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Mountain View passes rent control for mobile homes, capping rents across city's six mobile home parks

Mobile homes in Mountain View will soon be covered by rent control, followed by a 6-1 vote by the City Council. Photo by Michelle Le

The Mountain View City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to enact rent control for mobile homes, ending a yearslong battle by tenants fighting for protections against rent hikes and other predatory practices by park owners.

The new law closely mirrors the city's existing rent control law covering apartments and would cap annual rent increases at the rate of inflation, with a floor of 2% and a ceiling of 5%. The law also enforces eviction protections for tenants who rent mobile homes.

Unlike apartment rent control, the new law also prevents park owners from jacking up the rent once a mobile home owner leaves and a new tenant moves in. So-called vacancy control -- prohibited under state law for most types of housing -- is allowed for mobile homes, and the City Council agreed to cap rent increases for new tenants at the consumer price index (CPI).

The vote, made through a convoluted motion shortly before midnight, was seen as a victory for mobile home residents in Mountain View who have pushed to extend renter protections for the last four years. Many voiced frustration that it's taken this long, and that mobile homes should have been included in the city's original rent control law passed by voters in 2016.

Over time, mobile home residents rallied together to amplify their political clout and joined forces across the city's six mobile home parks. While many of the complaints of rent hikes and allegations of unscrupulous actions center on two parks in particular -- Santiago Villa and Sahara Village, both owned by John Vidovich -- proponents lobbying for rent control Tuesday included residents from normally quiet mobile home parks as well.

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Jeannie Son, a resident of New Frontier Mobile Home Park, told council members she struggles every day to keep her head above water and lives in fear that the park will be taken over, and that she's not alone. Many of her neighbors are seniors on fixed incomes, people with disabilities and working-class residents trying to make a living.

"These are honest, hard-working, good citizens in our society who are deserving of protection from sky-high rents or being evicted from their homes," Son said.

Elizabeth Weiss, a senior living in Sahara Village, said she worries that the lack of rent control for mobile homes lends itself to predatory practices by park owners. If she ever wanted to sell her home, Weiss said the landlord could crank up her space rent until it becomes impossible to find a willing buyer. Her only recourse would be to sell the home at a fire sale price or 'give' the home to the park owner.

Regional housing advocates have since come out in support of the effort. Cory Wolbach, a former Palo Alto council member representing [email protected], encouraged Mountain View to adopt mobile home rent control as a means to preserve existing affordable homes. He pointed out that many other cities in the county, including San Jose, Los Gatos, Morgan Hill and Milpitas, all have rent stabilization ordinances in place to prevent rent hikes.

"Mobile homes are a source of naturally affordable housing, and as with any rental property, mobile home residents are vulnerable to rent spikes," Wolbach said. "Mobile home rent stabilization decreases displacement risk."

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The city was initially reluctant to act on mobile home rent control -- citing ongoing litigation and possible conflicts with the Rental Housing Committee -- but the political winds finally shifted in 2019 when the City Council made it a goal to extend rent stabilization to mobile home residents. The move was followed by a vote last year to begin drafting some type of rent control ordinance.

An alternative to rent control

Though city officials billed the mobile home rent control ordinance as a balanced approach that takes into account the needs of both tenants and park owners, little progress had been made in winning over park owners who remained firmly against rent control.

Frank Kalcic, owner of Sunset Estates Mobile Home Park, described rent control as a blunt tool that is designed to be contentious, pitting park owners and mobile home residents against one another and inviting lawsuits. Instead, he argued that the city ought to follow in the footsteps of Sunnyvale, which drafted a long-term lease agreement that park owners would have to abide by in order to avoid being subject to rent control.

That memorandum of understanding (MOU) drafted by Sunnyvale includes the bulk of what is included in Mountain View's ordinance, including rent caps and vacancy control provisions. Kalcic said the MOU does a much better job winning support from both sides, and that something similar should be adopted in lieu of rent control.

"Rent control is a punitive process that only serves as a wedge, or a line in the sand that reinforces an 'us and them' viewpoint, which we've heard enough tonight," Kalcic said.

