COALITION TARGETS MOBILE HOME PARKS

By TIM MORAN BEE STAFF WRITER Posted on 01/26/07

A coalition of mobile home owners groups and other organizations is lobbying state legislators to stiffen laws governing mobile home parks. The group includes Neighborhood Friends, the Golden State    Manufactured Home Owners League and the California Mobilehome Resource and Action Association. The California NAACP also is involved, according to its legislative advocate, James Sweeney.

Across the state, some mobile home park owners have increased rents rapidly, forcing residents on fixed incomes to sell or walk away from their homes. The group is advocating a range of legislation that includes:

  • Prosecuting financial swindles or scams against senior citizens under criminal law rather than civil law. Forcing seniors from their mobile homes with unreasonable rent increases would fall under the proposal.
  • Designating manufactured homes as affordable housing under Regional Housing Needs Assessment laws. The designation would preserve the housing for 30 years and make residents eligible for tax credits and housing subsidies, according to Glenn Bell of Sylmar-based Neighborhood Friends.
  • Criminally prosecuting businesses that repeatedly violate the California Business and Professions Code. Businesses would be rated from A to F, and those with more than five complaints of damage or injury in a 30-day period or 40 complaints in a year would be subject to prosecution.
  • Protecting cities and counties from lawsuits stemming from actions such as rent control ordinances.
  • Allowing mobile home park residents to opt out of forced condominium conversions.
  • Making it more difficult for seniors-only parks to convert to all-age parks.

Bell said the proposals are designed to prevent large corporations owning mobile home parks from    ignoring state laws and using lawsuits to intimidate municipalities that pass rent control ordinances.

 Stanislaus, cities consider rent control

Stanislaus County’s city and county officials are considering a rent control ordinance for mobile home parks, including a cost-sharing formula to defend against such lawsuits. Bell said other municipalities have rescinded rent control measures after expensive litigation — not because they were losing, but   because they no longer could afford to defend endless appeals. The coalition has met with state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, and Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-San Jose.

Bill Maybie, chief of staff for Padilla, said the senator’s office is preparing a bill to address some concerns the coalition raised. “Our remedy may not be the exact remedy they are pursuing,” he added. The Padilla bill would address the kinds of costs mobile park owners can pass along to residents, Maybie said. Details of the bill are being worked out, he said. (Continued on Page 9, Condo Conversion)

Condo-conversion legislation planned

Lieber said she would be supporting a bill to establish minimum standards for converting mobile home parks to a condominium format.        The tactic lifts rent control laws and is threatening to mobile home residents, she said.

“It really terrifies senior home owners in particular,” Lieber said. “It’s nearly impossible to relocate to    another mobile home park. They experience a loss of equity in their home, and for a lot of seniors, that’s the sum total of their life savings.”

On the other proposals, Lieber commented, “They raise some good issues. We have to settle on just a few priorities.” Mobile home park owners have contended that the problems stem from a couple of large corporations, and that most park owners maintain reasonable rents. Rent control and other laws aimed at the few problem companies punish the entire industry, they argue.

“We are just becoming aware of this new group,” said R. Douglas Johnson, regional representative for government and public affairs for the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association. “If ultimately they develop legislation harmful to our industry, the WMA will vigorously defend against it,” Johnson said.

Sweeney, the California NAACP’s legislative advocate, said the civil rights group hasn’t endorsed any legislation because specific bills have not been written. “Are we interested? Yes. Are we attending the meetings? Yes. Do we think there is abuse? Yes,” Sweeney said. “People on fixed income, the frail, the elderly, people of color, inhabit mobile homes. We want to make sure people are treated fairly and within the law.”

AARP keeping an eye on issue The California branch of AARP also is watching the coalition, said Charles Mason, associate state director for advocacy. “We are very interested in the issue — more than half of   mobile home owners are over 50,” Mason said. “We are interested in seeing some kind of reforms,” he said, but added that AARP is not endorsing the coalition’s proposals. “We will most likely be a part of the coalition if they come up with something we can support,” Mason said. “We want to make sure we look at the proposals thoroughly.”

Bell said some legislative staffers have told him they are unaware of the issue, despite numerous newspaper articles about mobile home park problems. Bell urged mobile home residents to write local legislators to make them aware of the problems.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at 578-2349 or tmoran@modbee.com.