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Council Considers Rent Control
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Responding to pleas from Quail Meadows Mobile Home Park residents about skyrocketing rents, Riverbank City Council members hired an expert many months ago and on Monday voted 5-0 to introduce an ordinance to impose rent control on Quail Meadows and other such parks in the city.

The problem at Quail Meadows, where advocates complained many elderly people on fixed incomes were being forced out of their homes by exorbitant rents, was caused by owner Equity Lifestyles (ELS) of Chicago, which owns mobile home parks across the nation and has clashed in court with many local governments over rent hikes.

The council acted despite warnings by Doug Johnson of the Western Manufactured Housing Community Association they risked expensive litigation and could better handle the problem with a hybrid solution like Modesto, which has set up an ordinance but handles problems with most of its park owners through a memorandum of understanding.

"It's unfortunate to get to this stage because of one park owner taking an unfair advantage," said Councilmember Virginia Madueno in referring to ELS.

Dr. Kenneth Baar of Berkeley who wrote both an earlier report and the current ordinance for local rent control has assured the council his ordinance will stand up in court.

Of mobile home parks within Riverbank, Quail Meadows at 5901 Newbrook Circle is the largest at 146 spaces, the newest (built in 1986) and has doublewide mobile homes. Other parks include Nixs MHP with 21 spaces and Park Sierra MHP with 45 spaces both located on Patterson Road and Modesto MHP with 27 spaces on Santa Fe Street.

Average current rents range from $280 at Nixs and $300 at Sierra to $500 at Modesto and $675 at Quail Meadows.

In recent rent increases at Quail Meadows, data indicates rents rose at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index (20 percent) from 1997 to 2002 (from $327 to $392) but from 2002 to 2007 rents increased by 72 percent compared to a 12 percent rise in the CPI during this period.

Two years ago, Riverbank was working with park residents from Turlock, Ceres and Modesto in trying to hold down their rents. But Turlock soon dropped out, Ceres also recently gave up the campaign and only Modesto went ahead like Riverbank with preparing an ordinance.

California has adopted landlord-tenant laws to give protection to mobile home tenants, said Baar, because of the high cost of moving mobile homes, the potential for damage, requirements on their installation and the cost of landscaping or lot preparation.

Baar found mobile home parks provide a city with affordable housing for residents of low and moderate income, many owners have made a substantial investment in their homes (25 percent said $50,000 and more), many are senior citizens who cannot afford apartments, 44 percent said their income is under $20,000 per year, and park residents have very limited bargaining power because of their limited income and the immobility of their homes.

Moving a mobile home typically costs in excess of $10,000 and most parks will not accept homes older than 10 years, and there are very few vacant spaces.

The ordinance's purposes, said Baar, are to prevent excessive and unreasonable rent increases; prevent exploitation of the shortage of available mobile home lots; enable mobile home owners to preserve their equity; permit park owners to receive a fair return and help preserve affordable space rents within the city.