Anthony Rodriguez, an attorney representing Santiago Villa and Sahara Village, sent a strongly worded letter to the city warning that rent control would trigger a whole host of unintended consequences. He said there is a "significant chance" his client would sell rent-controlled homes or remove them from the market, and that he would use so-called Vega adjustments to catch up space rent to market rate -- which could ratchet up monthly rent by $300 to $900.

Rodriguez also criticized the city for saying in June that the ordinance would exclude those who rent their mobile home, only to include them in the rent control law before the council on Tuesday. He said the city acted in bad faith and blindsided park owners with the late change.

City Council members largely agreed to move forward with rent control for mobile homes, but were torn at the Sept. 14 meeting on whether to allow park owners to negotiate long-term lease agreements with their tenants in lieu of rent control. Councilwoman Sally Lieber warned that tenants are not on even footing when negotiating with park owners on an MOU, and that she was wary of supporting it as an alternative to rent control.

"There is a very great power differential here," Lieber said. "The power is entirely slanted towards the park owners and away from the residents of the park, some of whom have the largest investment in their lives in an asset that someone else controls."

Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said she believes the MOU is the superior alternative to rent control and could avoid a lot of the ill will and angst generated from rent control while accomplishing many of the same goals. She suggested that the city enact Sunnyvale's MOU as a secondary option for park owners and tenants who agree to the terms. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga took a similar stance, saying she would've liked to take Sunnyvale's approach from the get-go instead of heading full-steam into rent control.

"In a perfect world, I wish we could rewind time and go back to the beginning and do what Sunnyvale did in bringing everyone together to come up with an accord," Abe-Koga said. "Unfortunately this issue has been divisive, and I really want us to go in a different direction of collaboration."

What ultimately prevailed at the meeting was a little more complicated. The city's mobile home rent control ordinance will apply to all six parks, with the option open for park owners to submit a long-term lease agreement to the city that could be used in lieu of rent control if it meets certain criteria. It would need to be approved by the City Council, and would have to be ratified by 80% of the park tenants.

Though Tuesday marked a victory for mobile home residents, it wasn't without a series of last-minute changes that granted concessions for both sides, as council members tinkered with numerous provisions of the law before it heads back for final approval on Sept. 28.

The new law creates a "base date" for a rent rollback, which compels park owners to revert rental rates back to what they were on March 16, 2021. The provision plays an important role in preventing property owners from catching up rent to market rate in the months before the law goes into effect, but it's an open question what that date should be.

Councilman Lucas Ramirez said the base date really should be May 21, 2019, which marks the date when the council made it a goal to pursue some type of mobile home rent regulations. But the idea fell flat and was not included in the motion.

Lieber advocated for eviction protections that would protect mobile home renters prior to the rent control law taking effect, along with relocation assistance for those who are subject to no-fault evictions. She also sought protections for tenants who are ousted when units are removed from the market, and said the ordinance should give them a first right to return if they're brought back onto the market. All three added to the motion, which passed 6-1 with Matichak opposed.

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Mountain View passes rent control for mobile homes, capping rents across city's six mobile home parks

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 15, 2021, 1:40 pm

The Mountain View City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to enact rent control for mobile homes, ending a yearslong battle by tenants fighting for protections against rent hikes and other predatory practices by park owners.

The new law closely mirrors the city's existing rent control law covering apartments and would cap annual rent increases at the rate of inflation, with a floor of 2% and a ceiling of 5%. The law also enforces eviction protections for tenants who rent mobile homes.

Unlike apartment rent control, the new law also prevents park owners from jacking up the rent once a mobile home owner leaves and a new tenant moves in. So-called vacancy control -- prohibited under state law for most types of housing -- is allowed for mobile homes, and the City Council agreed to cap rent increases for new tenants at the consumer price index (CPI).

The vote, made through a convoluted motion shortly before midnight, was seen as a victory for mobile home residents in Mountain View who have pushed to extend renter protections for the last four years. Many voiced frustration that it's taken this long, and that mobile homes should have been included in the city's original rent control law passed by voters in 2016.

Over time, mobile home residents rallied together to amplify their political clout and joined forces across the city's six mobile home parks. While many of the complaints of rent hikes and allegations of unscrupulous actions center on two parks in particular -- Santiago Villa and Sahara Village, both owned by John Vidovich -- proponents lobbying for rent control Tuesday included residents from normally quiet mobile home parks as well.

