Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Local rent control options for mobile home parks are limited by state law, but Arcata will go ahead and see what it can do to stabilize housing costs for mobile home residents.
Responding to persistent appeals for relief by residents of local mobile home parks, the City Council last week gave staff the go-ahead to bring it options. This will take the form of an impact and feasibility analysis. It may be available in four to six weeks.
According to a staff report, there aren’t any bans on rent control in state law, but there are some key exemptions. Among them:
• It can’t apply to brand-new mobile home spaces.
• It can’t apply to a lease that is longer than 12 months; only to leases of shorter duration, or month-to-month rental arrangements. But:
• Landlords can’t force tenants to accept a long-term lease. Tenants can demand a 12-month or shorter lease for the same rent as in the long-term lease they rejected.
• Any mobile homes in the park which are owned by the operator can be rented as apartments, and are immune from rent control.
Working within these limitations, typical mobile home rent control ordinances require 90-day notice for any increase. This can have the effect of slowing rent hikes, and the same tactics can limit increases to once a year, the staff report says. Rent increases on spaces that go vacant are also regulated.
Park owners are protected by the right to a “fair return” on their investment, and that opens the door to massive complications. A rent increase schedule might be linked to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in conjunction with rulings by a local housing board – possibly the City Council acting as one – or an administrator. Financial statements must be filed, and audited, including possible third-party audits. Disputes over rent increases can and have wound up in court.
The report, by City Manager Karen Diemer, recommends that if the City Council wants to press ahead with rent control options, it direct staff to inventory local mobile home parks’ occupancy, demand, costs, possible impacts on other rental housing, as well as applicable models for ascertaining “fair return.”
Community Development Director Larry Oetker outlined these and other intricacies, saying a study would be required for crafting any rent control ordinance. He noted that there is no current budget for such an undertaking.
Alternatives to rent control exist, and are in play in Arcata. Sandpiper Park (which no longer contains mobile homes) and Arcata Mobile Home Parks are outside of the rent control issue, with affordable housing units set up by the city.
Those micro-communities are operated by the company known as Resident Owned Parks (ROP). They’re structured so that after 30 years, ownership can revert to the tenants at a predetermined cost.
During public testimony, a man named Jim identified himself as “a lifelong Republican” and “believer in the free market system.” He stated that “there are times in the free market system when the government, local, state and federal, needs to intervene to level the playing field. And I think this is one of those times.”
Town and Country Mobile Home Park owner Christine Quick said her family has own that park for more than 50 years. She said rent increases had been modest, and that a rent control ordinance would hamper her family’s ability to provide benevolent management and implement planned upgrades.
Tim Strack, director of property management for Inspire Communities, the company which owns Lazy J Ranch on Janes Road, said costs of park repairs, taxes and maintenance are ever-rising, and that rent control “will add an additional layer of complexity, personnel time and the cost to administer not just for us, but for the city, too.”
‘Duct tape on children’
The controversy took a bizarre turn last week when an email sent through an online “anonymizer” service, which scrubs the sender’s actual identity, attempted to discredit Hilary Mosher, an outspoken rent control advocate.
The message, sent by “Mike Hunt,” (refer to urbandictionary.com for context on that name) included one page of a two-page Complaint Investigation Report conducted at Strongbridge Montessori School by the California Department of Social Services (DSS).
States the e-mail message, “Can’t believe this lady has any credibility after what she did and said to the Humboldt First Five group. Also can’t believe any parents would want to send their kids to her school! If she will use duct tape on little kids, imagine what else she’d do to get her way. See the infamous duct tape document below.”
The DSS report documents a Sept. 23 site visit following a startling allegation that “the Administrator used duct tape on children.”
State investigator Dean Valencia interviewed staff, children and parents over the allegation and found it (caps his): “SUBSTANTIATED. Children were not accorded safe, healthful and comfortable accommodations, by applying duct tape to the children’s feet/ankles.”
The report’s second page – not included in “Hunt’s” email, details the “plan of corrections.”
The report states that the Mosher was cited for a “Personal Rights” violation, “Administrator agrees not to use duct tape on children in care, and will submit a signed printout of Personal Rights Regulations, acknowledging them, by 9/24/2015.”
DSS Public Information Office Michael Weston said he had no further public information on the issue.
Mosher said the whole thing was overblown, and “a smear campaign by Inspire Communities” to discredit her as a rent control advocate.
She said the duct tape use was innocuous. “A little girl tore the knee out of her pants, and kept working it, as they do,” Mosher said. With her pants sagging, Mosher said the girl “ran and tripped.” A quick duct tape patch, she said, mended the pants.
When another girl came to school wearing her big sister’s shoes, which were too big and falling off, the same solution – duct tape – was used to affix the shoes to the child.
This harmless, practical use of duct tape, Mosher said, made one teacher “very angry.” Mosher described as the teacher as “stupid,” and “a very bad individual who had to be fired.”
Mosher isn’t certain who is responsible for the complaint – the teacher or Inspire Communities – but said she’s been told that “this is a tactic they use all the time.”
She said licensed daycare facilities such as Strongbridge are vulnerable to unwarranted attacks by disgruntled individuals, and that complaints against similar local facilities are routine.
A “facility evaluation” conducted by DSS that same day found Strongbridge’s records in order and overall condition satisfactory and without violations.
Inspire Communities didn’t respond to an inquiry.