By Stephanie Sumell,

Residents of a local mobile home park are frustrated Camarillo city leaders did not push forward a rent control ordinance, but those at City Hall said they helped negotiate a deal between the residents and the park owner that provides an option for long term leases—a compromise city officials say is good for both sides.

The Camarillo City Council, after nearly three hours of discussion, directed staff to uphold the existing rent review ordinance— and not adopt a rent stabilization ordinance—during its regular meeting on Feb. 25.

The council also directed staff to bring the rent review ordinance, which is used by the Rent Review Commission to help resolve disputes between landlords and tenants, before its policy committee to study.

The decision comes after years of back and forth over issues that have no perfect solution, council members said.

Homeowners and representatives of Lamplighter Mobile Home Park have long voiced their concerns about the steep rent increases coupled with the negligence of park operators since Investment Property Group (IPG) purchased the park four years ago.

There have also been complaints that park operators, who many say do not maintain the park, often cajole residents to sign long-term leases without providing ample, accurate or consistent information.

Matt Lorimer, the president of the park’s homeowners association, was one of eight homeowners to speak at the meeting last week.

Lorimer said attempts to work with IPG on a reasonable longterm lease have been fruitless.

Representatives of the park, with City Manager Bruce Feng and other city staff present, met with members of IPG several times in the last year. They discussed what might constitute a reasonable long-term lease.

But, Lorimer said, park residents weren’t brought into more recent discussions on the topic.

He also said that the Rent Review Commission, a five-member board appointed by the council, and city officials have not been impartial in matters involving IPG.

Lorimer said the commission recently held a hearing, without formally notifying the homeowners associatio n, during which it approveda5percentrentincrease for certain residents at the park.

“We never had due process,” Lorimer said.

“Your rent review board overstepped its ability, and basically, itgavea5percentincreasethat says we can’t contest it.”

Lorimer said the Rent Review Commission has approved rent increases based on facts and figures submitted by members of IPG that are “factually incorrect.”

“You keep saying that for 30 years, it’s worked great,” he said of the commission. “Not until the rents have gone through the roof.”

Maintenance and communication issues

Kathy France, a resident at Lamplighter, represents the park as the secretary and treasurer of the local chapter of the Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League (GSMOL).

She read several excerpts of letters she has received from IPG containing discrepancies on the specifics of a long-term lease.

“IPG is being inconsistent with their communication with me,” she said. “I am concerned that this is happening to other residents as well without them even realizing it.”

Resident Sandy Lance said she was also frustrated by her communication with IPG, as repeated inquiries about having her driveway repaired have been unsuccessful.

Lance said the rise in rent is not reflective of the services provided by employees of IPG who, she said, did not inform her that her home had a gas leak—something that may have worsened her young son’s existing respiratory problems.

“I am a single parent. I am a student. I work full-time,” Lance said. “I bought at the Lamplighter because it was something I could afford and I was trying to be fiscally responsible. Now, I am most likely going to lose my home eventually because I can’t afford to continue to pay my mortgage (and) I can’t afford to pay the rising space rents.”

Terry Bray, president of the local chapter of GSMOL, said the long-term leases vary from person to person. She also said the specific terms of a negotiated long-term lease discussed by staff were new to her.

She said the Rent Review Commission wrongly treats rent increases in mobile home parks, where people own their homes, as it would treat rent increases in apartment complexes.

Bray asked the council to postpone its motion against a rent stabilization ordinance and to hire an independent mobile home expert attorney for an unbiased opinion.

The council did not grant her request.

Council members said that, though they sympathized with the residents, a rent stabilization ordinance is not the answer.

City staff, including Feng, met with representatives and tenants of Lamplighter several times last year to discuss leases and financial assistance by the park owner for qualified tenants.

Through those meetings, staff determined that the property owner was responding to tenants’ concerns by making several concessions.

Feng said the company, which offers financial assistance to homeowners who meet certain criteria, has lowered the floor on its long-term leases from 4 to 3.5 percent.

If residents sign such a lease, they are agreeing to the possibility of an annual 3.5 percent increase in rent, which is slightly less than what they previously agreed to.

Feng said the company can increase a tenant’s rent, if it chooses, by a maximum of 6 percent each year.

He said the long-term lease does not allow for pass-throughs for capital improvements, which means any rent increases by IPG cannot be based on the expenses of improvement projects at the park.

“We have, for several years now, used the terms such as rent control, rent stabilization, longterm leases and Rent Review Commission,” Feng said. “I think what we are all interested in, without using those terms, is trying to accomplish a system on rent regulation.”

The goal is to make the rental market fair, Feng said. “We think we’ve come up with a pretty good program through the Rent Review Commission and long-term leases that does, predominately, hit the goal to have a fair market rent regulation system without exposing taxpayers to significant administrative fees and legal costs.”

Avoiding lawsuits

The council’s decision followed a presentation by City Attorney Brian Pierik that examined the outcomes of multiple disputes between cities and mobile home park owners over rent stabilization ordinances.

Pierik said that, by adopting a rent stabilization ordinance, the city would make itself vulnerable to one or more potential lawsuits that it would likely lose.

He said determining whether a property owner receives a reasonable rate of return upon investment in their mobile home park is “somewhat subjective.” that it would likely lose.

He said determining whether a property owner receives a reasonable rate of return upon investment in their mobile home park is “somewhat subjective.”

Pierik said there is no set formula but rather many factors considered by the courts when determining the extent to which a rent stabilization ordinance has interfered with the property owner’s expectations for the return on their investment. That investment, in this case, is the mobile home park.

That is why, Pierik said, the city should continue to rely on the Rent Review Commission to review rent-related disputes.

His conclusions, though contested by representatives of the park, were upheld by the council.

Members of the council said a rent stabilization ordinance was not feasible as it would likely cost the city thousands of dollars in administrative and legal fees.

They also expressed doubt that such an ordinance would be any better than a negotiated long-term lease.