Senate Select Committee on Manufactured Homes & Communities
February 29, 2008, 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Rancho Santiago Community College District Board Room
2323 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA
10:30 a.m. Call to Order
Senator Lou Correa, Chair
Introductory Remarks Senator Correa
Other Committee Members Present 10:45 a.m.
Testimony & Statements
John Sisker, Manufactured Homeowners Network
Tim Sheahan, GSMOL
Samii Taylor, Windsor Group
Glenn Bell, Neighborhood Friends
Gary Gibson, homeowner – Canoga Park
Morris Kramer, homeowner – Canoga Park
Gloria Hannan, homeowner – Westminster
Shirley Patton, homeowner – San Jacinto
Ronald Slater, homeowner – San Jacinto
Catherine Borg, WMA
Marian Merez, City of Paramount
12:15 p.m. Other Public Testimony
Non-scheduled parties – time permitting
12:25 p.m. Concluding Remarks Senator Lou Correa
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Senate Select Committee on Manufactured Homes & Communities
February 29, 2008, 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Rancho Santiago Community College District Board Room
2323 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA
HCD Mobilehome Park Health and Safety Code Enforcement
Hearing Information Paper
Health and safety code enforcement in mobilehome parks is the responsibility of the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which also has agreements with approximately 70 local agencies to conduct inspections in parks in their jurisdictions. There are two kinds of inspections, the Mobilehome Park Maintenance (MPM) inspections, which involve a full inspection of a park and all spaces, and the complaint inspections that are mainly in response to complaints from park residents, park owners or the public about possible health and safety violations. In recent years, legislators and this Select Committee have received an increasing number of complaints about code enforcement in California’s mobilehome parks. Generally speaking, complaints to the committee over the past few years include allegations that HCD is often slow to respond to complaints and that follow-through is not their strong suit. The committee is told that even when enforcement agencies cite park violations, actual enforcement is spotty, resulting in substandard and even dangerous conditions in some parks that may last for years. Some critics say mobilehome park code enforcement is more a matter of ticket writing, with real enforcement authority coming only with the commencement of legal action by city or district attorneys, who in many cases put mobilehome park health and safety violations at the end of the priority list. Homeowners often complain they are singled out by park managers who direct HCD inspectors to possible violations on their spaces and that inspectors do not give advance notice of a complaint inspection of the homeowner’s space and seldom contact or follow through with them.
Hearing Purpose & Procedure
The purpose of the hearing is to review allegations and complaints about park health and safety and to seek new ideas or suggestions that could legislatively or administratively improve code enforcement and the correction of citations in parks. Select committees of the Legislature, unlike standing committees, do not hear or vote on bills but research specialized issues and hold hearings that may result in recommendations for future legislation that, if introduced, may later be heard by the standing committees. Following the written agenda, witnesses will be asked to identify themselves and their city of residence and may be asked questions by legislators and committee staff upon completion of their statements. Witnesses should summarize their points in five to eight minutes, not including questions asked of them, and avoid repetitious testimony.
Written information or documentation is also encouraged for the committee’s record. The hearing is being recorded, and the committee will publish a transcript and report of the hearing at a later date.
According to January, 2008 figures available from the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), there are 4,734 mobilehome parks with a permit to operate (PTO) in California. These parks have a total of 396,663 spaces. Conservative estimates are that more than 700,000 residents live in these parks. Most of these are rental parks, where the residents own their own homes but rent or lease the spaces on which their homes are installed. About 150 parks are owned by non-profit organizations, or are resident-owned subdivisions, condominiums, or cooperatives. The park owner/management is responsible for remedying health and safety code violations in the common areas, including roadways, walkways, utility systems, recreational facilities and the clubhouse (if any). In most cases, homeowners are responsible for repairing code violations with respect to their spaces and homes. Currently, HCD has about 45 inspectors statewide, operating in conjunction with six district offices and two main offices, one in Sacramento and one in Riverside. Inspectors perform a variety of tasks, including inspection of farm worker housing as well as park and manufactured home installation inspections and mobilehome modifications, as well as issue a variety of permits. HCD also has agreements with approximately 70 local jurisdictions to perform park code enforcement in mobilehome parks in their jurisdictions. With an increasing number of local jurisdictions giving up the program and handing it back to HCD in recent years, about 75% of the parks in the state are now inspected by HCD.
