Looking to protect residents at risk of displacement across the city's six mobile home parks, the Mountain View City Council is set to vote next week on whether to extend rent control to mobile homes.
The ordinance, which will come before the council on Sept. 14, would cap annual rent increases at the rate of inflation and limit how much park owners can jack up the rent when a tenant leaves. Mobile home residents have demanded that they receive the same protections as apartment renters in Mountain View, fighting political and legal battles for rent control over the last four years.
Mountain View's 1,100 mobile homes have long been considered a bastion of affordable housing, attracting residents who want to live in the Bay Area but cannot afford the exorbitant cost of living in the area. Many of those mobile home residents are seniors and people with disabilities as well as families working service-sector jobs.
But mobile homes are excluded from the city's existing rent control law, the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA), and residents fear that some park owners are taking aggressive action to increase the rent each year. Mobile home owners who rent space at the park, as well as those renting the mobile homes themselves, have both reported worrying rent hikes in recent years that could soon oust low-income families.
With space rent intrinsically tied to mobile home values, residents have also worried that unfettered rent hikes could cause their home equity to plunge.
So what's in the upcoming ordinance? City officials say mobile home rent control will align closely with CSFRA protections, capping annual rent increases based on the consumer price index (CPI). The CPI had previously wobbled between 3.4% and 3.6% until COVID-19 hit, which caused inflation to plummet to 1.6% this year.
The ordinance would also allow park owners to petition for higher rent increases if they can prove the property isn't earning a fair rate of return, and would give park owners a way to pass the costs of certain capital improvements on to tenants above and beyond the annual rent increase.
Where the mobile home rent control ordinance differs from the CSFRA is vacancy control, which puts limits on how much the rent can increase once a tenant moves out. Unlike apartments, which can pop up to market rate once they're vacant, increases on rent for mobile homes will be capped at 10% for the future residents.
Originally, city officials drafted the ordinance with narrow language that would only apply to mobile home owners who rent space at the park, meaning those who rent their home would not benefit at all. The move elicited concerns from both sides: renters worried they would be left behind, while park owners complained that mobile home owners could simultaneously pay less for space rent while renting their home out at market rate.
The city has since changed course. City Attorney Krishan Chopra said in a statement Tuesday that the ordinance coming before the council next week will apply to both mobile home owners and renters, including annual rent caps.
"Although the preliminary draft ordinance framework shared with stakeholders in June only applied to space rent, based on feedback received during and following the stakeholder meetings, staff updated its recommendations to include all mobile home residents in the Ordinance and to provide an equal level of rent stabilization for all tenants," Chopra said.
The Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance has come out in support of the bulk of the ordinance, but pointed out that similar protections in Santa Clara County cap rent increases at less than the rate of inflation. In a letter to the council last week, the group advocated for rent caps at 50% of the rate of the CPI.
Park owners have long opposed the city's efforts to draft a rent control ordinance, instead arguing in favor of a long-term memorandum of understanding (MOU) between park owners and residents that spells out future rent increases and price caps when there's a vacancy. They pointed to Sunnyvale, which passed an MOU agreement in July that was largely seen as a compromise between tenants and park owners. Park owners in Sunnyvale who fail to sign on will be subject to a future, yet undrafted rent control ordinance.
Park owners say Sunnyvale's approach is much better than what Mountain View is slated to pass next week. Doug Johnson, senior regional representative for the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association, said the MOU was a "groundbreaking" agreement that brought together park owners and residents in order to preserve affordability while keeping parks sustainable.
"The Mountain View City Council should consider this collaborative approach rather than impose a one-sided rent control ordinance," Johnson said. "Rent control divides communities, invites costly litigation and consumes enormous amounts of city staff time. A MOU is a much better choice for Mountain View."
One park owner in Mountain View sought to test the waters with an MOU ahead of the council's vote next September. Management at the Santiago Villa mobile home park in North Bayshore sent a letter to tenants in January stating it would commit to a long-term agreement that includes annual rent caps, a rent subsidy program for low-income tenants and a commitment to keep the park open for at least 10 years.
But the agreement was put forward as an alternative to rent control, with a killswitch in the event that rent control was ever passed. And rather than wait for the council's decision next week, Santiago Villa's ownership has already tossed out the agreement due to the passage of AB 978 in July. The law closely mirrors statewide rent control for apartments, which caps annual rent increases at 5% plus the rate of inflation.
"As the parkowner's ten year plan was offered as an alternative to rent control, the parkowner is hereby withdrawing the commitments ... including the rent subsidy program for low income tenants," according to an Aug. 26 letter from Santiago Villa management.
The letter goes on to say that the park owner, John Vidovich, must now consider "all" options in response to rent control, including whether to sell the park or remove homes from the rental housing market.
A majority of the City Council last year voted in favor of enacting some type of rent stabilization ordinance for mobile homes, and in March sought to fast-track the development of an ordinance. Two council members, councilwomen Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak, have previously advocated for the MOU framework sought by park owners in lieu of rent control, provided that the park owners and tenants can agree.