What's at stake?
In Fresno, renters in mobile home parks can use a little-known policy to form a committee and vote on restrictions to rent increases, known as rent control.
In 1987, the city of Fresno passed a mobile home park rent review and stabilization ordinance to protect one of the last affordable home ownership options in California.
For at least the past decade, the ordinance hasn’t been used. In many cases, mobile home park residents are unaware it exists, according to California Rural Legal Assistance lawyer Mariah Thompson.
Now, for the first time in years, the ordinance could be used because the Trails End Mobile Home Park community elected a rent review committee March 18 to protect residents against the anticipated new property owner Harmony Communities, a group known to increase rents at high rates.
“You are the first mobile home park in like two decades to do this. I want you to feel really proud of yourselves,” Thompson said to Trails End residents after their vote to elect a rent review committee. “Nobody uses it; I don’t know why nobody tells anyone about it.”
If you live in a mobile home park and want a say in how much and frequently your rent goes up, here are things you need to know:
What is the MHP rent review & stabilization ordinance?
The mobile home park rent review and stabilization ordinance allows mobile home park residents to form rent review committees — also known as residents’ committees — to accept or reject rent increase proposals from property owners beyond what are considered to be allowable annual increases. Here is what is allowable:
- Mobile home park owners can raise rent, based on increased government fees, including utilities, property taxes, permitting fees and special property assessments.
- Owners can increase rent annually based on the change in the annual consumer price index in Fresno, as well. According to the ordinance, rents can be raised 75% of the CPI change – which means as of this January, rents can be increased by about 5.7%, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- And owners can increase rents on vacant lots by 10% of what the previous resident was paying.
Any rent increases more than what is proposed above would be subject to a community vote by the mobile home park residents, but only if they have elected a rent review committee.
Who does this ordinance apply to?
Only mobile home parks that have elected a residents’ committee and have at least four mobile homes are protected, according to the ordinance.
This means that if a mobile home park community doesn’t elect a residents’ committee, there is no cap on how much their landlord can increase the rent.
Can any Fresno mobile home park form a residents’ committee?
Yes; however, this applies only to mobile home parks in the city of Fresno, not Fresno County. The city of Clovis also has a rent control ordinance for mobile home parks.
How can mobile home park communities form committees?
To form a rent review committee, all residents at the park must be given a written notice of a time and place where a meeting regarding the rent stabilization ordinance is taking place. Residents must be given the opportunity to nominate people to the committee.
Those in attendance at the meeting will then vote to elect either three or five members to the committee, with the potential to elect alternate members, as well.
The elected committee will then notify the Fresno City Attorney’s office with the names and addresses of the committee members, within 15 days of the election. They will also have to create rules and regulations on how the committee will conduct future meetings.
What are a committee’s responsibilities?
The rent committee will be responsible for meeting with the property owner to negotiate rent, if the owner proposes a rent increase higher than 75% of the CPI, plus government fees.
Within five days of the meeting, the committee must hold a community meeting that all mobile home park residents are informed of, so that the community can vote on whether to accept or reject the proposed rent increase.
Who can be on a committee?
All rent control committee members must live at the mobile home park where they serve.
Park managers, assistant managers and any resident employee at the mobile home park cannot serve on the rent control committee.
What happens if a landlord wants to increase rent by more than the annual allowable amount?
If a landlord wants to raise the rent more than 75% of the CPI plus government fees, then they must notify and meet with the committee.
The committee must then hold a meeting and vote to accept or reject the new rent proposal.
Residents representing at least 30% of the mobile home park spaces must be present to vote. And in order for a rent increase to be rejected, at least 51% of those in attendance must vote against the proposed rent.
If the rent increase passes, then it is implemented at the start of the next month.
If it is rejected, the property owner can request a hearing with the city’s rent review and stabilization commission. Both the residents and property owners can provide testimony, documents and written declarations about the proposed rent increase and the commission will then decide.
The park owner will be charged a fee for requesting a hearing. If the commission approves a rent increase equal to or greater than what the property owner requested, then the residents will have to reimburse the property owner the fee. If the commission approves a rent increase that is lower than what the property owner requested, the owner will not be entitled to reimbursement, according to the ordinance.
Why might rent be allowed to increase more than the annual allowance?
According to the ordinance, any of the following would be reason for just, fair and reasonable rent increases:
- State or federal fee increases..
- The length of time since the last rent increase.
- Any large-scale improvements or rehabilitation needed for the mobile home park.
- Changes in the reasonable cost of operation and maintenance.
- Repairs needed that are beyond normal wear and tear.
- A “just and reasonable rate of return on the owner’s investment in the mobile home park.”
Who is on the MHP rent review & stabilization commission?
Jerry Zuniga is currently the only member of the MHP Rent Review and Stabilization Commission.
Zuniga is the director of housing preservation and aging services at Habitat for Humanity. He was appointed to the commission by the city council.
Why is this ordinance in place?
Mobile home parks are often considered the last affordable homeownership options. Residents living there oftentimes buy the home, but rent the lot underneath from a property owner, which can put them in a particularly vulnerable situation.
Though these homes are called “mobile,” it is often unfeasible or outright impossible for the homeowners to move their home if they are priced out of renting the space.