Jeannie Son, a resident of New Frontier Mobile Home Park, told council members she struggles every day to keep her head above water and lives in fear that the park will be taken over, and that she's not alone. Many of her neighbors are seniors on fixed incomes, people with disabilities and working-class residents trying to make a living.

"These are honest, hard-working, good citizens in our society who are deserving of protection from sky-high rents or being evicted from their homes," Son said.

Elizabeth Weiss, a senior living in Sahara Village, said she worries that the lack of rent control for mobile homes lends itself to predatory practices by park owners. If she ever wanted to sell her home, Weiss said the landlord could crank up her space rent until it becomes impossible to find a willing buyer. Her only recourse would be to sell the home at a fire sale price or 'give' the home to the park owner.

Regional housing advocates have since come out in support of the effort. Cory Wolbach, a former Palo Alto council member representing [email protected], encouraged Mountain View to adopt mobile home rent control as a means to preserve existing affordable homes. He pointed out that many other cities in the county, including San Jose, Los Gatos, Morgan Hill and Milpitas, all have rent stabilization ordinances in place to prevent rent hikes.

"Mobile homes are a source of naturally affordable housing, and as with any rental property, mobile home residents are vulnerable to rent spikes," Wolbach said. "Mobile home rent stabilization decreases displacement risk."

The city was initially reluctant to act on mobile home rent control -- citing ongoing litigation and possible conflicts with the Rental Housing Committee -- but the political winds finally shifted in 2019 when the City Council made it a goal to extend rent stabilization to mobile home residents. The move was followed by a vote last year to begin drafting some type of rent control ordinance.

An alternative to rent control

Though city officials billed the mobile home rent control ordinance as a balanced approach that takes into account the needs of both tenants and park owners, little progress had been made in winning over park owners who remained firmly against rent control.

Frank Kalcic, owner of Sunset Estates Mobile Home Park, described rent control as a blunt tool that is designed to be contentious, pitting park owners and mobile home residents against one another and inviting lawsuits. Instead, he argued that the city ought to follow in the footsteps of Sunnyvale, which drafted a long-term lease agreement that park owners would have to abide by in order to avoid being subject to rent control.

That memorandum of understanding (MOU) drafted by Sunnyvale includes the bulk of what is included in Mountain View's ordinance, including rent caps and vacancy control provisions. Kalcic said the MOU does a much better job winning support from both sides, and that something similar should be adopted in lieu of rent control.

"Rent control is a punitive process that only serves as a wedge, or a line in the sand that reinforces an 'us and them' viewpoint, which we've heard enough tonight," Kalcic said.

Anthony Rodriguez, an attorney representing Santiago Villa and Sahara Village, sent a strongly worded letter to the city warning that rent control would trigger a whole host of unintended consequences. He said there is a "significant chance" his client would sell rent-controlled homes or remove them from the market, and that he would use so-called Vega adjustments to catch up space rent to market rate -- which could ratchet up monthly rent by $300 to $900.

Rodriguez also criticized the city for saying in June that the ordinance would exclude those who rent their mobile home, only to include them in the rent control law before the council on Tuesday. He said the city acted in bad faith and blindsided park owners with the late change.

City Council members largely agreed to move forward with rent control for mobile homes, but were torn at the Sept. 14 meeting on whether to allow park owners to negotiate long-term lease agreements with their tenants in lieu of rent control. Councilwoman Sally Lieber warned that tenants are not on even footing when negotiating with park owners on an MOU, and that she was wary of supporting it as an alternative to rent control.

"There is a very great power differential here," Lieber said. "The power is entirely slanted towards the park owners and away from the residents of the park, some of whom have the largest investment in their lives in an asset that someone else controls."

Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said she believes the MOU is the superior alternative to rent control and could avoid a lot of the ill will and angst generated from rent control while accomplishing many of the same goals. She suggested that the city enact Sunnyvale's MOU as a secondary option for park owners and tenants who agree to the terms. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga took a similar stance, saying she would've liked to take Sunnyvale's approach from the get-go instead of heading full-steam into rent control.

