Mobile home park owners in Mountain View will no longer have the opportunity to create their own agreements with residents in place of following the city’s rent control ordinance. City staff said they gave the idea their best shot, but it just wasn’t working.
The Mobile Home Rent Stabilization Ordinance (MHRSO), which the council passed last September, caps annual rent increases for mobile homes at the rate of inflation, enforces eviction protections and prevents park owners from upping the rent when a tenant vacates and a new one moves in.
The law was a big victory for many mobile home residents in Mountain View, who have advocated for increased protections for years. But local mobile home park owners weren’t so thrilled.
At the time that the ordinance was passed, owner of Sunset Estates Mobile Home Park Frank Kalcic described rent control as something that, in his opinion, pits park owners like him against his residents and invites lawsuits. He suggested that Mountain View try something similar to what the city of Sunnyvale implemented: instead of having to abide by a rent control ordinance, allow park owners to instead reach a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with their residents.
But a key difference between the two cities is that Sunnyvale didn’t already have rent control protections in place when it implemented its MOU. Mountain View Rental Housing Committee member Emily Ramos helped develop Sunnyvale’s MOU through her work at the nonprofit [email protected]
“Mountain View is looking at this MOU when they already have rental stabilization in place for mobile homes,” Ramos said. “That is very different from where Sunnyvale came from, where they essentially had no protections at all. So I’m very happy that Sunnyvale passed their MOU, but their MOU is not nearly as protective as an actual rent stabilization ordinance.”
Giving it a try
Despite being in a different situation than Sunnyvale, Mountain View decided to give the neighboring city’s approach a shot. At the Sept. 14 meeting where the rent control ordinance was passed, the council also adopted language to allow an exemption from the ordinance if an MOU between park owners and residents is approved by the city and agreed upon by at least 80% of a mobile home park’s residents.
At the time, the council also directed staff to work with park owners and residents to develop a “model accord,” a single MOU that could be used by any of the city’s mobile home parks. City staff said that multiple accords would be too big a burden for the city to implement, and may result in unequal protections for residents of different parks. A model accord would need to provide substantially better or greater benefits for tenants than the rent stabilization ordinance for city staff to be able to recommend it for approval.
“An accord that provides less protections to mobile home residents than the MHRSO would be a contradictory and illogical result,” staff said.
But after months of meetings held this year with both park owners and residents, city staff says a single model accord is just not happening, so they recommended that the council take this option out of the ordinance.
Park owners were asked to work together to submit a single accord to the city by March 24. The city instead received two partial proposals, one from Sunset Estates and one on behalf of both Sahara Mobile Village and Santiago Villa. Neither submittal had the consensus of all the park owners, city staff said. Furthermore, the proposals didn’t provide equal or greater protections to tenants than the existing ordinance.
“The park owners did not achieve this result through the stakeholder process, and staff does not recommend redoing the process in another attempt to achieve a model accord,” city staff said.
Assistant Community Development Director Wayne Chen said there are three potential types of tenants in mobile home parks: mobile home owners who rent space from a park owner, a tenant who rents both a unit and space from a park owner, and a tenant who rents a unit from a mobile home owner.
Because an accord or MOU is establishing an agreement between a mobile home owner and a park owner, it doesn’t provide protections for tenants who are renting a unit from a mobile home owner, whereas the rent control ordinance provides protections for all three groups.
Councilmember Lisa Matichak asked why these protections couldn’t just be written into the MOU like they are in the ordinance.
“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to get all the mobile home owners to agree to provisions in an accord… ” Chen said. “I think while it’s conceptually possible, we have not seen it be achieved in other places.”
What residents have to say
At an April 7 public workshop to review the proposals submitted, residents said they preferred the existing ordinance’s rules over the park owners’ proposals, according to the staff report.
Resident Serge Bonte wrote a June 28 letter to the council supporting the staff recommendation to remove the MOU exemption.
“At the end of these 10 months, there is no common MOU draft for all parks,” Bonte wrote. “The lone MOU for a single park doesn't meet the criteria set by the City Council to be at least as favorable to residents as the ordinance, it seems doubtful that (an) MOU could muster 80% of the votes and unless an agreement can be found on fees, it might saddle the city with ongoing recurring costs to monitor the MOU.”
Bill Boyle, who lives with his wife Nancy at Sahara Mobile Village, said in a June 26 letter that the exemption should never have been added to the MHRSO in the first place.
“It appears that the owners (or their lawyers) do not understand the phrase ‘substantially similar or greater benefits than the MHSRO,’” Boyle wrote. “Neither of the proposed MOUs come close.”