Prior to 1968, mobilehome park health and safety code enforcement was totally within city and county jurisdiction, although some state regulations governing auto camps, the predecessors of modern mobilehome parks, date to 1920. In 1967, the Legislature adopted the Mobilehome Parks Act, giving the Commission on Housing (now the Department of Housing and Community Development) authority to regulate the construction, use, maintenance, and occupancy of mobilehome parks and the installation, use, maintenance and occupancy of mobilehomes (and manufactured homes) located in those parks. Soon thereafter, specific requirements, such as set backs for mobilehomes from their lot lines, the height of mobilehome stairway risers, or the length of gas connectors, to give but a few examples, were adopted by department regulations, commonly known as “Title 25” (Chapter 2, Division 1, Title 25 of the California Code of Regulations). Traditionally, these regulations have been enforced by inspection at the time of the construction of the park and as a condition of granting the initial permit to operate the park (PTO).
Some years ago, the basic statutory fee for a park’s annual permit to operate was set at $25 per park, plus $2 per space. Until 1974, regular inspections of existing mobilehome parks were carried out on a biennial basis, but with the repeal of that provision in 1973 park inspections were thereafter carried out only on the basis of complaints filed with HCD. Due to numerous complaints and questions about the adequacy of doing park inspections on the basis of haphazard complaints, the Legislature enacted AB 925 (O’Connell) in 1990 to provide for regular inspections. Between 1991 and 1999 HCD or local agencies conducted at least one “full” Mobilehome Park Maintenance (MPM) inspection of every mobilehome park in the state. The bill authorized an additional $4 fee per space per year to support the MPM program. Although the MPM program was originally designed to sunset in 1996, due to delays in implementation the Legislature extended the sunset twice until 2000. Between 1997 and 1999 HCD, park owners, homeowners and local agencies participated in negotiations on whether the program should be renewed and whether fees should be increased. Although some parties argued that the $4 fee would need to be increased to provide a better level of enforcement, in 1999 the Legislature finally renewed the program for 7 more years (2000-2006) without a fee increase but limited “full” MPM inspections to parks with the worst record of violations during the first 1991-1999 inspection cycle (SB 700, O’Connell). This measure also created an advisory Task Force of park industry, homeowner and local government representatives who meet with HCD bi-annually and receive a briefing on the MPM program’s progress. The renewal of the program for a third cycle after 2007 was preceded by 2005 legislation which attempted to increase the $4 to $6 per space to provide a modest improvement in the level of inspections, but the bill was vetoed (SB 1231, Dunn). In 2006, the Legislature finally renewed MPM inspections for another 7-year period (2007-2012) but limited full inspections to 5% of the parks per year (SB 1231, Dunn).
How Park Code Enforcement Works
When a code enforcement officer cites a violation in a mobilehome park, the violator, on a complaint citation, has 30 days to correct it. For MPM inspections, violators have 60 days to repair, but if the violation is an imminent hazard requiring immediate correction, a so-called “A” violation, the citation will be issued on the spot and may require disconnection of electrical, gas, or other utilities andimmediate repair. Examples are bare or faulty electrical wiring or circuits, leaking sewage, or leaking gas. When the park owner or a homeowner disputes a citation, an informal conference is held at their request with the enforcement agency’s supervisory personnel concerning the violation, the failure to correct, or the extension of time to correct the violation. An inspector can also grant a discretionary extension beyond the 30- or 60-day deadline for correction if the violator is making a good faith effort to comply or there is a bona fide reason for the delay, such as weather. Where a park owner or homeowner refuses to correct a violation, after several notices and time to correct the violation, including any extensions, has expired, ultimately the enforcement agency must give the park a ‘last chance letter.’ The case is then referred to the district attorney for prosecution as a misdemeanor or as a civil abatement action, a process that can take a number of additional months. Although some D.A.’s or city attorneys have been aggressive about pursuing court enforcement of and fines for park violations, others are not. Many D.A.’s are reportedly overloaded with other criminal cases and cannot devote their resources to these cases.
