Audit Highlights . . .
Our audit of HCD’s mobile home park and complaint inspections highlighted the following:
- » Although it regularly meets its statutory goal of performing park inspections at 5 percent of parks annually, it did not conduct park inspections at more than half of the active parks in its jurisdiction between 2010 and 2019.
- It has not visited 9 percent of its parks at all in this 10-year period.
- It has not established written policies and procedures for selecting parks for inspections.
- It has not established guidance for the brief, informal visits to mobile home parks known as field monitoring and does not require inspectors to document such visits in its database system.
- » HCD can more effectively protect park residents by improving the guidance for its inspectors to address inconsistencies in how inspectors cite violations.
- » HCD did not conduct all complaint inspections within required time frames and has not adequately communicated with park residents or complainants during inspections. Almost half of the complaint inspections we reviewed were late, and residents with violations often were not notified of their right to appeal.
- » HCD’s poor timekeeping practices have affected its ability to effectively manage the costs and resources of its parks program.
Results in Brief
The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is responsible for developing regulations and enforcing specific legal requirements to ensure the health and safety of residents in mobile home parks in California. Our audit found that HCD needs to improve its inspection processes, its communication with park residents and park owners, and its oversight of inspectors’ activity in order to better execute its responsibility.
In calendar year 2019 there were 3,640 active mobile home parks within HCD’s jurisdiction. In addition, local enforcement agencies (LEAs) under HCD’s oversight were responsible for enforcing compliance with health and safety requirements for another 860 mobile home parks in California. HCD’s Mobilehome and Special Occupancy Parks Program (parks program) develops, adopts, and enforces state regulations for the construction, use, maintenance, and occupancy of privately owned mobile home parks in California. Through its two field offices, HCD conducts various types of inspections to ensure that the parks comply with health and safety requirements, including two types that are the focus of this audit: inspections of entire mobile home parks (park inspections) and inspections in response to complaints about specific issues (complaint inspections) stemming from sources such as park owners or residents. HCD inspectors may also initiate a complaint inspection about suspected violations they note while performing other duties, such as the inspection of an installation of a mobile home unit at a park or complaint inspections related to another matter. HCD maintains electronic records of these inspections in its database, the Codes and Standards Automated System (CASAS).
HCD can better protect California mobile home park residents by improving its inspection processes. Although HCD is meeting its statutory goal of performing park inspections at 5 percent of parks annually, it did not conduct park inspections at more than half of the active parks in its jurisdiction between 2010 and 2019. Further, HCD’s data indicate that it has not visited 9 percent of parks—330 parks, representing 5,700 mobile home units—at all in that 10-year period. State law does not mandate that HCD inspect every mobile home park, but by not carrying out park inspections at some parks over long periods, HCD risks not identifying health and safety violations at these parks that could pose a serious danger to park residents. Broadening its selection criteria for the 5 percent of park inspections it conducts annually to include some parks that HCD has not visited at all for some time will help it protect residents from unreported but serious health and safety violations.HCD defines serious violations as two categories of violations specified in state law: violations that constitute an imminent hazard representing an immediate risk to life, health, and safety requiring immediate correction, and violations that constitute an unreasonable risk to life, health, or safety requiring correction within 60 days. However, HCD needs to improve how it tracks inspectors’ park visits in order to reliably identify which parks it has not visited in some time. Along with conducting park inspections and complaint inspections, HCD inspectors may make brief, informal visits known as field monitoring. Information gathered during these visits can be helpful in reducing health and safety risks at parks that have not had recent park inspections, complaint inspections, or other visits. However, HCD has not established guidance for field monitoring and does not require inspectors to document such visits in CASAS.
Additionally, HCD can more effectively protect park residents by improving the guidance it provides to inspectors. We identified inconsistencies in how inspectors cite violations, and HCD lacks adequate written guidance for citing certain common health and safety violations. By identifying common park conditions that constitute violations, HCD could help ensure that inspectors cite violations consistently. We also found that HCD ended some inspections we reviewed before ensuring that all violations had been corrected. In these inspections, although HCD indicated that it planned to address most of the uncorrected violations by opening new inspections, HCD did not promptly complete the new inspections to verify that the violations were corrected.
HCD also frequently failed to conduct complaint inspections within required time frames and has not adequately communicated with residents during park inspections and with individuals who have submitted complaints. Specifically, HCD conducted complaint inspections for 10 of the 24 complaints we reviewed between one and 57 days later than HCD’s policy allows. Further, HCD frequently did not promptly notify residents about the violations identified during the park inspections, thus limiting the time residents had to correct the issues in some instances before inspectors returned to determine whether they had been resolved. During park inspections HCD also did not notify residents of their right to appeal violations; and for complaint inspections, it did not regularly inform the individuals who submitted complaints that they could pursue civil action to address alleged issues that inspectors determined were not violations.
Furthermore, HCD’s poor timekeeping practices have affected its ability to effectively manage the costs and resources of its parks program. Because of those practices, HCD lacks the information it needs to effectively manage its inspection activities and may not be charging time to inspection activities accurately. We found that the time spent on inspection activities that HCD records in inspection reports, in CASAS, and in employee timesheets, does not always agree. As a result, HCD does not have the information necessary to adequately determine how much work related to the parks program it performs. In addition, HCD is not adequately overseeing its inspectors to ensure that they use state resources appropriately. For instance, HCD has not closely or consistently monitored inspectors’ use of their state vehicles, even though some former inspectors used state vehicles for personal activities during working hours, a misuse of state time and resources. It also has not taken adequate steps to determine whether inspectors have potential conflicts of interest related to the parks they are responsible for inspecting, and it has not reported certain complaints of inspector misconduct to its equal employment opportunity officer, as its policy requires.
Finally, although state law requires HCD to evaluate the enforcement of the parks program by the 63 LEAs that it oversees, it does not have either a formal schedule or finalized procedures for performing such evaluations, and it has not performed a sufficient number of these LEA evaluations each year. Specifically, it evaluated enforcement activities of only six LEAs from 2017 through 2019. Without regular inspections of LEAs, there is increased risk that they are not properly inspecting and enforcing compliance with health and safety standards in the mobile home parks within their jurisdictions.
Summary of Recommendations
To reduce the risk of unreported health and safety violations, HCD should by January 2021 use its existing authority to develop written policies and procedures for broadening its selection of parks for its park inspections to include some that it has not visited at all in many years.
To reduce health and safety risks in parks, HCD should by September 2020 document the dates and locations of all inspection‑related activities it conducts in CASAS and develop written guidance for its field monitoring visits.
To improve consistency in its inspections, HCD should by July 2021 develop and implement guidance explaining the circumstances in which inspectors should cite common types of violations.
To ensure that complaints alleging potential health and safety violations are inspected in a timely manner, HCD should by September 2020 begin periodically monitoring its compliance with time requirements for conducting complaint inspections.
To ensure that HCD promptly communicates all required information to park owners and residents, it should by September 2020 review and revise the notices it issues to ensure that the notices comply with statutory requirements.
To prevent misuse of state time and state vehicles by inspectors, HCD should by September 2020 establish a formal process that specifies how and when managers should monitor inspectors’ vehicle use.
To ensure that it evaluates LEA oversight of mobile home parks effectively, by January 2021, HCD should finalize its policies and procedures for evaluating LEAs. It should also develop a formal schedule to evaluate an adequate number of LEAs each year.
HCD concurs with our recommendations and indicated that it is taking actions to implement them. HCD indicated that it will provide an update on the progress made in its 60-day response.