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Publication Date: Friday, July 27, 2001

"Mobile home park operators as a whole are very good operators. If one operator is a problem, the city should sit down with that operator and talk." @dropname:Ralph Faravelli, City Council member "I've had a lot of feedback from residents that rent increases should be indexed with increases to social security." @dropname:Sally Lieber, City Council member

Mobile home rent control to come to council Mobile home rent control to come to council (July 27, 2001)

Measure could limit rent increases in Mountain View parks

By Justin Scheck

Mountain View's mobile home parks have become the subject of public discussion in recent months, as residents have complained about rising rents and city officials have discussed ways of preserving the parks as affordable housing.

During the last six months the City Council has explored the idea of mobile home rent control, and will formally decide whether to pursue such a measure in an Aug. 1 meeting.

Mobile home rent control laws are not connected to apartment rent control, and while state law places strict limitations on the scope of apartment rent control ordinances, California cities are allowed to pass strong rent control measures on mobile home parks.

Council member Sally Lieber said Monday that she has heard complaints from residents of Mountain View's five mobile home parks about rent increases that have made it nearly impossible to continue to live in Silicon Valley.

The issue of mobile home rent control arose at a Jan. 31 Environmental Planning Commission meeting to get public input for the city's new housing plan. Dozens of mobile home park residents came out to demand that the city take measures to keep their rents affordable, and keep the parks open to seniors on fixed incomes.

The planning commission alerted the City Council to the call for rent control citywide, and while both the council and planning commission have ceased discussing rent control for apartments, mobile home rent control has become a concrete possibility.

Mobile home park residents generally own their home and pay "space rent" for the land upon which it sits.

Tony Ban, a resident of Sahara Mobile Village at the intersection of El Camino and Highway 85, said that he and other residents feel squeezed by the 5 percent annual rent increases they get and the starting rents of more than $900 a month charged to new residents.

He explained that the 5 percent increases add up to a lot of money for long-term residents on fixed incomes, while the high rent for newcomers makes it difficult for people squeezed by the rent increases to sell their homes.

Ban said this problem often results in a situation where residents do not get competing bids on their homes, and are forced to sell for low prices to a mobile home dealer, who will then put a newer home on the site and sell it for a higher price to an incoming resident.

Lieber said this problem has become common, and in some parks residents who are forced out by high rents can sell only to the park owner.

Lieber said that while mobile home rent control cuts profits to owners, it raises the value of homes in the park, thereby preserving residents' investments.

"That allows the people to maintain more of their savings," said Lieber.

Council member Ralph Faravelli disagrees. "I've thought about it long and hard, and I don't think it's going to work," he said. "Mobile home park operators as a whole are very good operators. If one operator is a problem, the city should sit down with that operator and talk."

Faravelli said that he would like to have the city institute landlord-tenant mediation or an ad hoc committee to deal with problems in the parks before the city looks at rent control.

Lieber said she has does not yet know what kind of ordinance she will propose, but she has heard community feedback and looked at other cities' measures to assess what the main issues are.

"I've had a lot of feedback from residents that rent increases should be indexed with increases to social security," she said. "We'll also want to look at the increases in vacancy and those kinds of measures as well. If people are not mobile because they can't sell their coach because no one wants to move in because space rent is too high, that has a big impact on them."

According to Dave Hennessy, director of the mobile home residents' advocacy group California Mobile-home Resource and Action Association (CAMRAA), over 70 municipalities in California have mobile home rent control laws.

"I'm glad to see that [Lieber] is carrying the ball, and I offered her our services... But I told her 'if you're going to put this on the agenda you've got to make sure you have some support from your colleagues,'" said Hennessy.

He said that in Mountain View he has found residents who have serious problems with park rents and management practices but are too intimidated to voice their problems publicly.

John Vidovich owns Sahara Mobile Village and Santiago Villa, a park on Space Park Way near Shoreline Park.

Vidovich said Tuesday he had not yet heard about the council's plans to review mobile home rent control, but said that in his experience "the consequences can vary."

Vidovich said deterioration can be seen in parks in Santa Cruz, where a mobile home rent control law is in effect.

But according to Hennessy, the San Jose rent control ordinance, which limits annual increases to 3 percent, has kept rents affordable and allowed landlords to make reasonable profits.

He said that he has heard few complaints from park owners about rent control laws already in place, and said that, if owners were not making reasonable profits, he would expect them to sue cities which have implemented rent control.

He said rent control has also been successful in Milpitas and Hayward, and could work toward solving problems he has heard about from residents in Mountain View parks.

Ban concurred, saying that there have been incidents at Sahara where residents have been unable to afford legal fees, and therefore unable to fight what they feel are unfair management practices.

Hennessy said that by establishing commissions to address issues with mobile home park renters and owners, rent control ordinances can empower residents who feel they are mistreated by owners, and at the same time work with owners to develop management systems that are satisfactory to all sides.


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