Rent stabilization

Santa Maria mobile home park residents talk on Wednesday at La Maria Mobile Home Estates about the city's draft version of a potential “model lease” program.

After months of meetings regarding rent protections for Santa Maria mobile home park residents, city officials and stakeholders have developed a draft version of a “model lease” program.

The draft model lease, for which some terms are still being negotiated, was developed in response to concerns from residents, who believe unchecked rent increases are pricing out some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, especially seniors living on fixed incomes.

Mobile home park residents generally own their homes but pay rent on the land underneath them.

Rancho Buena Vista and Casa Grande, two of the city’s largest senior parks, both call for space rents to rise annually based on the Los Angeles-area Consumer Price Index (CPI) with a minimum 3% annual increase.

When the CPI is less than 3%, like most of the past decade, rents rise 3%.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, several park residents spoke about the strain placed on those with fixed incomes when space rents rise at rates that exceed the annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment.

Madeline Gay Robertson, a resident of La Maria Mobile Home Park, said she had turned to selling personal heirlooms on Craigslist to keep up with the rising cost of living.

“Social Security went up $34 for me last year,” she said. “Within two years, my space rent went up $67. You might think that’s not a big deal but it is.”

Since last fall, the city has held stakeholder meetings with mobile home park residents and park owners to facilitate an agreement on terms for either a “model lease” or a rent stabilization ordinance.

While progress had been slow-moving, representatives for park owners and residents expressed hope during Tuesday’s meeting that an agreement could ultimately be reached.

Attorney Lisa Toke, who represents the owners of Rancho Buena Vista, Casa Grande and Casa del Rio parks, said her clients had objections to a rent stabilization ordinance but were agreeable to an enforceable model lease program.

“We have a meeting coming up on Sept. 25 at which we anticipate going through the current draft of the model lease literally line-by-line with the city and the representatives of the residents who are at the meeting,” she said.

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The newly proposed “model lease” is intended to include terms of enforcement, which are not included in the city's current program, which is voluntary and not in use by any of the city’s parks.

The city first developed a model lease that it encouraged park owners to use in 1999 after the City Council voted down a proposed rent stabilization ordinance in a 2-3 vote.

The enforcement mechanism suggested by the City Attorney’s Office would consist of a contract between the city and the owners of each mobile home park.

With the proposed contract, park owners would have the option of negotiating their own leases with residents but would be required to offer the model lease to any resident who requests it or if lease negotiations do not reach an agreement.

Toke said her clients agreed to the enforcement mechanism “in concept” but were waiting to see the exact terms of the final model lease and contract.

Going forward, items still of concern to park residents include whether the model lease enforcement provision would remain in place in the event a park is sold to a new owner and whether the terms would be available to those who have already signed new 10-year leases, said Gary Hall, a member of the North Santa Barbara County Manufactured Homeowners Team, which has been representing residents in stakeholder meetings.

According to Toke, over 90% of residents as Casa Grande have signed a 10-year-lease that will take effect starting next year. 

The new lease signed by Casa Grande residents, which includes an annual 3% minimum rent increase, states it is “exempt from any ordinance, rule, regulation or initiative measure adopted by any local government entity which establishes a maximum amount that a landlord may charge a tenant for rent.”

Hall said that he believes Casa Grande residents were led astray by the fact that they were handed leases that stated specific deadlines on when to return them.

Those residents were not lawyers and or experts who knew that they were under no obligation to accept a lease, Hall said. “It’s my opinion, that the model lease terms ought to be available to those people as well.”

Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed


City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.

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