Having helped Sunnyvale develop their MOU, Ramos said she thinks there wasn’t enough education to help residents understand the differences between the rent control ordinance and the proposed MOUs, including the tenant protections under each scenario.
“I know that the staff recommendation is to just remove the (MOU) provision from the ordinance,” Ramos told the Voice before the June 28 meeting. “I think a lot more education will be necessary in order to make that happen. I’ve been hearing from some park residents thinking that they are taking away a right by taking away the MOU, and that’s not what they’re trying to do.”
The strongest support for MOUs by mobile home residents came from those living at Sunset Estates. Some said that they see it as a way for their voices to be heard in the process, and feel disenfranchised by the city staff’s recommendation.
“Since the council implemented rent control we’ve had the largest rent increase since I’ve lived here. It’s hurt us, not helped us,” wrote Sunset Estates resident Pat Pekary. “PLEASE ALLOW RESIDENTS OF SUNSET ESTATES TO VOTE ON THE SUNSET ESTATES MOU!”
These residents say that MOUs would allow park owners and residents to come to individualized agreements that serve the specific needs of their mobile home park.
“Kalcic held meetings to share with us the MOU he wanted to introduce to the council,” said Sunset Estates resident Marty Brewer. “I was all for it and expected it to be accepted by the council so we could vote on it. Instead, the council's mandate to the staff was to come up with a single MOU to be offered to all Mountain View parks. We are not like the other parks! We are seniors, there are no children here, we have only 144 units and we are largely on limited incomes. Our MOU is unique to us.”
During public comment, owner Kalcic reiterated his hope for the city to approve his park’s proposed MOU and allow his residents to take it to a vote.
“Most importantly, an MOU encourages participants to cooperate and to communicate, to recognize that all parties have an interest in the stability and the viability of the community,” he said.
Council member Matichak made a motion, seconded by Council member Margaret Abe-Koga, for the council to allow only for the Sunset Estates’ MOU as the model accord, and give other park owners the opportunity to use it if they desire.
“We’ve heard from a lot of residents from the Sunset Estates park via email, and consistently they indicate that they would like the opportunity to vote on an MOU,” Matichak said. “…To just dismiss that amount of public input is troubling to me.”
Matichak’s motion failed to get a majority of council’s support.
Protections and power
From Ramos’ perspective, it’s “a wonderful thing” that Sunset Estates residents like Pekary and Brewer have a good relationship with their park owner.
“But they need to be fully educated on the rights that they have, and it's a new right so it's hard to keep track,” she said. “The Mobile Home Rent Stabilization Ordinance did not pass until last year. It's a lot to catch up with.”
Other Sunset Estates residents like Joan Brodovsky expressed hesitations about the MOU process.
“It hasn’t been negotiated between the residents and the owners,” Brodovsky said. “... I know that half of us are afraid to speak. We don’t want to argue with him, we don’t want to make him unhappy, and some of us don’t like it. … People have referred to the imbalance in power between an MOU owner and an MOU resident, and we all feel that.”
Gail Rubino, a resident at the El Dorado Mobile Home Park in Sunnyvale, strongly supported removing the MOU option from Mountain View’s ordinance, despite living under one right now. Rubino served as a member of the resident group that negotiated with the city of Sunnyvale and mobile home park owners to create Sunnyvale’s MOU.
“Whenever a group has a choice of being under an ordinance or an MOU, always choose the ordinance,” Rubino said. “An ordinance is law. An MOU is not law.”
In Rubino’s opinion, the relationship between the park owners and the residents “will never be equal” under an MOU.
Mountain View city staff agreed: according to the staff report, there’s an inherent bargaining power imbalance in mobile home park owner and resident relationships, and it’s the city’s job to ensure that power differential doesn’t influence the outcome of an MOU.
Council member Sally Lieber said mobile home rent control was “a very, very long time coming” for Mountain View. When the ordinance was passed last fall, Lieber said, it was important that the council do its due diligence to pursue the option of an MOU.
“We have now done that, and it has produced absolutely nothing,” Lieber said. “…In the meantime we know that rent control is working and protecting our community members in Mountain View, and that is what our first allegiance and work should be toward.”
After more than two hours of deliberation on the item, Lieber made a motion to pass the staff recommendation to remove the MOU exemption from the ordinance. Her motion was seconded by Vice Mayor Alison Hicks and passed 5-2, with council members Abe-Koga and Matichak voting against.