NEW TORRANCE MAYOR FOSTERS MOBILE HOME PARKS RENT DEAL

CARSON DAILY BREEZE  Originally published Sunday, July 30, 2006 By Ian Hanigan

Owners of Torrance and Lomita Knolls Lodge mobile home parks cut latest rent increase by $63. They also promise improvements at their parks.  Local mobile home park tenants who complained recently about skyrocketing rents and slum like conditions are about to see a drop in their monthly payments — as well as other neighborhood changes.

Under an arrangement brokered by new Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto, Anaheim-based Kort & Scott Financial Group has agreed to slash last month’s $79 rent increase to $16 for residents of Knolls Lodge near Western Avenue in Torrance as well as its sister park, Knolls Manor on Walnut Street in Lomita.

Moreover, next year’s rent will be tied to more modest federal cost-of-living increase figures. The parks’ owners have also promised to step up security, tackle street repairs and open a Knolls Lodge pool that had been closed since May.

“I’m very excited that the Kort & Scott people were willing to meet with me and listen to my concerns about what was going on with Knolls Lodge and Knolls Manor,” said Scotto, who sat down with company representatives a little more than two weeks ago. “After a long discussion with them, they understood that basically I wasn’t going to go away.”

About eight years ago, Kort & Scott bought what were then seniors-only parks and later made them all-age parks. In the years that followed, tenants — especially those in Knolls Lodge — complained that the new owners were gouging them with unreasonable rent spikes while failing to maintain the upkeep of the parks.

Noting that mobile home dwellers have to rent their patches of land in addition to purchasing or financing their actual homes, many said seniors on fixed incomes were being economically evicted in the wake of rent costs soaring to $1,000 or more.

And some said they had no choice but to hand over their house keys and walk away because they couldn’t find buyers under the circumstances. “What do you think I should do?” 74-year-old resident Miranda Pisch asked at a recent City Council meeting. “Should I go under the bridge with a sleeping bag or should I just plain die? Because I have no place to go.”

With relief now in sight, Knolls Lodge tenant Leo Lewis, 64, praised the efforts of the new mayor for making good on a campaign promise to address the situation. “It’s an amazing victory because what politician have you seen who has kept a campaign promise and done it within his first week of taking office?” said Lewis, who emerged as a vocal activist. “He did what he said he was going to do.”

A call to Abe Arrigotti, president of Sierra Corporate Management — Kort & Scott’s property management company — was not immediately returned Friday. However in a May interview, Arrigotti said rent prices were driven solely by market forces.  He added that close to $1 million had been spent on infrastructure upgrades and improvements to common areas.

The company’s recent concession will be a costly one. Axing this year’s rent by $63 amounts to an annual loss of $756 per space. Multiply that by about 270 occupied units in both parks and Kort & Scott is likely giving up more than $200,000.

Had the company not been willing to work with the city and its residents, however, officials in Torrance could have weighed costlier alternatives, such as mandatory rent controls for mobile home parks, Scotto said.

“This was the best case scenario for everybody that we were able to do this,” he said.