The Santa Maria City Council narrowly voted to establish a new model lease program for the city’s mobile home parks despite complaints from some residents about the program’s inadequacy to limit rent increases for low-income seniors.
The council’s vote followed a yearlong process of stakeholder meetings that were organized in response to complaints from numerous park residents that the rising rents were becoming unsustainable for a population largely made up of senior citizens.
Mobile home residents generally own their own homes and pay space rent to the park owners for the lots on which their homes sit.
After more than two hours of discussion, the council voted 3-2 to approve the new model lease program. Council members Gloria Soto and Mike Cordero voted no.
Soto said she couldn’t vote in support of the model lease program because it wasn’t strong enough to protect the city’s vulnerable residents and still remained an opt-in program.
“It’s not enforceable — there’s no teeth to it,” she said.
Soto also objected to a provision in the program that contractually obligated the city to refrain from considering a rent stabilization ordinance for 10 years.
In a departure from her previously expressed position, Councilwoman Etta Waterfield said the model lease represented the best of what came out of a lengthy city-facilitated negotiation process and noted a majority of residents at the city’s largest parks have already signed long-term leases.
Previously, Waterfield had told mobile home residents shortly before the 2018 election that she supported the adoption of a rent stabilization ordinance.
The model lease program approved Tuesday consists of a complete lease agreement that some park owners have agreed to offer to residents in the event they are unable to negotiate an alternative lease.
Unlike the city’s former informal model lease program, which dates back to 1999, the new model lease contains an opt-in enforcement mechanism in the form of a contract between the city and individual park owners.
Under the terms of the contract, the city could file a suit seeking an injunction against park owners who decline to honor the terms of the model lease.
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City Attorney Thomas Watson said the owners of five the city’s 16 mobile home parks have volunteered to sign the contract.
The management teams of another four parks have agreed to recommend the park owners sign the contract, and the city will continue to reach out to the remaining parks, Watson said.
During the meeting, Rancho Buena Vista resident Gary Hall was allotted time to speak on behalf of members of the North Santa Barbara County Manufactured Homeowners Team.
Attorney Lisa Toke was given an equal amount of time to speak on behalf of the owners of the city’s three largest parks, Rancho Buena Vista, Casa del Rio and Casa Grande.
During the meeting, Hall criticized the model lease for not encompassing all of the city’s parks and asserted the lease terms, particularly those concerning minimum rent increases, weren’t adequate to control unsustainable rent increases.
For those residents who opt for the model lease:
- Annual rent increases will be a minimum of 2.5% and a maximum of 6%
- Rent increases will be based on the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, for class B and C cities, meaning those with a population of less than 2.5 million
- Leases will include an option to have a five-year term in addition to the existing 10-year term
Hall asked that the council adopt a rent stabilization ordinance that could act as a complement to the model lease program.
“Then, and only then, will our goals have been satisfied,” he said.
Toke spoke in favor of the model lease, saying it represented concessions from her clients on lease term lengths, the minimum and maximum annual rent increases and on the index used to calculate rent increases.
Previously, the parks used the CPI for the Los Angeles area, which trends higher than the class B and C cities index that will be utilized for residents under the model lease.
Toke said park owners needed a floor to guarantee rent increases in years of low CPI because increases in park expenses are not always tied to the CPI.
For instance, the owners of Casa Grande had to pay $30,000 to have gas service restored after the June fire and shooting at the property that left five people dead, Toke said.
“These are costs that the park needs to bear and oftentimes the residents aren’t even aware of them,” she said. “There are lots of costs imposed upon the parks that they needed to be able to cover.”
Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @razisyed