If there’s one thing that will close a park, it’s pollution. I’ve only seen one environmental case in my 25 years’ of mobile home park ownership, but I’ll happily go another 25 years without seeing another one. It isn’t just that these environmental issues are expensive on their own. It’s that they can have a long-term impact on your property’s value. This is definitely a situation where an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.
When I say environmental issues, I’m talking about contamination in the wells that supply your residents with water. Think of these as your park’s bloodline. Any problem with them is going to be carried to virtually every part of your park. Not only do you need to have those wells tested, you need to understand what those tests mean. That way, you can take action to fix your environmental problems before it puts your park, and your residents, at risk.
Your Responsibilities When Managing a Water System in Washington
If you’re managing a water system in Washington state, the Department of Health requires monitoring based on the size of your park. The larger your park, the more stringent those responsibilities. If you’re supplying water to your park from a well, as opposed to a citywide water system, you’re responsible for maintaining its safety and quality.
Most mobile home park owners I know of fall into Group A under the state’s statute, meaning they provide water to more than 15 homes on a year-round basis. When that’s the case, you’re required to submit results from an approved lab on a yearly basis—as well as take immediate action to resolve any issues with those results.
The test itself is pretty simple. They take a sample from your water, then review the results to ensure its safe for human consumption and that all common contaminants are within acceptable levels. This is the spot where many get confused, as well test results are not an easy read.
Reading Your Well Water Testing Results
Chances are, your annual well results are four pages long and read like a Russian alarm clock manual. There’s lots of numbers, symbols, scientific jargon—and none of it makes any sense. Luckily, you don’t need to be an environmentalist to decipher the results. The lab should clearly break the results down for you, directing you to any areas of concern. Here is a brief list of information that should be included in your results:
- Levels of dissolved gasses: The dissolved gasses covered are carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and the big one, methane. Gasses that exists in the soil dissolve into the water supply. A high amount of these gasses can make water unsafe—and the ground unstable.
- Bacteria: Generally, bacteria tests are done to find problems related to animal or human waste. A high level of bacteria could indicate you have issues with either a leaking septic system, or runoff from an area that animals use to go to the bathroom, like if you’re downhill from a farm.
- The pH levels: The pH level test will indicate how acidic your water is. High pH makes the water taste unpleasant and, over time, will damage your pipes.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): That scary sounding phrase is simply a measure of contaminants from things like fuel that at high levels can cause health problems. This type of testing is often done in high-risk areas, like if your mobile home park is near a gas station, airport, or other business where fuel could regularly be spilled. It also happens in situations where you have a fuel tank for a home rupture.
- Other common contaminants: There are other common contaminants that might be ok at low levels, but become high-risk at others. Common ones tested for include arsenic and lead, both items commonly found in nature. Usually, these levels stay pretty consistent and are unlikely to increase without a drastic change. For example, if you replace your water well, you’re going to want to retest for arsenic and lead due to the ground being disrupted, which could have caused more of these contaminants to appear. On the other hand, if you haven’t made any changes to your land and just tested for arsenic a year ago, you probably don’t need to do it again. You usually only test for these sporadically or if there’s a specific cause or event that necessitates it.
When you receive your results, if there’s a major cause for concern the lab will let you know, along with recommendations for how to fix the problem. They may even try to point you to the root of the problem. This is where you may find yourself in a dilemma, as you may find yourself on the hook for someone else’s expensive mistake.
Finding the Root and Funding the Fix
Now, sometimes you own the problem if your mobile home park water supply is contaminated. Usually, if it’s your fault it’s because of a broken septic or fuel system that’s leaking into your water. But other times, the problem was caused by someone else. In the case of the environmental issue I dealt with, the responsible party was an industrial plant close by. Their activities were contaminating the ground and, eventually, they were the ones who had to pay for it.
I say eventually because if you’ve traced the source to a third party, you could be in for a long-tailed lawsuit. Big businesses are slow to take responsibility for problems like these, not because of the immediate cost, but because of the future risk of lawsuits. If one of your tenants claims they got sick from your water, they’ll sue the party that took responsibility for the contamination in the first place.
Most likely, you’re going to have to pay to fix the problem out of your reserve, then take that third party to court. And don’t assume you can turn to liability insurance for your park, either. Most policies aren’t going to cover environmental contaminants—and if they’re coming from a third party, they’re definitely not going to pay. In the long run, there’s no affordable insurance policy for environmental disasters that’s going to be worth it because the problem really is a rare one. The best way to protect yourself is to be proactive. Test wells when you’re supposed to and fix problems as soon as possible. If you don’t, you might find yourself sitting on an unsellable park.
How Environmental Issues Kill Your Park’s Value
I can’t think of any community in Washington that will allow you to sell your park without having the water tested. The reason is simple: they don’t want people playing ‘hot potato’ with a property that needs to be cleaned up. Environmental issues only get bigger, so anyone dealing with one is probably going to find their mobile home park is unsellable. Essentially, until you get that problem fixed, your park is worth zero dollars. If no one can buy it, it can’t have a value.
Sometimes, the issue isn’t big enough to prevent the sale by law. You might have a small environmental concern that can be easily addressed. However, even then you’re going to have a hard time selling it to someone who needs bank financing. Banks are notorious for refusing loans on properties with even the smallest of water or land issues.
The time to fix an issue with your water supply is right away. Rather than waiting for a third party to pay, re-dig the well. Even if your results are at acceptable levels, an issue with the water is still going to cause a drop in its value. Take every preventative measure you can to keep the problem from getting bigger. There are few things that put a park at bigger risk than an environmental issue, so this is not the type of maintenance you can afford to defer.
An alternative might be to sell your park to a direct buyer like myself. As a direct buyer, I pay cash, meaning that banks won’t stall the sale. While I can’t take on every community, I’ve been known to work with problem parks from time to time. For more information on selling your park direct, give me a call or shoot me an email.