Here are 5 ways manufactured-housing communities, especially in hard-hit California, can reduce wildfire threats.
By Matthew Davies
Following years of wildfire devastation that destroyed 8,100 dwellings, many California homeowners are facing a new threat: a lack of affordable and adequate home-insurance coverage.
The Camp Fire that spread through Paradise, California in 2018 caused more than $9 billion in losses to insured property. In response, insurers refused to renew insurance policies for 235,250 homes in 2019, a 31 percent increase from the previous year. In zip codes with a moderate to very high fire risk, the rate of non-renewals jumped to 61 percent.
This move prompted Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara to issue a moratorium on insurance non-renewals in December 2019. That moratorium still exists today, giving needed protections to homeowners at risk of losing coverage. But what happens when manufactured homes, which don’t legally require insurance, are damaged by fire?
As the owner and operator of a manufactured-housing community, here are five things you can do to help homeowners in your communities prepare for natural disasters like wildfires.
1. Require insurance for all residences in your community in the lease agreement
Though insuring a manufactured or tiny home is not required by law, some property management companies require homeowners to insure their homes whether they occupy or rent them. Most mortgages require insurance, though some manufactured homeowners may own their home outright, meaning they may opt out of coverage unless it is required by their community. Tiny homes, while more affordable than their larger, site-built counterparts, still cost an average of $60,000, making them an investment worth protecting.
2. Understand what is and isn’t covered
When it comes to natural disasters, some companies exclude different types of damage – like fire or flood damage – in certain high-risk regions, so it’s important to confirm wildfire coverage. Standard residential insurance policies will cover damage from fire and smoke, including:
- Damage to the dwelling structure and additional structures;
- Landscaping and backyard items;
- Reimbursement for the cost of temporary housing, such as a hotel or apartment if the home is deemed unlivable during repairs;
- Removal of debris;
- Upgrades intended to bring the home up to current building-code standards; and
- Personal property.
3. Include tree and brush removal in your manufactured community’s routine maintenance plan
Or also require that residents remove or reduce fire hazards from the property in the lease.
Wildfires can spread quickly through brush and limbs, so whenever possible, create what foresters call “defensible space” around the homes in your community. This includes clearing away brush, trees, long grasses, and bushes adjacent to the home; lopping off low tree limbs; and removing leaves from gutters.
Since 2005, California has required homeowners who live in high-risk areas to maintain a 100-foot defensible space – that is, free of flammable materials such as brush and vegetation – around their homes. Since 2008, California law also requires new homes to be constructed with fire-resistant materials such as dual-pane windows, fire-resistant roofing, and enclosed eaves. While this amount of space may not be feasible in manufactured-housing communities, you can still take steps to ensure that fire hazards are kept as far away from dwellings as possible.
Find a list of other tips on making homes wildfire-ready here.
4. Establish an evacuation plan
Create an evacuation plan that takes into consideration the density of the park and the age and mobility of residents. The plan should include emergency-contact lists and a list of residents with special needs or disabilities who may need assistance in an emergency. A template evacuation plan can be found here.
Further, California’s Mobilehome Parks Act requires every park to have a representative accessible by phone or in person to respond to emergencies. In parks with more than 50 units, a representative should reside onsite. Finally, when feasible, having two exits from busy parks can prevent bottlenecks in the event of an evacuation during a wildfire threat.
5. Research before you buy
Before you invest in a new community, assess the site’s wildfire threat risk. You can view maps and zip-code listings of areas with the highest wildfire risk exposure on the HUD website. If a property is surrounded by forest or seated on a slope where a wildfire is likely to run, it’s particularly important to do your due diligence.
Scientists anticipate the danger of wildfires will increase as the climate changes, leaving millions of homes in heavily forested areas of the western United States vulnerable. The time to act is now.
About the Author: Matthew Davies is the founder of Stockton, CA-based Harmony Communities, which owns and operates thirty-eight manufactured-housing communities in the western United States. An investor and community-development professional working for affordable housing solutions, Davies’ goal is to help bring the opportunity for homeownership to people in his home state who otherwise could not afford to buy a home.