Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Residents fight increase in Camarillo mobile home park rent

According to Lamplighter Mobile Home Park resident Matt Lorimer, many of the other residents are moving out because of the unfair rules established by the management, and the increase in rent.

When Debra Vogel purchased her two-bedroom coach at the Lamplighter Mobile Home Park in 2005, she paid $126,000 and $725 per month in rent.

When the park in Camarillo changed ownership in August last year she said, her rent increased by $31, and on top of previous increases, she now pays a monthly rent of $881.40. The rent hike has placed her in a financial bind, Vogel said.

Vogel also said that since the recession, the value of her home decreased by 30 percent. Problems with management and owners of the park also have caused her property value to drop another 30 percent, Vogel alleged.

Appearing before the Camarillo City Council at a meeting last month, Vogel implored officials to help her and the other residents of the park.

"At the rate the new owners are increasing the rent, it will be $1,000 at the end of the year," Vogel said. "I can't sell, but I also can't stay. I am only one person in a sea of homeowners, and we are living with heavy-handed management that makes everyone hesitant that any day, new rules would be inflicted upon us, threatening our homes and our budget. "

For months, a group of residents of the Camarillo mobile home park have appeared before city officials to speak against what they said was an "unfair" rent increase approved by the city's Rent Review Commission. The group has asked the council to amend a policy to allow an appeals process against approved increases.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the Lamplighter issue at its next meeting Sept. 14.

Some residents have asked city officials to consider purchasing the park with redevelopment agency funds.

Brian Fitterer, who purchased the park in August 2010 under his company Lamplighter Camarillo MHC, LLC, said he provided financial statements to the Rent Review Commission that outlined the various improvements made to the park since his company took over the property.

The park has 227 spaces with rents from $700 to $950 per month, he said.

"We had the ability to put any increase we wanted, but instead we decided to work with the city," Fitterer said in an email. "Residents don't agree and basically want a second bite of the apple after losing at the rent review. We have dealt with the complaints, but you won't hear any good things from the residents. The fact they want the city to subsidize their lives by purchasing the park for them is ridiculous."

Fitterer said he initially asked for a $55 increase, but agreed to the $31 increase recommended by the commission. He said the increase is warranted after more than $100,000 in road improvements in the park, as well as landscaping and other improvements.

Matt Lorimer, president of the Lamplighter Estates Homeowners Association, said the financial statements Fitterer provided to the commission were inaccurate and overestimated several items, including the landscaping work and the $18,000-per-month property tax indicated in the paperwork.

Lorimer has implored city officials to investigate the commission and consider a policy change that would also require an independent accounting firm to check financial statements that are presented to the board.

"We ask for a review and changes to be made to the commission process because it lacks fair rules and regulation," Lorimer said. "The commission must have a process and guidelines to follow."

Residents also have complained about various rule changes and reduction in services at the mobile home park, including cutting hours of access to the park's car-wash area and getting tickets from park management for parking their car on the street overnight.

"They impose these new rules without even alerting residents that rules have changed," Vogel said.

City Councilwoman Charlotte Craven said the city couldn't purchase the park as some residents requested because the property is not located in the redevelopment area.

"Besides, that's not a service we provide as a city," Craven said. "I don't see us buying any piece of rental property. Also, the state is now in the process of taking away our redevelopment money."

While city ordinances do not include an appeal process on rent increases, residents can bring their complaints to civil court, Craven said.

Lorimer said Fitterer refuses to meet with members of the homeowners association to discuss their concerns.

Fitterer said he does not believe Lorimer represents residents.

"I believe the ultimate goal of Mr. Lorimer and his group is to force us to sell the park at a discount to residents," Fitterer said in an email. "The majority do not agree with this, and it is slanderous statements being put forth by Mr. Lorimer."

Lorimer and some residents hope the City Council can step in and address the issues at the park

"If the city does not step in and help, residents will be pushed out," he said. "The city needs to do their part to help the residents. The city needs to address this now."


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