By Brian Schaeffer
President, Texas Association of Campground Owners
In the last edition of Campground Cache, we talked about yield management and how extended stays might factor into that strategy. Here I want to reflect upon the legal side of things and best practices.
To begin with, there are many state specific laws that need to be adhered to and I will not presume to know all of those or offer legal advice. This is more about how the terms we use affect perception and subsequently legal outcomes, no matter what your local laws dictate.
In my home state of Texas, we have passed some very specific laws to remove RV parks from the housing realm (begin to think HUD – Housing & Urban Development) and place our parks in the transient or tourism category. The benefits of this are HUGE, to coin a phrase.
In a general sense, our industry fights against some stereotypes involving terms like mobile home park, trailer park, and many other colloquialisms that follow. This hurts us when we try to be a positive impact within our communities (planning/zoning), business relationships (banks/financing) and customer relationships (landlord/tenant).
We really want to be thought of more as a tourism venue, such as hotels/motels and attractions, where the value is based on the experience and not on rental rates. This is experienced where the daily rubber meets the operational road. For example, a guest doesn’t pay his fees (note I didn’t say rent!) – now what? Or, a guest (note I didn’t say tenant) becomes unruly and disrupts the other guests – now what?
Well you might call the local authorities. How will they perceive your operations – rent and tenants versus fees and guests? That will determine whether they help you solve your problem in the short run or send you onto the legal morass of landlord/tenant law.
In a perfect world where law enforcement loves what you are doing – offering a camping experience with all the fun you can have with your clothes on – or will they think you are offering a low-end housing solution. If they understand you are part of the tourism community they will treat you just like they do when a hotel or restaurant guest doesn’t pay their bill or a patron creates a disturbance.
Respectively, that’s theft of services or trespassing violations, plain and simple. The field officer will take action (or threaten to take action) that will get you paid and, or get rid of your problem.
The questions are – how do you set yourself up for a victory with local (field) law enforcement and avoid the courts? Moreover, how to you not get caught up in national housing issue (remember that HUD reference) which will cost you nothing but time and money, and heartache.
Well, there are some easy things to do and then some harder things to consider. Sadly, we are living in times when the local cop is less likely to get involved in something that isn’t black and white (no pun intended) and there is a legal aid type agency wanting to sue you for every crazy issue you can think of.
For example, did you know that under the latest HUD law it is a federal violation to discriminate against someone by not allowing extended guests in your park if they have criminal backgrounds – in fact, that may make you a racist! Want to learn more about this and the specifics of how to set yourself up for less problems rather than more difficulties? Well, that’s what Part Two of this column will cover.