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Amid legal threats, committee backs away from mobile home rent control

Park owners and tenants both threaten to sue city over extending protections to mobile homes

Surrounded by legal threats on all sides, Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee on Monday backed away from plans to bring the city's mobile home residents under the aegis of rent control.

The decision was a reversal of last month's meeting when rental committee members acquiesced to the advice of their attorneys to begin drafting new regulations for mobile homes.

The Monday, Jan 22, meeting was intended to lay out the policy framework and process for extending rent control to about 1,100 mobile homes in Mountain View under the voter-approved Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA).

But the committee declined to take that step. A motion to approve the policies drafted by city staff was defeated in a 2-3 vote, with Chairwoman Vanessa Honey and committee members Matthew Grunewald and Tom Means opposed.

The three members each said they were intimidated by the ramifications of the expansion, as well as its shaky legal basis.

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"With the flip of a switch, the mobile home owners would potentially get hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in their homes, and the (park) owners would lose millions of dollars," Grunewald said. "I don't feel comfortable making that decision."

It was a case in which city officials were trying to dodge one potential lawsuit, but in doing so they may have stumbled into another.

Just hours ahead of the meeting, the committee received a stern letter from lawyers representing John Vidovich, the owner of the Santiago Villa and Sahara mobile home parks, which together comprise 560 homes. The letter warned that it would be a severe overreach to include mobile homes in the city's rent-control program. But the real point of the letter was to signal that city officials would face a lawsuit if they persisted.

"Rather than initiating litigation to resolve the above issues, my clients are willing to explore alternative strategies for maintaining affordable housing in their parks," said Anthony Rodriguez, Vidovich's attorney.

That pledge sounded like empty words to Santiago Villa residents. For years, tenants have accused Vidovich of raising rents to price out older residents and buy them out of their homes for a fraction of the value. The park, located just a short walk from Google's headquarters, is now considered among the most expensive mobile home communities in the nation, with space rents for new tenants reportedly costing about $2,200 a month.

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Santiago Villa resident Bee Hanson pointed out the park's management had spurred multiple protests in past years. This time, the anger among residents was more severe, enough to take legal action, she said.

“People are very upset about this,” she said. “If you worry about the landlords suing, you should actually be worrying about the residents suing you as well.”

While the Santiago Villa owner didn't elicit much sympathy, other mobile home parks landlords said they had treated their residents fairly. Rents at Mountain View's other, smaller mobile home communities have remained comparatively low, and owners complained that they would be unfairly punished if rent control were implemented.

The legal basis for bringing mobile homes under the CSFRA is tangled. The voter-approved law never once mentions mobile homes, and the language contains numerous conflicts with state laws specifically tailored for mobile homes.

Despite those shortcomings, a stronger case could be made that mobile homes should be included, according to city-hired attorneys from the firm Goldfarb & Lipman. Attorney Karen Tiedemann pointed out that none of the exemptions listed in the CSFRA applied to mobile homes.

"We think the CSFRA covers mobile home spaces," she said. "When we looked at the entirety of the measure, we couldn't find a way to say that mobile homes weren't covered."

The legal debate soon spiraled into a political one. Rental Housing Committee members Evan Ortiz and Emily Ramos both endorsed the idea of expanding the rent-control program. It was a choice between a long drawn-out lawsuit or giving clarity right now, Ortiz said.

"It's not responsible for this committee to punt on this, knowing there's suffering out there," he said. "This is an opportunity for us to protect the equity of Mountain View residents."

But the rest of the committee wanted an alternative. Honey and others suggested such a controversial decision should be deferred to the Mountain View City Council, a body that is explicitly barred from taking policy actions on rent control. They recommended that Santiago Villa tenants should campaign for a future voter measure that would specify in clear terms that mobile homes are covered under rent control.

In the end, they settled for rejecting the policies to bring mobile homes under the rent-control program, leaving the larger question unresolved. City staffers said that they would still accept petitions from mobile home residents to adjust rents, although it remains unclear how these cases would adjudicated.

For mobile homes residents, the obvious next step is to sue the city, said Trey Bornmann, president of Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance. It should be an "open and shut case," he said, since the city's own legal staff laid out the arguments for why mobile homes should be covered.

"This vote was another example of three RHC members trying to torpedo the law they have been empowered to uphold," he said in an email. "The sad thing is the city and landlords will be on the hook for defending the resulting litigation that is coming."

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Amid legal threats, committee backs away from mobile home rent control

Park owners and tenants both threaten to sue city over extending protections to mobile homes

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Jan 23, 2018, 1:47 pm

Surrounded by legal threats on all sides, Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee on Monday backed away from plans to bring the city's mobile home residents under the aegis of rent control.