Legislative Progress or Lack Thereof
Legislative progress in improving health and safety code enforcement in recent years has been mixed. Although there have been some modest successes, such as extension of the MPM program and a requirement for permits to move or change lot lines, in addition to the attempted fee increases mentioned above, many proposals that have come before the Legislature to try to improve park infrastructure problems and park code enforcement have failed. Legislation to authorize HCD to levy administrative fines, not just citations, for failure to remedy a violation within a 30- or 60-day period was proposed by AB 1648 (Salinas, 2001), and although supported by HCD, died in Assembly Appropriations. Legislation to create a park rehabilitation loan fund to provide low-interest loans to parks to fix failing infrastructure – the costs of which could not be passed through to residents – died in Senate Appropriations (SB 495, Dunn, 2001). A bill to make the Mobilehome Ombudsman more responsive by, among other things, requiring follow-through on complaints within a designated time frame was vetoed (SB 122, Dunn, 2001). Other legislation to authorize levying of fines for the most serious type “A” violations was dropped for lack of support (SB 37, Dunn, 2003). A bill to require parks to include a social security or taxpayer I.D. number on park applications or renewals for permits to operate in order to more effectively enforce payment of delinquent park fees, which has been an on-going problem was also dropped (SB 1795, Costa, 2003). Legislation to authorize HCD to use a court receivership process similar to that which local authorities may utilize for conventional “stick-built” properties, as another tool to improve enforcement, was vetoed by the Governor (SB 634 Dunn, 2005).
Some of the Issues
The following are representative of some of the main health and safety code enforcement issues fielded by the committee in the last few years:
Slowness to Respond to Complaints: A consistent refrain heard by the committee for years is that enforcement agencies, both HCD and local government, are often slow to respond to complaints about specific problems in parks. Normally, complaints are received through the Mobilehome Ombudsman by phone or by submitting a complaint form through the mail or online. Complaints of an urgent nature, such as sewer back-ups or overflows, electrical outages, and the like are supposed to be handled ASAP – at least within a matter of days. Lesser priority issues, such as complaints about set-back, lot line, or illegal home or accessory installations, may take several weeks or more for a response. Some residents claim that response times often exceed a month. Some say they have never heard back from an inspector or the department about what happened to their complaint, while the park condition still exists. However, HCD staff has usually been very responsive to constituent complaints that come through a legislator’s office or that are “bird-dogged” by a legislator or the committee.
Failure to Remedy Citations & Lack of Timely Enforcement: Many complaints relate to “excessive time” taken to enforce Title 25 requirements in parks cited for violations. A number of cited violations continue to exist for years according to some complainants. One criticism is that enforcement agencies sometimes try to cut deals with park operators who won’t cooperate – allegedly accepting less than full compliance with a citation. Homeowners claim there are few sanctions against park owners who continue to flaunt the law or ignore HCD citations, other than forcing closure of the park. They say HCD is mostly a “ticket writer” and district or city attorneys are often reluctant to pursue misdemeanor or civil actions against a park. Moreover, in the few instances when an enforcement agency does pull the park’s permit to operate (PTO) for park violations, it is often the residents who suffer through no fault of their own when the park is closed for health and safety reasons and homeowners are forced to move or abandon their homes.
“Slumlord Parks”: Most mobilehome parks in California were built before 1980, and many are now more than 50 or 60 years old with failing infrastructure, such as electrical, gas, water and sewer systems, as well as fire or other health hazards. The committee has had numerous complaints over the years from park residents and neighboring property owners concerning parks with longstanding problems and even citations for violations relating to these issues, parks that may be referred to, for lack of a better term, as “slumlord parks.” Despite the fact that all parks were supposed to have been inspected at least once during the first MPM (1991-99) or second MPM (2000-2006) cycles, we are told by critics that some of these parks have somehow escaped detection. The committee has documentation on some of these parks in its files and some “slumlord parks” have been listed on HCD Task Force bi-annual briefing sheets. Although “slumlord parks” probably represent a small number of the total parks in the state, they nevertheless present a major problem for the residents of those parks as well as neighboring property owners when substandard and even dangerous housing conditions continue to exist for months or even years.
