CLEVELAND — Ohio Gov. John Kasich believes too many people are dying in manufactured homes, and he wants oversight of those homes transferred from an industry-controlled board to the state.
Statistics compiled by the State Fire Marshal’s office show people living in manufactured homes in Ohio are four times more likely to perish in a fire than those living in other types of dwellings, a rate higher than all neighboring states. Manufactured homes include mobile homes and other types of houses built entirely in factories.
The Republican governor wants the Legislature to give the state direct oversight of manufactured homes, changing the makeup of the Ohio Manufactured Homes Commission and moving it into the Ohio Department of Commerce. That department houses the Fire Marshal’s office.
Firefighters say there’s often no fire hydrant and poor access to other water supplies when they arrive on the scene of mobile home fires.
National fire data show that at least 58 people died in manufactured home fires in Ohio from 2012 to 2016. By comparison, 30 people died during the same period in neighboring Pennsylvania.
The Manufactured Homes Commission is responsible for licensing mobile home park operators, training manufactured home installers and inspecting new installations.
It is dominated by people nominated by an industry association. The governor’s office calls this a conflict of interest and says mobile homes are not regulated to the same standard as other houses.
Commerce Department spokeswoman Kerry Francis said, as lead agency, it would make efforts to raise fire safety awareness in mobile home parks.
The commission argues that expertise is essential to carrying out its duties. It says it inspects 100 percent of installations through contractors, local municipalities and two staff inspectors.
“The Fire Marshal’s office would lack any experience to the highly technical aspect of setting a manufactured home,” said Executive Director Janet Williams. “They would not be able to regulate an industry they don’t understand.”
Kasich also contends his proposal would save money.
The commission spends roughly $900,000 of its roughly $1.2 million budget annually. The Commerce Department estimates it could slash that by 40 percent by reducing regulatory overlap and adding “efficiencies of scale” possible by sharing inspectors. The commission has said it can function on $400,000 to $500,000 a year.
State Rep. Keith Faber, a Celina Republican who sits on the House Finance Committee that rejected Kasich’s plan, said it didn’t appear to cut costs.
“We didn’t think this merger was projected to save money,” Faber said. “I believe that if you’re going to do mergers, it ought to be efficiency-based, not just moving around deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Regardless of how the homes are ultimately regulated, it’s unclear whether it will help make existing homes safer.
An Ohio law requiring homes to have fire alarms and smoke detectors doesn’t apply to structures built before 2006. It is mobile homes built in the 1970s and 80s, when lightweight steel framing was common, that are particularly vulnerable to fire. It’s a loophole not addressed by Kasich’s plan.
Mark Keller, the fire chief in the western Ohio town of Urbana, said fire hydrants aren’t required in mobile home parks, forcing some firefighters to truck water in from miles away.