For residents renting mobile homes in Mountain View, winning any local tenant protections is going to be an uphill battle.
Though they rent their unit just like an apartment or a condo, they were excluded from Mountain View's 2016 voter-approved rent control law. Yet five years later, as the city seeks to craft a second rent control law specifically tailored for mobile home owners, households that rent in Mountain View's six mobile home parks are again going to be excluded.
City officials revealed the plans at two community meetings last month, laying out the framework for mobile home rent control that would limit annual space rent increases and impose just-cause eviction protections in mobile home parks. Mountain View City Council members agreed in March to pursue some type of rent stabilization ordinance for mobile home residents, who have rallied together in recent years and aggressively fought to be included in the city's rent control program.
The proposed ordinance is similar to the city's Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA), limiting rent increases based on the regional rate of inflation while still allowing mobile home park owners a path to seek greater rent hikes in order to earn a "fair rate" of return on the property. There are also some special perks that set the new measure apart from CSFRA, including a vacancy control provision that caps rent increases for new tenants rather than resetting the cost to market rate.
But for many mobile home residents, the proposed ordinance has a glaring downside. The law would only apply to mobile home owners who rent the space under their homes, and would not apply to those who rent the mobile homes themselves. Tenants say renting mobile homes used to be an affordable alternative to high-cost apartments in the area, but rent hikes have pushed the cost above $3,000 a month in some cases.
The situation would put those who rent mobile homes in a strange place, receiving neither the benefits available to a mobile home owner nor an apartment renter elsewhere in the city -- a loophole that leaves them vulnerable to huge rent increases.
"They are kind of in limbo," said resident Molly Clancy at the June 24 community meeting. "Only the space rent is included but not the coach rent, but they're not covered by CSFRA. That's a really terrible place to be."
The exclusion of mobile home renters, ironically, is due to a perceived legal conflict with CSFRA itself. Both City Attorney Krishan Chopra and the city's hired law firm say the city's existing rent control law has a list of homes that are exempted from the renter protections, including all detached buildings that contain a single residential unit. Chopra said the ordinance is currently being written to narrowly apply to space rent in order to avoid a potential conflict with CSFRA.
Adding to the conflict, the Rental Housing Committee (RHC) -- tasked with overseeing the city's rent control program -- specifically exempted mobile homes from rent control, which was found to be legally sound by an appellate court late last year.
"The RHC has already found that mobile homes are excluded from the provisions of the CSFRA," said Eric Philips, a partner with the law firm Burke, Williams & Sorensen. "That is why the council is using its authority under the (city) charter to regulate the space rents of mobile homes. We're not proposing to address the rentals of individual coaches."
The stance came as a surprise to mobile home residents, particularly after the RHC had explicitly told the council that any future mobile home rent stabilization ordinance should cover all residents living in mobile home parks, including owners and renters. By omitting renters, the law would open the door for mobile homes to be rented out at market rate, both by individual home owners as well as park owners who have bought out homes on the property.
Greg Evans, whose company operates mobile home parks throughout the area, criticized the decision to exclude renters as well. Park owners would be burdened by an annual cap on space rent under the new rent control law, yet individual mobile home owners would be able to turn around and rent out their own units at any price they please -- something he described as an unjust enrichment and a transfer of wealth.
"What steps is the city going to take to make certain that residents don't unjustly profit from a rent control ordinance?" Evans asked.
During a stakeholder meeting with mobile home park owners on June 23, many pushed back on the need for rent control in the first place. Doug Johnson, a representative for the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association, suggested that the city should reverse course and instead pursue a memorandum of understanding (MOU) negotiated between residents and park owners. The process avoids animosity between the two parties, Johnson said, and allows both sides to make concessions in good faith.
He pointed to the city of Sunnyvale, which is pursuing an MOU framework in lieu of rent stabilization, as a better example of what Mountain View could be doing.
"I would just contrast that city's efforts -- and the efforts of all the people involved -- to what Mountain View is doing, where it's just rent control, rent control, rent control."
Anthony Rodriguez, an attorney representing the park owner of Santiago Villa in Mountain View, said passing rent control risks eroding a 10-year MOU proposed by the park that would voluntarily cap rents and even launch a rent subsidy program for low-income tenants. Rodriguez said the agreement has been in place since January, but it was entirely contingent on rent control not passing.
"If rent control was to be adopted then I guess it would supersede what my client had offered and the rent credit program and everything else would go by the wayside," he said.
The stakeholder meeting with mobile home residents the next day had an entirely different tenor. There, speakers insisted that mobile homes should have been covered under CSFRA from the start, and that a vacancy control rate of 10% is starting on the high end of similar rent control measures.
Santiago Villa resident Tim Larson encouraged residents to band together and voice a desire for both mobile home owners and renters alike to be protected by rent stabilization, either through the city's pending ordinance or a new sister ordinance.
The rent control law is expected to come before the Mountain View City Council on September 14. If enacted, it would roll back rents for covered residents to March 16, 2021, when the council made the official move to pursue rent control for mobile homes.