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Proposed rule links mobile home rent hikes to Social Security raises

Over protests of park owners, Ventura County supervisors move to reduce annual increases.

September 19, 2007|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Rent increases for residents of 20 Ventura County mobile home parks would be tied to the same inflation index used for calculating Social Security payments under a proposed amendment to a rent control ordinance approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

On a 3-1 vote, supervisors overruled protests by park owners that the ordinance would unfairly benefit tenants whose rents are already protected under a different formula that links annual increases to the Consumer Price Index.

"We need as a county to do everything we can to keep affordable housing affordable," said board Chairwoman Linda Parks.

The amended law could result in lower annual hikes for mobile home residents, officials said. If it had been in place in 2006, rents would have gone up by 3.3% instead of 4.3%, according to figures provided by a county planning official.

The revision, which will get a second reading Tuesday, would take effect in late October. It would be the first rent control law, out of 105 statewide, to link rent increases with Social Security payments.

Parks was joined by Supervisors Steve Bennett and Kathy Long in approving the changes. Supervisor Peter Foy voted no and Supervisor John Flynn was absent.

Merle Pittman was among a handful of mobile home residents who urged supervisors to switch to the cost-of-living adjustment used for Social Security checks. Many mobile home park residents are senior citizens who can't afford to pay more, said Pittman, who rents a space at the Ojai Villa Mobile Home Estates.

"It is the raise most of us get from Social Security," he said.

Norma Lamb, who owns a coach in Ventura, said the increase is more of a "psychological thing" for budget-conscious mobile home residents. When the two inflationary factors are averaged over the past decade, the savings to tenants is less than 0.5%, she noted.

But David Evans, a spokesman for a group representing mobile home park owners, said the proposed law tilts too heavily in favor of residents' rights. More than 1,300 mobile home tenants have been protected by the county's rent control law for 25 years, said Evans of the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Assn.

In recent years, the value of their coaches has risen sharply while rents charged by the park owners have gone up only modestly, Evans said. Switching to a new cost-of-living factor could curtail owners' revenue even more, he said.

"You've got the big winners standing up and acting like they're big losers," he said. "Anyone standing at this podium deserves fairness."

A county Rent Review Board debated changes to the ordinance for several months before recommending the switch to the Board of Supervisors. The ordinance was last updated seven years ago, said Kim Hocking, a county planner who administers the rent control law.

Other recommended changes would return exempt coaches to rent control once they are sold and would increase, from $60 to $72, the one-time amount a park owner can raise rents upon sale of a coach.

"We got that, but it's not enough," said Mike Cirillo, who manages four mobile home parks governed by the rent law.

Cirillo said supervisors should allow market forces to control how much rent is charged at mobile home parks. If rents go too high, "people will move and there will be vacant spaces," he said.

Foy said he agreed. "It weighs so much to one side," he said in casting the dissenting vote.

The proposed law would apply only to mobile home parks in unincorporated areas. Several Ventura County cities have similar laws.

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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