Friday, October 14, 2011

Capitola ends rent control for Mobile Home Residents

CAPITOLA — After 32 years on the books, rent control for mobile home parks met its demise Thurs­day night as the City Council voted 3-2 to repeal the ordinance.

Mayor Dennis Norton and Coun­cilmen Kirby Nicol and Sam Storey voted for repeal, while Councilman Mike Termini and Councilwoman Stephanie Harlan voted against.

The council must vote twice to repeal, and the first vote came in August. The repeal will take effect in 30 days.

The repeal was the culmination of a process that started in March, when the City Council first voted to amend the ordinance to settle two lawsuits.

“The city has been bullied, we’ve been litigated and beaten down,” Sto­rey said. “I’d like to point out that the council and staff have an obligation to the entire city and have to look­out for the well-being of the entire city. When faced with a half-million dollars in legal expenses year after year, you are forced to look for solu­tions.”

Residents pleaded with the coun­cil to wait until the next meeting in two weeks to make a decision so the residents would have more time to secure leases before the repeal took effect.

Harlan was in favor of a delay, while Termini said he would not vote for repeal because, while he thought it might be the best thing for the city, his principles would not allow it.

With Capitola’s other mobile home parks either city, nonprofit or resident-owned, Surf and Sand residents felt the most vulnerable.
are moving too quickly,” said Margaret Dixon, who owns a home in Surf and Sand Mobile Home Park. “We can’t get a good number on who has leases. [Surf and Sand owner] Ron Reed does not respond to our calls. Please wait a couple of weeks and see how things shake out.”

In March, the city amended its ordinance with the purpose of reaching a settlement agreement with Reed, who had two active lawsuits against the city.

Under the settlement, lower income residents were offered 34-year leases with a monthly rent of $475 after an income-verification process. Higher income full-time residents were offered leases that increased rents to market rate during eight years. Rents for part-time residents, and residents who own other residential property, could immediately rise to market rate.

Three lawsuits resulted from the amendments. One lawsuit against the city challenging a provision that exempted those with any other residential property from rent control was rejected by a county court judge Aug. 30. Another lawsuit was filed by several residents against Reed, challenging various terms of the lease. That case was settled earlier this week, and under the agreement the residents would be offered 34-year leases as long as the city repeals rent control and the residents involved in the lawsuit do not attempt to stop the repeal. If there had been no repeal, Reed could have changed the lease term to 13 months.

Surf and Sand resident Bill Newman, 86, who was part of the settlement, said he agreed because he trusted his lawyer, Phil Crawford, and simply wants to lock in a rent he can afford in the park he has lived in for 23 years.

“I gave up my freedom of speech because I had to trust someone,” he said earlier Thursday.

A third, active lawsuit challenges Reed’s determination of fair market rent for those residents who did not qualify for low-income leases.

Some of those who have not qualified for low-income status have seen rents escalate from as little as $285 per month to as high as $2,800 per month, a figure residents argue is higher than market rate.

Most of the residents own their home, but rent the land. If the rent is too high, they fear they will never be able to sell.

Thecityhasspentcloseto$1.5 million during the past decade defending its rent control ordinance from legal challenges, with approximately a third of that money coming from a legal-defense fee to which park residents contribute.

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