The following article was published in the Ventura County Star on January 26, 2006
By Charles Levin, clevin@VenturaCountyStar.com
Annie Brownstein felt secure about where she would live out her twilight years after buying a mobile home in Oxnard’s Royal Palms Mobile Home Community in the early 1990s.
Brownstein now fears a large rent increase could eventually force her to move. And in that case, she probably would have to sell her mobile home, because there’s no place else in Ventura County to park the double-wide unit.
The city of Oxnard in July allowed owners of the mobile-home park to increase space rents by 18.6 percent. Royal Palms LLC, which bought the park in 1997, originally sought a 71.4 percent increase, but the city’s hearing officer rejected it. Royal Palms appealed to the city’s Rent Review Board in October, to no avail.
The officer and board, however, granted Royal Palms’ request that the lower, approved increase be retroactive to November 2004, costing mobile-home owners an additional $457 to $1,028, according to Karl Lawson, compliance services manager with the city’s Housing Department.
Most owners have agreed to pay that bill, Lawson said. But on Monday, Brownstein and nine other tenants got eviction notices, giving them 60 days to pay up or pull out their mobile homes, according to Ruthann Gacey, president of the homeowner association there.
Mike Cirillo, president of Santa Ana-based Star Management, which manages the 150-space park in the city’s Five Points neighborhood, said the notices went only to tenants who had not responded to previous letters requesting the retroactive increase money.
“It’s not our intent to throw somebody out because of an inability to pay because of this rent increase,” Cirillo said Wednesday, adding that his company has worked out payment plans with some park residents. “We’re trying to have a dialogue or forum with these folks, and we’re still optimistic that will occur.”
With the 18.6 percent increase, Brownstein’s monthly rent went from $361.15 to $428.47 -.Almost $70 more a month. Brownstein said she designed a payment plan for her $776.62 past-due amount and made the first of three planned installments.
After getting the eviction notice, Brownstein said, she paid off the rest of the debt Tuesday.
Brownstein, 69, lives on a monthly income of $790. In 1993, a disabling injury forced her to leave a technician’s job at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard.
She shares the mobile home with her grown daughter, who helps out with expenses. “If not for her, I could not afford to live here,” Brownstein said, adding that she’s not sure where she would go if forced to move.
“I don’t know. There’s so much I don’t understand.”
Brownstein is typical of the park’s residents — mostly seniors living on fixed incomes, Gacey said. For many, mobile homes offer the only in a county affordable housing where the median price for new and existing homes and condominiums is $630,000. Monthly space rents at Royal Palms run from about $340 to $690, Gacey said. In Ventura County as a whole, rents for mobile-home spaces range from $300 to $900, with some beachfront locations running higher, said Victor Hernandez, a mobile-home salesman for Ventura-based Macy’s Homes. Vacant spaces don’t exist. Buying a mobile home on a space is one thing. But finding a vacant space to move a home to is impossible, Hernandez said.
“There are no available park spaces in the county,” Hernandez said. “They’ve been full up for four years.”
Under Oxnard’s 1983 mobile-home rent control ordinance, park owners can impose annual rent increases according to an inflation-based formula. Owners, however, can seek larger amounts to cover the costs of property improvements, Lawson said. But owners must audit their books and present the findings to city officials and the rent board.
Royal Palms sought the 71.4 percent increase based on several factors, including current market rents and more than $1 million in improvements it made, such as new roads and a new water system, Cirillo said.
Park owners are still unhappy with the city’s decision to allow the lower increase. In December, Royal Palms sued the city to reverse the rent board’s decision and impose the larger rent increase. A hearing is set for March, Cirillo said.
An attorney for Royal Palms did not return a phone call Wednesday.
The city has hired an outside law firm to defend the case, City Attorney Gary Gillig said Wednesday. He said the suit is a challenge to the city’s rent control ordinance.
“I believe the city’s position is the correct one,” Gillig said, “and we’ll provide a vigorous defense of the Rent Review Board’s decision.”