The decision was a reversal of last month's meeting when rental committee members acquiesced to the advice of their attorneys to begin drafting new regulations for mobile homes.

The Monday, Jan 22, meeting was intended to lay out the policy framework and process for extending rent control to about 1,100 mobile homes in Mountain View under the voter-approved Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA).

But the committee declined to take that step. A motion to approve the policies drafted by city staff was defeated in a 2-3 vote, with Chairwoman Vanessa Honey and committee members Matthew Grunewald and Tom Means opposed.

The three members each said they were intimidated by the ramifications of the expansion, as well as its shaky legal basis.

"With the flip of a switch, the mobile home owners would potentially get hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in their homes, and the (park) owners would lose millions of dollars," Grunewald said. "I don't feel comfortable making that decision."

It was a case in which city officials were trying to dodge one potential lawsuit, but in doing so they may have stumbled into another.

Just hours ahead of the meeting, the committee received a stern letter from lawyers representing John Vidovich, the owner of the Santiago Villa and Sahara mobile home parks, which together comprise 560 homes. The letter warned that it would be a severe overreach to include mobile homes in the city's rent-control program. But the real point of the letter was to signal that city officials would face a lawsuit if they persisted.

"Rather than initiating litigation to resolve the above issues, my clients are willing to explore alternative strategies for maintaining affordable housing in their parks," said Anthony Rodriguez, Vidovich's attorney.

That pledge sounded like empty words to Santiago Villa residents. For years, tenants have accused Vidovich of raising rents to price out older residents and buy them out of their homes for a fraction of the value. The park, located just a short walk from Google's headquarters, is now considered among the most expensive mobile home communities in the nation, with space rents for new tenants reportedly costing about $2,200 a month.

Santiago Villa resident Bee Hanson pointed out the park's management had spurred multiple protests in past years. This time, the anger among residents was more severe, enough to take legal action, she said.

“People are very upset about this,” she said. “If you worry about the landlords suing, you should actually be worrying about the residents suing you as well.”

While the Santiago Villa owner didn't elicit much sympathy, other mobile home parks landlords said they had treated their residents fairly. Rents at Mountain View's other, smaller mobile home communities have remained comparatively low, and owners complained that they would be unfairly punished if rent control were implemented.

The legal basis for bringing mobile homes under the CSFRA is tangled. The voter-approved law never once mentions mobile homes, and the language contains numerous conflicts with state laws specifically tailored for mobile homes.

Despite those shortcomings, a stronger case could be made that mobile homes should be included, according to city-hired attorneys from the firm Goldfarb & Lipman. Attorney Karen Tiedemann pointed out that none of the exemptions listed in the CSFRA applied to mobile homes.

"We think the CSFRA covers mobile home spaces," she said. "When we looked at the entirety of the measure, we couldn't find a way to say that mobile homes weren't covered."

The legal debate soon spiraled into a political one. Rental Housing Committee members Evan Ortiz and Emily Ramos both endorsed the idea of expanding the rent-control program. It was a choice between a long drawn-out lawsuit or giving clarity right now, Ortiz said.

"It's not responsible for this committee to punt on this, knowing there's suffering out there," he said. "This is an opportunity for us to protect the equity of Mountain View residents."

But the rest of the committee wanted an alternative. Honey and others suggested such a controversial decision should be deferred to the Mountain View City Council, a body that is explicitly barred from taking policy actions on rent control. They recommended that Santiago Villa tenants should campaign for a future voter measure that would specify in clear terms that mobile homes are covered under rent control.

In the end, they settled for rejecting the policies to bring mobile homes under the rent-control program, leaving the larger question unresolved. City staffers said that they would still accept petitions from mobile home residents to adjust rents, although it remains unclear how these cases would adjudicated.

For mobile homes residents, the obvious next step is to sue the city, said Trey Bornmann, president of Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance. It should be an "open and shut case," he said, since the city's own legal staff laid out the arguments for why mobile homes should be covered.

"This vote was another example of three RHC members trying to torpedo the law they have been empowered to uphold," he said in an email. "The sad thing is the city and landlords will be on the hook for defending the resulting litigation that is coming."

Comments

mobile home owner
Sylvan Park
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:29 pm
mobile home owner, Sylvan Park
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:29 pm
21 people like this

So basically, mobile home owners are screwed by the landlords AND by Mountain View...... great!


Old Mointain View
Old Mountain View
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:41 pm
Old Mointain View, Old Mountain View
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:41 pm
80 people like this

Not screwed, just paying market rate like people do for pretty much everything in life.

I don’t have price control for my medical bills or for a gallon of milk.


