Calling it a matter of survival, residents of Moorpark's Villa del Arroyo mobile home park are joining forces in support of a mobile home rent control ordinance that is being challenged in a special election next month.
Les Baucum, president of the 240-space park's homeowners association, said the roughly 500 tenants need the city ordinance "in order to survive."
Dale Williams, the absentee owner of the park, disagrees and gathered enough signatures late last year to force an April 13 vote on whether to overturn a rent control measure adopted unanimously by the City Council in October.
The local law would regulate the amount of rent Williams can charge new tenants after mobile homes are sold. Although passed by the council, it has never gone into effect because of Williams' challenge.
Williams' tenants this week mailed letters to 1,500 likely voters asking for their support and hung posters defending the rent control ordinance in the windows of local shops.
Baucum said the tenants have raised about $900 to pay for posters, letters and other literature. And the weekend before the election, tenants plan to walk door-to-door to seek the support of Moorpark's 12,987 registered voters.
Despite the cost of holding the special election, estimated to be more than $23,000, the City Council has stood firmly behind the rent control ordinance.
"We enacted the ordinance for the protection of the people who live here against unreasonable rent increases," said Councilman Scott Montgomery. "It does not prohibit rent increases at all. It merely allows for reasonable increases at the time of resale and we certainly feel that the folks who live in that mobile home park need and deserve that kind of protection."
Williams did not return repeated phone calls.
The city repealed its vacancy rent control ordinance three years ago after a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision held that such control amounted to a physical taking of a park owner's property for which the owner was eligible for compensation.
Last year, ruling on a different case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that vacancy control does not result in a physical taking of property and no such compensation is necessary. That decision led to Moorpark's move to reinstitute the ordinance.
When challenged by Williams' successful petition drive, the council opted to schedule the special election instead of voluntarily repealing the ordinance.
Still, Montgomery said the city funds that will be spent to hold the election would be better spent on the citizens of Moorpark. He said Williams has taken a process designed to give people a voice in their government and used it for personal gain.
"I think the legislation is good that provides for this type of an appeal by constituents and residents against actions that their government might impose on them," Montgomery said. "But I think, quite frankly, that the process is being manipulated."
Williams began in October the petition drive that prompted the special election. In December, county election officials notified the city that Williams had gathered 1,507 valid signatures, 156 more than the 1,351 he needed to force a vote.
At issue is whether the city should be able to regulate rents charged by Williams when mobile homes are sold. The ordinance would cap any rent increase at 5% or the Consumer Price Index--whichever is less--over any 12-month period and would allow just two such increases every five years.
The city already regulates annual rent increases on units that are not sold.
Baucum said that without vacancy rent control it is almost impossible for park tenants to sell their mobile homes, since Williams is not restricted from boosting the rents to the home purchaser.
He said several tenants have been unable to find buyers for their homes because of the stiff rent increase Williams would charge upon the sale of the property.
For park tenants, Baucum said, voting to institute vacancy rent control is the only solution.
"We're hoping that the effect will be that he will understand that there is going to be some control here," Baucum said. "Right now he has total control of everything--of our lives, of our mobile homes--and we control nothing."