests).
The problems get even trickier from an operational viewpoint trying to enforce trespass laws when you don’t consistently enforce the rules, and/or allow problems to fester for weeks or months on end. Local law enforcement is likely to tell you that you have a ‘civil matter’ which is code for they aren’t dealing with it, instead you are headed for court. Even worse, you may be setting yourself up for any number of discrimination claims and enter those pesky HUD people again.
You can mitigate much of this if you have a state campground association. Not only is there safety in numbers, but they have probably passed laws, created forms and certainly assisted park operators in most of these situations.
You need to belong to your local associations and support their legal and legislative efforts; even if you think you are really squared away and couldn’t possibly have a problem.
Most of all, if you are a duckling, start making changes. It will be hard because your guests (not tenants) actually think they own your park. They don’t, YOU do! And you can be the beautiful swan!
Brian Schaeffer is the executive director of TACO.