I am sure many of you are wondering what happened with the proposed pass-through for Northridge Mobile Home Park (NMHP). Well, here is the whole story in a relatively compact nutshell.
On December 16, 2004 residents of NMHP received two notices. The first was from our Park Owner, Todd Sherman, informing us that we would soon (actually attached) receive a notice from the Los Angeles Department of Housing (LADH) regarding a proposed pass-through for “capital improvements” within the Park. Mr. Sherman stated in his notice that these pass-through fees would begin in the spring of 2005. Those residents who had moved in prior to January 1, 2004 would be assessed $30 a month for the next six years to cover 50% of the Owner’s costs for the paving, new gas lines and new water lines with individual meters for each unit.
The notice from LADH stated that the Park Owner had applied for this pass-through and that if there were no objections to this pass-through by December 22nd, it would automatically be approved within 90 days.
The notice from LADH was dated December 13, 2004, however it was hand-delivered by the Park Owner’s representative on December 16th and we had until Wednesday, December 22, 2004 to raise our protests.
Needless to say, it was a very tense and busy 3 days preparing for our opposition to this pass-through. We decided to have each resident sign an individual letter (albeit all letters were the same) and attach these letters to a package of exhibits reinforcing our contention that not only was the work done actually long overdue maintenance and included a witness statement signed by approximately 30 residents stating that we had been present at two meetings at which the Park Owner declared that the money had been set aside for the work to be done and that the residents would not be assessed for the work.
Many of the residents worked diligently in putting together a 200+ page package to be hand-delivered via messenger to the LADH. Antonio Ortiz and Anna Ortega of LADH were both out of the office on sick leave and vacation (respectively) until after the holidays.
This package was delivered timely by messenger and the messenger requested that each page be hand stamped with the LADH received stamp. The LADH did not initially want to stamp these pages but after speaking to a Supervisor, they did so.
After several weeks we had heard nothing from LADH so several residents attempted to call Mr. Ortiz and Ms. Ortega. Our attempts at reaching either of them were futile; however, one resident was able to get through to Glender Chu at LADH. It was then that we were informed that the LADH had not received our package. Ms. Chu’s recommendation was that we send a letter protesting the surcharge. Two additional letters of protest were sent during the month of March.
Additionally, approximately 30 residents attended a LADH Task Force meeting in Van Nuys on March 15, 2005. We verbally protested the surcharge and the Task Force even stated that since there were so many problems regarding mobile home parks they would set a special meeting just for mobile home issues, which they did, but it accomplished no positive results for mobile home owners.
The very next day, March 16th, a notice went out from LADH stating that the application for a pass-through was approved with the only change being that instead of $30 a month charge, it would now be adjusted to $29.12 per month.
This notice gave us 15 days from March 16, 2005 to appeal this decision. The Park Owner gave us a 90-day notice of surcharge and individual water bills (with a slight adjustment to each because our mobile home rules and regulations stated that the Park Owner would pay for water usage) to take affect July 1, 2005.
The first resident to respond to the Appeal form was given a hearing date of June 2, 2005 at 9:00 a.m. in downtown Los Angeles. This hearing would be for the benefit of all residents of NMHP involved in the pass-through.
On June 2, 2005, several residents went by bus (donated by Zev Yaroslavsky’s office) to attend the meeting. The LADH was represented by several individuals. An attorney from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office was there as an independent mediator. Each side was allowed to ask as many questions or give comments as they wished as long as it wasn’t the same question or comment. At the conclusion of the hearing we were all told that the mediator would make the determination and send each party concerned a letter of her decision. According to the information we received, we were to have a decision within 45 days of the hearing.
It was quite apparent from the outset of the hearing that the LADH and the laws were very partial to Park Owners. We were only allowed to protest this surcharge under the following guidelines:
- The improvement must primarily benefit the tenant rather than the landlord;
- The improvement must have a life expectancy of five or more years;
- Normal routine maintenance and repair are not capital improvements;
- The improvement must be permanently fixed in place or relatively immobile; and
- The application must be submitted within twelve months of the completion of work.
We also learned that even if we had to pay the surcharge for the work done, if it turned out that it did not last at least 5 years we would receive no refund and the surcharge would only stop if we made a complaint to LADH and they agreed with our complaint. Additionally, the Park Owner could let the Park go basically to dirt streets before doing anything to repair them, thus making the work a “capital improvement” rather than the actual maintenance. It was also confirmed by the Park Owner that he was charging us for installation of individual water meters.
It was agreed that the original inspector had done an inspecton of the streets just shortly after the work was completed. The mediator and inspector agreed to have the inspector meet at NMHP that same afternoon to do a walk-through of the Park. Prior to the inspector’s visit, we took approximately 50 snapshots of the “new” paving showing how badly it had already cracked and how unsightly it had already become. The inspector himself took approximately 39 snapshots. These photos were submitted to the mediator by the inspector.
At the conclusion of the hearing Mr. Ortiz even made the statement that our park streets were probably a lot better than the city streets out front. This is from a man who is blind and has no clue whatsoever what the city streets and our park streets look like. It was a definite misstatement and in actuality a false statement.
We had heard nothing from the mediator up to July 1, 2005. On that day we all received the $29.12 surcharge on our rent statements as well as not only our water usage bill, but also a sewer charge which in most cases amounted to more than the water bill. It was the first time any of us had been informed that we would be charged for sewer. Our “refund” from the Park Owner did not come close to covering these new charges.
Upon calling LADH regarding the lack of receiving a determination on the hearing we were informed that no decision had as yet been made and that even though the Park Owner displayed “bad faith” by assessing these charges prior to a decision, he was legally within his rights. When a decision (and we were told it would be forthcoming, just not when) was reached, if it was less than the surcharge the Park Owner would have to refund any difference.
We are all very upset with this surcharge because the Park Owner was acting in the manner of a slum-lord in allowing the streets and water system to become deplorable and dangerous before doing anything constructive. We also were informed that the surcharge would be for a period of 60 months however the charge itself would continue for an additional year to enable the Park Owner to recapture his “lost interest”. Therefore, the Park Owner actually receives 60% of his initial cost – not the 50% they claim he will receive.
As of July 21st, we still have not received a determination from the mediator. Mr. Ortiz was contacted on July 20th in order to question the 45-day decision date. His reply was that it had not yet been decided and he said we would get the decision when it became available.
BY Carol Mabus, CoMO-LAC Treasurer and former GSMOL Chapter President of Northridge Mobilehome Park