Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – The town’s advisory committee has shot down a proposal to enact rent control at mobile home parks, but proponents of the idea plan to forge ahead with their efforts to get an ordinance passed.
The McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) on Jan. 21 voted 6-0, with committee member Craig Tucker absent, to oppose rent control. All committee members present, including non-voting member Greg Orsini, were unanimous in their opposition to rent control.
Committee members said they were concerned about potential conflicts, costs and the unintended consequences of a rent stabilization ordinance.
The advisory committee’s recommendation against the proposal will be forwarded to the county Board of Supervisors. In order to enact rent control, supervisors would have to pass an ordinance that would apply to all of unincorporated Humboldt County. It would not affect parks in cities such as Arcata and Eureka, which would have to pass their own ordinances if they want rent control.
The idea for rent control was proposed by several residents of Ocean West Senior Village at 1090 Murray Rd. in McKinleyville. A corporation called Inspire Communities is in escrow to purchase the park from the Swanlund Family. Residents are concerned that there may be significant rent increases when the new landlord takes over. The same company purchased the Lazy J Ranch mobile home park in Arcata in November 2013.
Some have claimed that rents were jacked up by 10 percent or more, with some pegging the individual increases at $100 a month or more.
But at last week’s meeting, Erik Rollain of Inspire Communities told the McKMAC that the increase at Lazy J was $20 a month per space. That’s about a 5 percent increase.
Rollain said that while the company increased the rents, it’s also investing about $240,000 into the Lazy J Ranch, improving fences and roads. It also plans to build a clubhouse, he said.
When escrow closes on Ocean West, the company will likely raise the rents, although Rollain said he doesn’t know how much.
One of the factors that will influence the increase is the new owner’s higher property taxes. Under Prop. 13, properties are taxed on their assessed values at time of purchase, with the amount increasing by only 1 percent a year. When the 36-year-old park changes hands, its assessed value will dramatically increase. Rollain said that the property tax increase alone would probably come to about $30 per home in the park.
Rents at Ocean West have traditionally been raised based upon the Bay Area Consumer Price Index, which can range from 1 percent to 3 percent a year.
Don Smith, the manager of Swanlund Properties, said the family has decided to sell Ocean West because there’s no one else other than himself to run the business.
The family, he said, was very careful in choosing a buyer, which had to be someone responsible who would properly manage the park.
The threat of rent control being passed in Humboldt County spurred the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association (WNA) to send out a representative. The WNA is a trade association that lobbies on behalf of mobile home park owners.
Doug Johnson, the WNA’s senior regional representative for Northern California, warned the McKMAC that rent control would lead to division, lawsuits, higher costs and would split apart communities.
But Ocean West resident Hilary Mosher said that rent control would help protect homeowners.
“We don’t want to be gouged, and we don’t want to gouge owners,” Mosher said.
Mosher said that a corporation can buy a park, raise the rents and there’s nothing that mobile home owners can do about it. As she’s noted before, mobile homes aren’t really mobile, so homeowners are forced to pay the higher rents and may not be able to move.
“It’s undeniable – we have no protections,” Mosher said.
Patti Rose, who lives in the Northwood Mobile Home Park off Central Avenue in McKinleyville, said that the owner of her park is very fair, but she’s concerned what could happen if someone else were to buy the park. She urged the McKMAC to make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to look into the idea of rent control. “This is about our future,” Rose said.
Glendale Mobile Estates owner Dwight Mullins provided the McKMAC with a historical perspective, noting that rent control was debated back in the early 1990s. At the time, a doctor had purchased a park and was threatening a large rent increase, Mullins said. Rather than pass rent control, the county created a special committee charged with mediating such disputes. Mullins said the committee worked well.
McKMAC member Pat Barsanti said he liked the idea of such a committee. “I’m in favor of conflict resolution,” Barsanti said.
Committee members said they were sympathetic to mobile home owners, but didn’t think rent control was the right solution.
Although rent control was smacked down by the McKMAC, Mosher said the movement will continue. Supporters, she said, are forming a Humboldt County Mobile Home Resident’s Coalition. Those interested in joining can email Mosher at [email protected].
“It was disappointing that McKMAC members used their own personal prejudices in making a decision, instead of representing the welfare of the low- and moderate-income residents of the community, and unbelievably justified it by referring the issue to a now defunct 1994 dispute resolution committee,” Mosher stated in an email sent after the meeting. “But this is just the very beginning – McKMAC doesn’t stop us from taking this issue to the county Board of Supervisors, it’s just the first stop along the journey.”