Mobile home resident
North Bayshore
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:09 pm
Mobile home resident, North Bayshore
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:09 pm
19 people like this

Mobile home owners have been found to be uniquely vulnerable to predatory park owners in both US Supreme Court cases and California court cases (Yee v. Escondido, Galland v. Clovis). When we purchase and improve our homes we contribute substantial value to the mobile home park, often more than the park owners themselves, but we can't take that value with us when we sell a mobile home. For this reason, many counties and cities across California have enacted rent control for mobile home owners to protect them against unfair actions by mobile home parks.

The city's legal counsel clearly advised that the CSFRA covers mobile homes. One RHC member said he still wasn't comfortable with doing anything and he told mobile home residents they should sue the city instead. As another RHC member said, it was negligent of the committee to abrogate their duty to implement the CSFRA as written.


The Truth
Registered user
North Whisman
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:10 pm
The Truth, North Whisman
Registered user
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:10 pm
48 people like this

It is gutless of the RHC to keep punting and flip flopping again and again on this issue. Although I oppose price controls on private property owners and know the CSFRA is a travesty, if it was imposed upon older apartments in Mountain View where the tenants had no tangible investment and could easily leave and seek other accomodations, I don't see how it cannot apply to prefab home owners as they cannot just pickup and move. To be clear, I totally oppose the CSFRA, but you can't apply it one group (owners of pre 1995 apartments) who are unprotected by Costa-Hawkins and then let another group (mobile home park land owners) off the hook. This will just cost the city more money in legal fees in the end, money that should be used on schools, roads, police, fire, water etc.


Means to the end
Castro City
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:22 pm
Means to the end, Castro City
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:22 pm
13 people like this

Tom Means is determined to bring rent control to an End. That's why the pro-landlord city council put him on the committee.


The Business Man
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:33 pm
The Business Man , Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:33 pm
9 people like this

This situation is very troublesome.

THe significant lack of consistency makes business decisions regarding the City almost impossible.

Too much has not been worked out yet. It has been over a year. That is a sufficient grounds for criticism.

But, that problem is not related to the Charter Amendment, it is the problems with the City Council, and the lack of skills that exist regarding the City Housing Department and the lack of using models that work in other nearby communities.

This is going to continue until the full program has matured. It is still a baby in a stroller.


@Means to the end
Jackson Park
on Jan 23, 2018 at 4:22 pm
@Means to the end, Jackson Park
on Jan 23, 2018 at 4:22 pm
126 people like this

Mayor Means has done more for the City of Mountain View than just about anybody else...ever. Mayor Means is consistent is his decision making following the American Constitution and sound economic policy for all. He has made numerous personal sacrifices for others, his church, this City, for his students, etc. It's time we honor the MAN for all that he has done instead of going with political favorites who have no understanding of humanity.


Resident Santiago Villa
North Bayshore
on Jan 23, 2018 at 4:36 pm
Resident Santiago Villa, North Bayshore
on Jan 23, 2018 at 4:36 pm
18 people like this

Just goes to show (Owner of Santiago Villa) when you have money you can make things move in your favor. I understand running a business. Your in it to make money. Don't forget the people that have been lacing your Families pockets are the same people you take advantage of. We can't sell because no one wishes to pay that much space rent coming in especially for an older home so we are pushed in a direction to take less from a buyer or much much less from Santiago Villa buy out. Google being in our backyard has increased property value but for the Owner of the park not so much the seller of the home. It has not become a Family place but a place for those that are for the new age and have much more $$ to spend. So very sad indeed.


a mv resident
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2018 at 5:55 pm
a mv resident, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2018 at 5:55 pm
20 people like this

There are valid arguments for/against rent control, but the proper place for that is at the ballot. It's not right for a body created to enforce a voter passed change the the city's charter (constitution) to try to kill or roll it back (not even the city council should oppose a part of the city charter, they should just propose new ballot measures if they oppose this). The city council made a big mistake in appointing members seeking to obstruct the will of the voters.

If you don't like rent control, put it back on the ballot. This behind the scenes dismantling of democracy is the exactly what's going wrong with government at all levels.


@@Means to the end
Jackson Park
on Jan 23, 2018 at 7:01 pm
@@Means to the end, Jackson Park
on Jan 23, 2018 at 7:01 pm
23 people like this

It's truly sad, then, that Mr. Means decided to throw away his reputation and his integrity by undermining the City Charter. I suppose that's what the San Mateo County Association of Realtors was paying for, as selling out one's integrity doesn't come cheap.


