Guest Commentary: Mobile home park owners don’t play fair

By Laura Taylor Sunday, July 30, 2006

Citrus Heights is home to some wonderful mobile home parks with a sense of community like no other place in the city. They provide a more affordable, low-maintenance home ownership option for our senior citizens, and although they must pay monthly rent for the mobile home space, these rents had been some-what reasonable with fairly predictable annual increases. The recent sale of two of these mobile home parks changed that.

Public outcry over what appeared to be saddling residents with the cost of purchasing the parks brought to the fore a need for some regulation on mobile home rents. The often unclear, sketchy and sometimes misleading communication from park owners to residents was identified as an additional cause for concern.

Our City Council applied a method used successfully on other issues and formed the mobile home rent stabilization task force. As the co-chairwoman of the task force and one of three neutral members, I felt it was imperative that I kept an open mind. The residents who had spoken out in favor of rent control described park owners as manipulative investors who would unscrupulously take advantage of seniors on a fixed income whenever possible. I thought that assessment was rather harsh and chose to form my own opinion.

In December 2005, despite assurances to the City Council that they would give the task force a chance before raising rents or making other changes, two of the mobile home park owners in Citrus Heights drafted and were pitching long-term leases to their residents (a third followed suit shortly thereafter.) State law exempts park owners from rent control where there are leases in place. After only a few meetings, the owners were taking matters into their own hands.

When the owners’ position suddenly turned toward support of long-term leases with little room for discussion of anything else, it became clear that they were operating under a shared agenda. They often stayed behind after our meetings, having their own follow-up meetings and discussing their options outside of the forum with city staff members.

I voiced my grave disappointment in what I saw as their lack of good faith directly with a number of park owners. The consensus eventually adopted by the task force and recommendations taken to the City Council were done so with great difficulty and certainly were not unanimous.

The “private cooperative” organization of park owners is equivalent to a monopoly and places them at an unfair advantage over residents, as do the much-touted leases. The ordinance will not create a huge, expensive bureaucracy simply by demanding public accountability on the part of the monopoly that is benefiting from our seniors.

The days of park owners “playing nice” and “looking out for their customers” — which is what our seniors are — disappeared with the sale of two parks. With increased rents in these parks, other owners’ eyes lit up with dollar signs at the chance to get in on the action and drive up market rates to Bay Area levels. The “reasonable” rents of the past and new long-term leases are no guarantee of future fairness.

The threats of lawsuits and repealed ordinances in other cities that caved to the financial power of their respective park owners were clearly outlined before our panel, as were some successful ordinances and agreements (now totaling more than 100 in our state).

Our seniors are counting on their elected officials to protect them from profiteering. It will be up to us to make sure that the leases do not remain in their current one-sided incarnations but provide benefit to park owners and residents with the penalty of application of a far more strict rent control ordinance as the alternative to non-compliance.

About the writer: Laura Taylor is a Citrus Heights resident and was co-chairwoman of the mobile home rent stabilization task force.