By Kathleen Wilson, Ventura County Star  February 7, 2007

Supervisors vote 3-1, with Foy dissenting, to ask legislators to protect mobile home park residents

Hundreds of seniors turned out Tuesday to support a county supervisor’s bid to have the Legislature close what he called a loophole threatening rent control in mobile home parks. In a letter to park residents, Supervisor Steve Bennett said local rent control law becomes “null and void” for all residents once a single lot is sold in park conversions. Most parks rent space to mobile home owners, but growing numbers are seeking to sell the land beneath the coaches as well. Bennett blamed the combination of state law and an appellate court opinion for the unintended result, calling for the Legislature to solve the problem.

Tenants making above the county’s low-income threshold could see their rents go up to market rate within four years once a lot is sold, he said. Low-income residents also lose out because their rents will now be controlled under state law rather than local ordinance, he said. Bennett said the conversions — sometimes call “condo-izing” — may be on the verge of taking hold. “This is really starting to sweep the state,” Bennett said.

In Ventura County, 22 mobile home parks with almost 1,300 coaches lie in unincorporated county territory. Bennett said all are under rent control. Many other parks lie within city limits. Seniors overflowed the Board of Supervisors hearing room in Ventura as Bennett won the board’s support. Voting 3-1, the board passed a resolution urging the Legislature to act. Supervisors also directed county lawyers and lobbyists to work for a solution. “The challenge is getting tougher in this county whether you rent or own,” county   Supervisor Kathy Long said. “New parks are not being built.”

In Ventura County, residents of the Ojai Oaks Village mobile home park were recently notified that the owner intends to seek permission to subdivide the park. Park management declined comment Tuesday, but Long said she is concerned the a similar effort is under way at a park in Santa Paula. “Once the word is out there is this loophole, I think you’ll see more of this up and down the state,” she said. Long said she is looking for a solution that would remove the possibility of losing rent control protections with the sale of just one lot.

Representatives of the mobile home industry asked for calm and a delay. But Supervisors Long and Linda Parks supported Bennett. Supervisor John Flynn was absent and Supervisor Peter Foy dissented. Foy said he was not convinced the move was needed with only 300 parks applying to subdivide out of thousands in the state. He also was concerned about protecting the rights of property owners, he said. “Many probably don’t want to sell,” he said. “It may not be that much of a deal for the owner.”

The move by the board is unusual if not unique in the state, said Henry Herrman, a Santa Monica attorney who works for a law firm representing several park owners.             “We have not seen where boards of supervisors or city councils have passed resolutions such as this one encouraging local governments to get with state officials and try to change the legislation,” he said.

Tenants of the park applauded Bennett’s effort, saying they could not afford to buy or pay market rents. “We’re on a limited income,” said Connie Johnson, 86, who lives in Ojai Oaks Village with her husband Clifford, 91. “We’re happy the way we are.”