No Surprises for Park – One Sided Appearance: Homeowners say enforcement is often not equal. While some parks have consistently dragged their feet in making needed repairs and have frustrated enforcement as above-mentioned, homeowners say when it is the homeowner who fails to correct a citation within the 30- or 60-day window HCD relies on the park owner to do their work for them, since a homeowner may be subjected to eviction by the park when HCD notifies the park of the homeowner violation. Another complaint of homeowners is that while they may not receive prior warning of an inspector’s visit on a complaint inspection (MPM inspections require notice by law), the park management usually if not always receives advance notice when an inspector will be entering the park. Sometimes the manager accompanies the inspector, allegedly, in some cases, pointing out to the inspector homeowner faults or possible violations. This appearance of one-sidedness in code enforcement is a source of considerable irritation to homeowners, who feel in some cases they are being singled out or harassed by the manager as well as the inspector. Some homeowners do not understand why they are subject to “surprise” complaint inspections while the park is not. In all fairness, however, there may be some situations, such as complaints involving emergencies, or where the homeowner is not available, where an advance notice would be impractical.
Bureaucratic Run Around & Lack of Follow Through: Some residents believe they receive the bureaucratic run-around when filing complaints about health and safety complaints, sometimes being referred by HCD’s Ombudsman to local agencies or even the Legislature, or by local agencies to other local or state agencies, such as the Department of Real Estate, the Department of Consumer Affairs, or the CPUC. A few have claimed they have been referred to three or four different agencies before reaching the committee and getting headed in the right direction. Many homeowners indicate that HCD inspectors or representatives seldom contact them when responding to their complaints about other violations in the park, or follow-through afterwards. Homeowners say they often never see the inspector in the park and that the condition complained about continues to exist. Homeowners also complain, as mentioned above, about lack of communication at the time the inspector cites the homeowner for a violation. HCD contends that with regard to citations against homeowners, the inspector does make an effort to knock on their doors but residents may not be home and that in any case homeowners receive a written notice of the citation. Some homeowners, however, contend that the notices are sometimes hard to read, are coded, or so generic as to make it difficult for the homeowner to specifically understand the problem. Notices do include phone numbers, but homeowners report that inspectors are often hard to reach by telephone.
HCD Information Outdated: Several complaints have focused on the inadequate or outdated information provided by the Mobilehome and RV Listing on HCD’s website – incorrect park names or number of spaces, or incorrect names and addresses for park operators in some cases. Some contend more useful information could be provided if it was required at the time of application or renewal of the permit to operate (PTO). Such information might include room on a form for the address or telephone number of the enforcement agency (state or local) with jurisdiction for each park, the park’s status as a senior, resident-owned, or non-profit park, and a listing of park amenities such as a clubhouse or recreational or storage facilities. HCD has made improvements on their park website listing in recent years, such as providing links to maps and locations of each park as well as park telephone numbers, but does not provide as much information as some housing agencies in other states have for mobilehome parks.
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POSSIBLE HEARING SUGGESTIONS
The following are some ideas or suggestions in the form of questions that have been considered in the past or brought to the committee’s attention by various parties to improve or speed up code enforcement in mobilehome parks. Witnesses may wish to comment or offer their own suggestions:
1) Is MPM inspection of 5% of the parks enough? Over the years the effectiveness of the MPM program has diminished due to the fact that the number of parks subject to a full inspection has been reduced each cycle. Currently only 5% of the parks in the state are inspected under the MPM each year. Shouldn’t 100% of the parks be inspected over a 5, 7 or even 8 year period – the original reason for enactment of the MPM concept in 1990? If so, are the parties of interest – the park industry and the mobilehome owners – willing to pay higher annual fees for a better level of inspection (see also Q. 2)?