"In a perfect world, I wish we could rewind time and go back to the beginning and do what Sunnyvale did in bringing everyone together to come up with an accord," Abe-Koga said. "Unfortunately this issue has been divisive, and I really want us to go in a different direction of collaboration."

What ultimately prevailed at the meeting was a little more complicated. The city's mobile home rent control ordinance will apply to all six parks, with the option open for park owners to submit a long-term lease agreement to the city that could be used in lieu of rent control if it meets certain criteria. It would need to be approved by the City Council, and would have to be ratified by 80% of the park tenants.

Though Tuesday marked a victory for mobile home residents, it wasn't without a series of last-minute changes that granted concessions for both sides, as council members tinkered with numerous provisions of the law before it heads back for final approval on Sept. 28.

The new law creates a "base date" for a rent rollback, which compels park owners to revert rental rates back to what they were on March 16, 2021. The provision plays an important role in preventing property owners from catching up rent to market rate in the months before the law goes into effect, but it's an open question what that date should be.

Councilman Lucas Ramirez said the base date really should be May 21, 2019, which marks the date when the council made it a goal to pursue some type of mobile home rent regulations. But the idea fell flat and was not included in the motion.

Lieber advocated for eviction protections that would protect mobile home renters prior to the rent control law taking effect, along with relocation assistance for those who are subject to no-fault evictions. She also sought protections for tenants who are ousted when units are removed from the market, and said the ordinance should give them a first right to return if they're brought back onto the market. All three added to the motion, which passed 6-1 with Matichak opposed.

Comments

Dan Waylonis
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Sep 15, 2021 at 2:42 pm
Dan Waylonis, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 2:42 pm

I assume the council has a process for measuring the success of this intrusive plan? And will re-evaluate to see how it's progressing?


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 15, 2021 at 3:26 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 3:26 pm

The MV City Council's vote is consistent with the recommendations of housinghumanright.org. Good for them!

"For addressing the housing affordability crisis, AHF carries out a multi-pronged, community-based approach known as the “3 Ps”:

* Protect tenants: prevent gentrification and homelessness by keeping rents under control and discouraging evictions;
* Preserve communities: support progressive, sustainable land-use policies that maintain neighborhood integrity and allow working- and middle-class families to stay in their communities;
* Produce housing: Produce truly affordable housing through adaptive reuse and cost-effective new construction."


Trey Bornmann
Registered user
another community
on Sep 17, 2021 at 5:37 am
Trey Bornmann, another community
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 5:37 am

I am overjoyed Mountain View has finally stepped up to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens. Democracy moves slowly but is triumphant. Big money does not always win.

Pay special attention to which elected officials tried to derail this effort with MOUs and side-stepping techniques. If you ever unexpectedly find yourself down and out, you should not expect those council members to support you either. Get them out of office now. It can take decades to shift the political mindset to do the right thing. By then you could easily be dead from neglect. I am NOT joking folks.

VOTE!

And vote for people who care MORE about their citizens than big donors or their political carriers. These people should represent you and who you are. They should fight for you. No excuses because they have a small-town council job. They control the money and services that will be provided to citizens. Make sure they actually care and are willing to protect you from outside bullies.


Raymond
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Sep 17, 2021 at 2:42 pm
Raymond , Monta Loma
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 2:42 pm

Rent control results in trapped residents and reduced quality and numbers of housing units. It also steals from providers. Count the units available now and then in a few years. Enjoy.


DrJKL
Registered user
North Bayshore
on Sep 17, 2021 at 3:58 pm
DrJKL, North Bayshore
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 3:58 pm

If anyone is interested in learning more about this, please reach out to the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance: Web Link


Lenny Siegel2
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Sep 17, 2021 at 6:27 pm
Lenny Siegel2, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 6:27 pm

@ Raymond. Apartment rent control is working in Mountain View, and in case you haven't noticed, Mountain View is building more apartments than our neighboring communities. Some have argued that rent control has caused apartment owners to propose demolition of their buildings, but that trend was already in place when few people thought rent control would be approved.

It well past time for our mobile-home neighbors to receive similar protection.

Those that think that the windfall profits of housing investors are being stolen should read Adam Smith. The exorbitant profits of housing investors have been the result of communities not planning for adequate housing, not the sweat of property-owners' brows.


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