Policy Suggestions from the Park Girl Rip-off

If you don’t live in the RioGrande Valley, or don’t follow manufactured housing (MH) scams, you might have missed the “Park Girl” Story.  JoLeigh Ares, a manufactured housing retailer operating under the catchy name “Park Girl,” allegedly sold dozens of manufactured homes to consumers, taking cash down payments and then either not delivering homes, or delivering homes without titles and/or with undisclosed outstanding tax liens.  When complaints started to bubble up publicly about her activities, she skipped town.  She was finally arrested by a US air marshal on a flight to Idaho, and currently faces trial on several civil and criminal charges.

Documents filed with the District Court by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) outlines claims from 91 families that paid the Park Girl over $800,000 in cash down payments.  The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs Manufactured Housing Division, the state regulator of MH retailers, told KGRV news they had received over 140 complaints about the activities of Park Girl.

This incident highlights the challenges of navigating the purchase of a manufactured home.  Conventional home sales traditionally involve a third-party closing and a RESPA-required “cooling off period” around financed sales.  This gives the buyer and their agents a chance to review documents, such as the existence of a clean title, prior to consummation of a deal.  Many manufactured home sales transactions happen on the dealer’s lot, with the retailer managing the paperwork and documentation of the process.  This increases the opportunity for the shenanigans seen here.

I can think of at least two policy changes that could help head off future incidents like this.

  • One is the public posting of complaint information received by TDHCA MHD.   Over two years passed between the transaction of the first consumer listed in TRLA documents and the transaction of the last consumer.  These issues may have come to the public’s attention earlier if TDHCA MHD provided a public summary of complaints received when they were received.  (Would you buy a home from a retailer with 140 complaints?).
  • The other is the public posting of Tax Liens at time of sale.  If TDHCA MHD required the posting of outstanding tax liens on the door of used manufactured homes for sale, purchasers wouldn’t be surprised by their existence.  The TRLA documents describe a consumer who bought a home for $18K, only to later discover it had a $14K tax lien from a decade of unpaid property taxes.  No doubt this information is already supposed to be disclosed at the time of sale, but requiring posting on the door would provide TDHCA MHD a much better opportunity to audit the practice.  They could easily walk the lots, but they can’t easily monitor the closings.

Anyways, the lege is in town.  Maybe they’ll do something about this before the next Park Girl opens up shop.

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