More than 120 Lancaster mobile home owners from several mobile home parks in Lancaster attended a public meeting to protest a proposal by the Locust Grove MHP owner to more than double the space rents for some 75 residents. Spurred on by a recommendation from the Antelope Valley Group of CoMO-CAL to organize and prepare a rebuttal, the Locust Grove residents took up the challenge and won a decisive victory with their rebuttal before the Lancaster Rent Arbitration Board (RAB) on May 2nd.
The Rent Arbitration Board denied the park owners request for a monthly increase of more than $167 and, after three rent increase options were tabled, agreed to allow a total rent increase of $72 to be spread out over a four year period. In essence, the Locust Grove residents will now get an $18 monthly increase each year starting this year going through the year 2009. The total space rent per month will be $239 in the fourth year. Locust Grove residents knew that an increase was inevitable when the new owner took over the Park a year ago because, aside from the annual mandated increase based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), they have had no other rent increases in several years.
Credit for the defeat of the exorbitant rent increase, however, must go to the hard, enthusiastic work of the Locust Grove residents who called the Antelope Valley Group of CoMO-CAL for advice. At a meeting with more than 50% of Locust Grove residents, CoMO-CAL showed them how to get organized and work out a plan to oppose the rent increase before the RAB.
A resident committee began by distributing flyers in both English and Spanish to solicit members for CoMO-CAL and to generate a spirit of cooperation to fight the rent increase.
The key to the success of the Locust Grove residents opposition, however, was the work of a relative of one of the Locust Grove residents, Jeanette Rossling. With some experience in debating issues before public officials, Rossling prepared a rebuttal summation that knocked the socks off the Rent Arbitration Board.
The hearing began with the attorney for the Locust Grove Park Owners, Mark Alpert, spouting technical jargon and legalese about Owners rights to a fair return on investment while using a statistician to elaborate on comparative mobile home park rents near the Locust Grove. He was even allowed an additional two minutes for his presentation. At times he took personal jabs at Jeanette Rossling; claiming she was not an expert, knew little of the law, and was rebutting on conjecture. In addition, Alpert claimed phasing a rent increase over a number of years was illegal and unconstitutional. At one point he even implied that because Locust Grove had many single-wide mobile homes it was not a manufactured home community.
Jeanette Rosslings argument, by contrast, took only 12 minutes, was concise and refuted almost all points of contention by Attorney Alpert. Her argument was in plain non-legal language and evoked the emotions of the audience who applauded a few time during her presentation.
It must be noted here that Jeanette Rossling is not an attorney. Her past experience is crunching numbers as an accountant. The residents of Locust Grove originally asked CoMO-CAL if they should get a lawyer and CoMO-CAL advised them to seek help through a CPA or an accounting firm who was more capable of analyzing the calculations, submitted by the Park Owners, as the reason for the huge increase. In our opinion, in cases like this, lawyers are very expensive and not at all capable of analyzing this numbers-oriented situation}
Rossling specifically pointed out that the owners petition did not include facts or figures relating to land adjacent to the mobile home park and a Retail Feed Store, also located on the property. The RAB concluded that without this data, the petition was incomplete, and ruled against a request to postpone the hearing for 15 days. At this point, the RAB panel tried to get a vote on three other rent increase options before voting to approve the $72 increase over a period of four years. The vote was 3 to 1 in favor of the residents.
Our hats are off in salute to the cooperative spirit of the residents of Locust Grove. They stuck together, neighbors met neighbors for the first time, petty personal arguments were set aside, language barriers were overcome, and they joined in one unanimous voice to fight for their rights as mobile home residents.
We must also be grateful to mobile home owners from several other Lancaster and Palmdale mobile home parks who attended the meeting to support the Locust Grove people. This is the one ultimate goal of CoMO-CAL – to unite all California mobile home owners in our fight against unjust rent increase and management/owner abuses.
Article by Ralph Weber, President, AV CoMO-CAL Group