Lax enforcement of Minnesota law on storm shelters

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

ST. PAUL — A Minnesota law that requires mobile home parks to offer storm shelters or evacuation plans for residents in case severe weather strikes is rarely enforced, a report said.

Minnesota requires mobile home parks built after 1988 to have adequate storm shelters. And older parks must have evacuation plans, approved by their local governments, for residents to seek shelter off-site from severe weather.

Despite the law, residents of many Minnesota mobile home parks often have nowhere to hide.

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The station reviewed thousands of pages of inspection reports. It found at least 60 violations relating to storm shelters, the lack of shelters or the lack of approved evacuation plans.

The state has the authority to levy fines of up to $10,000 to enforce the law, which the station said is the only law like it in the country. But since 2010, the records show, the state fined only seven parks and collected less than $2,000. And it has sent only 17 warning letters since 2010.

Steven Diaz, who supervises more than 60 mobile home park inspectors for the Minnesota Department of Health, said the problem is that the state’s more than 500 mobile home parks are affordable housing communities.

He said fining owners could cripple parks and force hundreds of families from their homes.

“The public health and public safety risk of closing a park really is in most cases greater than the risk we have with severe weather,” he said.

Sharon Weber lives across the street from the storm shelter at Pine Ridge Court in Becker. If a storm hits, her plan is to ride it out in her home. She said the shelter “would be the last place I would go” because it floods every time it rains heavily.

Yet records show the state hasn’t inspected the shelter in years because it’s always locked. Weber said she is one of only two people with a key. The station found at least 15 similar violations where a park may have a shelter but there’s confusion about who has a key, or it’s in such bad shape that people may not want to enter.

All Parks Alliance for Change, an advocacy group for mobile home park residents, successfully lobbied for the shelter law. But Executive Director Dave Anderson said word has spread among park owners about what they can get away with.

“They all collectively know not to take it seriously,” he said. “They’re showing no outward signs of being motivated to take any kind of action.”