Curt Conroy
Whisman Station
on Jan 23, 2018 at 9:03 pm
Curt Conroy, Whisman Station
on Jan 23, 2018 at 9:03 pm
11 people like this

What is overlooked in the discussion is that the City's counsel stands to gain from the expansion of rent control. Their position that the CSFRA include mobile homes is self serving. In fact, between the requirement that the hearing officers be attorneys (a regulation written by the City's outside legal counsel), the administration by Project Sentinel (who are either lawyers themselves or trained by lawyers) and that the disagreements between landlords and tenants that rent control fosters commonly results in legal conflict, it is fair to say that to a large degree rent control is an effective full employment strategy for many local members of the legal community.


The Business Man
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2018 at 1:22 pm
The Business Man , Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 24, 2018 at 1:22 pm
8 people like this

My suggestion is to contact Stanford Law Clinic or Fenwick and West and file for a Writ of Mandate in the state courts to order the rent control enforcement on the land lot rent of a mobile home.

All legal analysis indicated that this is what the law is required to do, nonetheless of what the City or the RHC desires.

A writ of Mandate simply orders compliance with established law. Since it has been established by the RHC Legal Team that the law does work in this way, it seems to be a quick solution. Writs are required where non-compliance causes significant harm to those the law protects.

I should not take long.


Bluejay
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2018 at 1:35 pm
Bluejay, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 24, 2018 at 1:35 pm
10 people like this

A Writ of Mandate to put price control of every piece of commodity will be nice! Who doesn't want a private jet?


The Business Man
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2018 at 2:09 pm
The Business Man , Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 24, 2018 at 2:09 pm
4 people like this

Bluejay,

It only works where the law establishes a course of action.

Feel free to propose a law dictating the price of a plane.


Greg David
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Jan 29, 2018 at 3:31 pm
Greg David, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Jan 29, 2018 at 3:31 pm
3 people like this

It's not fair to paint a broad picture of these landlords. I can't speak for Vidovich, but as far as the Oku family (Moffett Mobilehome Park), they are extremely fair with their tenants. I am commercial tenant of theirs and have nothing but praise. If the misguided attempt to control their space rents was achieved, it would simply force them to raise the rents at the maximum allowable rate and would likely hasten the sale of the park to a developer.


The Business Man
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2018 at 5:16 pm
The Business Man , Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 29, 2018 at 5:16 pm
3 people like this

In response to Greg David you said:

“I am commercial tenant of theirs and have nothing but praise.”

Does this mean you own multiple mobile homes and rent them out yourself? I find this very confusing. It sounds like you are a subcontractor in the mobile home business. It indicates that your financial interests are intertwined. You also said:

“If the misguided attempt to control their space rents was achieved, it would simply force them to raise the rents at the maximum allowable rate and would likely hasten the sale of the park to a developer.”

This simply would only be the status quo. That is the course of action that is already happening. There is no “argument” to convey that if the CSFRA is not enforced, it would alter the behavior of these businesses. They will simply continue their original plans, nothing more.


johnkwaters
Registered user
North Bayshore
on Feb 2, 2018 at 8:36 am
johnkwaters, North Bayshore
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2018 at 8:36 am
3 people like this

Quick vocabulary refresher:

- Rent Regulation: rules applied to how much landlords can charge tenants generally.

- Rent control: rules that cap rents; landlords can't raise rents at all.

- Rent stabilization: rules that set limits on how much landlords can raise rents; they can still raise them, but they can't charge anything they want.

- Affordable housing crisis: a disaster that's right around the corner for Mountain View without rent regulation.

In Mountain View, we have the last two.


The Business Man
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2018 at 3:08 pm
The Business Man , Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2018 at 3:08 pm
3 people like this

In response to JohnKWaters

The correction is Mountain view had:

Quick vocabulary refresher:

- Affordable housing crisis: a disaster that's right around the corner for Mountain View without rent regulation.


before we had this:


- Rent Regulation: rules applied to how much landlords can charge tenants generally.

- Rent control: rules that cap rents; landlords can't raise rents at all.

- Rent stabilization: rules that set limits on how much landlords can raise rents; they can still raise them, but they can't charge anything they want.

So the latter cannot be blamed for the former.


The Business Man
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2018 at 3:09 pm
The Business Man , Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2018 at 3:09 pm
3 people like this

In response to JohnKWaters

The correction is Mountain view had:

Quick vocabulary refresher:

- Affordable housing crisis: a disaster that's right around the corner for Mountain View without rent regulation.

before we had this:

- Rent Regulation: rules applied to how much landlords can charge tenants generally.

- Rent control: rules that cap rents; landlords can't raise rents at all.

- Rent stabilization: rules that set limits on how much landlords can raise rents; they can still raise them, but they can't charge anything they want.

So the latter cannot be blamed for the former.


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