BELLFLOWER — The City Council has voted to survey owners and residents of the city's 46 mobile home parks to determine how rents are being raised before considering a rent control ordinance supported by many park residents.
"I think if we go half-cocked on this it could hurt you people. We need to study this a little more to make the right decision," Councilman Ken Cleveland told 250 people Monday night. Many in the audience held signs that read "Stabilize Mobile Home Rent."
Residents, who complain of drastic rent increases and deteriorating conditions at the parks, met with city officials last month but this is the first time the council has considered taking action on the proposal.
Some residents complained that most of the landlords do not live in the city and are unwilling to listen to complaints. Others said that while their rents continue to go up, needed repairs are ignored.
Among the first residents to complain to the council last month were those from the Bell Oaks Trailer Park.
Residents there received a letter in August from the park owner notifying them that rents would be raised to $325 a month in December, said Gonzalo Vasquez, an assistant to the city administrator. Rents at the park range from $140 to $200 a month, he said. City officials plan to meet with the owner to discuss alternatives to such a sharp increase, Vasquez said.
Park owner J.C. Assayig could not be reached for comment. But William C. Mecham, regional director for the Western Mobile Home Assn., said the Bell Oaks letter to residents was "ill-advised," and rents will not be raised that drastically.
Annabelle Silva, a resident of the Bar-G Inn Mobile Home Park, said rent stabilization would protect residents of the parks.
"These folks are afraid of losing their homes," Silva said. "They are older, on fixed incomes, and they feel they have nowhere to turn for help."
Residents asked the council to implement a rent stabilization program similar to one adopted by Thousand Oaks in 1980 that ties rents to the Consumer Price Index and establishes a rent review board comprised of a landlord, a tenant and three other individuals to settle disputes between tenants and property owners.
The Planning Department will examine rent increases at each park, estimate the cost of implementing a rent control program and present its findings to the City Council by December, said Planning Director Lee Whitenberg.
City officials plan to mail a survey to the city's 1,400 mobile home dwellers to "determine the availability of spaces and the rate of rent increases at each park," Whitenberg said.
The city also will study rent control measures from other cities, said City Atty. Maurice O'Shea, including nearby Paramount where a proposed rent control ordinance will go to a referendum Dec. 8.
Many mobile home owners, like Jan Sharp, urged the council to make a decision immediately.
"If this issue is not dealt with promptly you will see a new group of homeless people in this city," Sharp said.
But Silva said she was not surprised by what she calls the council's "cautious approach."
"I didn't think they would rush into anything," said Silva, who was instrumental in organizing the residents. "But what we have to do now is to get all the parks organized and get a spokesperson elected from each park."
Like mobile home residents in Paramount who support rent control, Silva said she expects opposition from the Western Mobile Home Assn.
Indeed, Mecham voiced his opposition to the proposed ordinance. "Rent control will cost the city of Bellflower," Mecham warned the council. "At the very outset it will have to go to an election and that costs. We believe there is no real justification in the facts for this."