Mobile Home Rent Stabilization Fails In Anaheim

Councilmember Moreno explaining why a cap on rent increases is necessary.

The discussion of a  temporary cap on rent increases at mobile home parks was kept from taking place by the Anaheim City Council majority at the last meeting, but the issue was successfully added to the April 16 session by Councilmembers Jose Moreno and Denise Barnes. Homeowners from several mobile home parks filled the chambers.

The proposed 6-month rent cap ordinance had lots of support from residents in the audience. Many homeowners at Rancho La Paz Mobile Park spoke about the problems they are facing with extreme lot rent increases of up to 50%. Several homeowners at Friendly Village also spoke about a similar situation happening there.

One young resident of Friendly Village who grew up in Anaheim said she and her husband were so happy to own their home where they planned to raise their family. She told the council, “I can’t understand why any of you would not support this ordinance that protects Anaheim families from corporate investors who just want to make as much money as possible.” Most speakers thanked Councilmember Moreno for listening to them and for drafting the ordinance which they all urged the council to pass.

The few public speakers opposing the ordinance were representatives of the mobile park industry lobbying groups (MHET & WMA) and an employee of a mobile home park. The lobbing group representatives said Santa Ana residents don’t want rent control as seen in the recent turn down of Prop 10 on the ballot. Park owners and tenants can work it out together. Government shouldn’t get involved.

Mary Jo Baretich, representative of the Golden State Mobile Homeowners League, which supports mobile homeowners statewide, said “110 cities and counties in the state have rent-control ordinances. Many of the elderly in Santa Ana need protection from the extreme rent increases.” She said she hoped the council would listen to the homeowners.

Mayor Harry Sidhu set the council discussion on the topic off with a vote against passing an ordinance or spending any more time on researching the issue. He said he was not in favor of interfering in the tenant/landlord relationship and that the solution he, and councilmembers Faessel and O’Neil had come up with to encourage the park owner to talk to tenants and extend the rent increase date until September was working and was good enough.

However, Councilmember Moreno said that the temporary measure was needed to give current mobile homeowners relief and protection as they negotiated with park owners on an increase fair to all. Also, a temporary cap would keep those park owners (who were gouging) from raising lot rents quickly in an effort to avoid the possible anti-gouging measures currently being considered by the state legislature. And it would give staff time to look into possible longterm options.

The interim ordinance under discussion would cap space rent increases to 3% or the current Consumer Price Index for a period of 180 days on all mobile home parks in the city of Anaheim. The measure would not cover anyone with a longtime lease. It also included an appeals process for special circumstances that would be available to park owners.

“This is about people not ideology,” said Moreno who showed a chart detailing the district location of the 27 mobile home parks in Anaheim (725 spaces in D1, 416 in D2, 542 in D3, 783 in D4, 670 in D5, and 347 in D6).
“Each of these 3,483 spaces represents at least one or two people,” he said.

“For those of us concerned about property rights – this is about two sets of property owners. Families have invested in an asset when purchasing their mobile homes. Extreme lot rent hikes impact thousands of Anaheim residents who are, on the most part, on fixed incomes,” Moreno said.

“We know homelessness in the county is pushed by high rents and low incomes, and especially target the elderly and ill. Three of every four persons who are homeless are homeless due to these factors. The average age of a homeless person is 52.”

Moreno pointed out that the city was still well below building the number of low income housing units set by RHNA (Regional Housing Need Allocation, a state law mandating housing units by affordability level for cities based on population). And “any new housing for that sector will not be coming for several years. If we wait – many of our residents will become homeless. They are asking us to hit the pause button,” Moreno said. He said he would like to be part of an Ad Hoc Committee to study options.
He added that Santa Ana is considering a similar moratorium on lot rent hikes. (The Santa Ana Council pushed the rent stabilization item to the May 7th issue in order to give staff time to collect facts.)

Moreno made a motion to pass the ordinance which was seconded by Councilmember Barnes.
And the discussion began.

Mayor Protem Lucille Kring was not in support. She mentioned that the new Rancho La Paz property owner had to pay $800,000 in property tax per year. “The park owner has to make a profit,” she said. She went on, inaccurately, to claim “some of these people say they have lived there for a long time and think they shouldn’t have to pay any rent.”  Councilmember Moreno later corrected Kring’s figure stating that “the property tax figure includes tax on two additional properties the owner bought along with Rancho La Paz.”

Councilmember O’Neil, who said his whole career was based on taking care of senior citizens, repeated points from the mobile home park owner lobby group MHET’s study listing several towns where rent control ordinances didn’t hold up. He showed a graph showing that – of the parks surveyed by the lobbying group – the average space rent in Anaheim mobile home parks is $1,154 (highest $1,600 and lowest $765). The Anaheim side of Rancho la Paz is at $765 so an increase of $300 would bring it to $1,065 – he said. O’Neil said “since many of the mobile homes are on longtime leases any ordinance would only affect 1,958 spaces not 3,500. “It’s not a widespread issue in Anaheim – less than 1% of the population will be affected,” he said.

O’Neil and the lobbying group study conveniently left out examples of the 110 cities in California where rent stabilization does work – including the very successful longtime ordinance of San Juan Capistrano, which has kept mobile home lot rent increases attached to the Consumer Price Index for decades. That ordinance has survived the lobby group’s lawsuit and would be a good model for other cities to follow. The language can be found in the San Juan Capistrano municipal code Article 9. Mobile Home Rent Control.

O’Neil also brought up the recent unsuccessful statewide rent control ballot initiative which  failed to pass in a 60/40 vote including in the areas where mobile homes are located. “The voters have spoken,” said O’Neil. He said that “the problem with rent control is that it puts the needs of tenants over the needs of the owner. It is easy for us to bend to the pressure of the masses coming to us demanding something – essentially something for nothing – but the park owner must cover the expenses of operating the park.” He suggested the long time lease model should be used. “And for those who can’t afford the hikes there are subsidy plans.”

O’Neil motioned to postpone the ordinance indefinitely, seconded by Kring.

Councilmember Moreno pointed out that “We just passed an initiative to grant a quarter million to a group [Anaheim First] to find what our citizens want in the way of improvements in their neighborhoods. Here we have residents coming to us for help about what is happening in their neighborhood.” He asked the other councilmembers, “Who’s first, the residents or the park owner? Who is in danger of losing their homes, the residents or the park owner?”

Councilmember Faessel said he thought “the agreement we got from the owner confirming that he is meeting with the residents and has extended the rent increase until September” should be allowed to work. He added that Fullerton is holding off until July to allow progress on the issues at Rancho La Paz.

Councilmember Brandman said that “if this was a serious issue that was not under control” he would feel differently but he feels the situation is under control and will soon be solved by statewide legislation.

Councilmember Barnes thought park residents and owners should be encouraged to make longterm leases.

In a disappointing end to the discussion for the homeowners in attendance the council majority voted 6-1 to postpone the ordinance indefinitely. Moreno casting the only positive vote on the issue.

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