2) PTO Fee Increase? Picking up on the previous question, annual park permit to operate (PTO) fees, $25 per park per year, plus $2 per space have not been increased in about 30 years. The additional annual $4 per space fee for the MPM program that began in 1991 sunsets in 2012. Yet, costs of salaries, benefits, equipment and travel have increased for government as well as the private sector over that 18 to 30 plus year period. Should the Legislature increase statutory annual PTO fees or allow HCD to establish the fees administratively based on the cost of providing the inspections?
3) Return to Local Control More Efficient? Prior to 1968, local governments had direct code enforcement authority over mobilehome parks. Local government building inspectors usually live and work in the community and already conduct inspections of neighboring conventional property, so they have less distance to travel and can make more efficient use of their time than HCD inspectors based in Riverside or Sacramento or other regional cities, who often must drive hundreds of miles to far flung counties or communities to inspect parks. Should the state park inspection program and fee revenue be returned to local government with HCD operating only in an oversight and training capacity?
4) Local Control Option in Serious Cases? Currently, HCD has jurisdiction to inspect about 75% of the parks in the state, and by agreement local governments have jurisdiction over the rest. When all else fails HCD must rely on local district attorneys to prosecute uncorrected park violations. Should local governments have the option to notify HCD and take over jurisdiction in so-called slumlord parks, if conditions are not corrected within a certain timeline, say 120 days, so they can use local enforcement tools, such as fines or receivership, to try to speed up correction of the violations? Would cities and counties have more success in getting their own district attorneys or city attorneys to prosecute these cases than HCD?
5) Dedicated State Inspector Option? Some cities have indicated a willingness to pool the sharing or payment of state costs for a state inspector who would be dedicated to focusing on and inspecting parks only in those jurisdictions that pay or share the costs, not parks in other areas. Would such an option be workable, even on a pilot program basis?
6) Should Bad Guys be Fined? Local building code officials have authority to assess citation fines for violations of local building codes that are not corrected within a certain period of time. HCD has no such authority for park violations of Title 25. Similar to the failed AB 1648 (2001), should the idea of citation fines for both park owner and homeowner violations – or at least serious violations – that go uncorrected after 60, 90, or 120 days be reconsidered?
7) Should Bad Guys be “Red Tagged”? HCD maintains a website with a list of every mobilehome park issued a permit to operate in the state, and maintains records of mobilehome park inspections under the MPM program, which are available for a fee, but the public has to obtain copies by requesting the information under the Public Records Act. Should HCD be required to “red tag” mobilehome parks on their website that have serious “A” violations uncorrected for more than say 120 days or which have failed to pay their PTO fees? Should records of mobilehome park inspections be available on the HCD website? Should local enforcement agencies be encouraged to do the same? Would “red tagging” and possible publicity about such parks as a result really serve to prompt some of them to correct their health and safety problems or pay their fees?
8) HCD Receivership Authority? Local enforcement authorities may, under State Housing Law, go to court and ask that a receivership be created for a slumlord property, as well as establish an impound account for payment of rents to the receiver, rather than the landlord, until the health and safety corrections are made. HCD, while it has primary jurisdiction over mobilehome parks, does not have similar receivership authority as an enforcement tool to speed up enforcement in so-called slumlord parks. SB 634 (2005) would have provided that authority but was vetoed. Is it time to reconsider the HCD receivership option again?
9) PTO pulled quicker? HCD’s last step before going to a district attorney to prosecute uncorrected violations is to pull a park’s permit to operate (PTO). The time may vary but can be as much as 9 months to a year or more in some cases after the violations were first cited. When the PTO is suspended, the park is noticed and the notice posted in the park. The notice indicates that the park is no longer authorized to collect rent from residents because it is no longer a legally operating park. Sometimes this fact spurs the park to correct the problems before a DA gets involved. Should the PTO be pulled more quickly, say within a timeline of 90 or 120 days of a serious citation that is not corrected?
10) Post Bonds? An enforcement agency often expends considerable effort inspecting and re-inspecting mobilehome parks with serious and continuing violations, time and money which often could be spent on responding to complaints in other parks, inspecting new manufactured home installations and issuing certificates of occupancy. Where a park’s PTO is suspended due to failure to correct serious violations, should the park be required to post a bond as insurance for future HCD inspection costs in that park?