Written by Dawn Hodson | Source
Mountain Democrat | August 23, 2018 10:18 AM

Are seniors in El Dorado County at the mercy of companies managing their mobile home park?

That’s what Tamara Janies of Pollock Pines and Michelle Smith of Placerville worry may be happening.

In fact they are so worried that in April they approached the board of supervisors and asked them to consider preparing a rent control ordinance for mobile home parks.

With the board urging them instead to work with the park owners on a solution, Janies and Smith now plan to put the issue before the voters at both the state and local level.

On a state level, an organization called the Golden State Manufactured Homeowners League (GSMHL), is currently sponsoring a bill called the Mobile home Residency Law Protection Act (AB 3066).

Smith is president of GSMHL and Janies is a local associate manager of the organization.

The bill would require the State Department of Housing and Community Development to accept complaints from mobile home owners and arrange for a legal firm to take the most egregious cases to court for free.

Janies and Smith have also started a local group called the El Dorado Mobile home Owners Coalition. They hope to use that group to organize an effort to put an initiative on the 2020 ballot that would enact a rent stabilization ordinance for mobile home owners in this county.

“We want the voters to decide,” said Smith.

Changing ownership

To some extent what appears to be happening is in response to an evolving changing of the guard as many mobile home park owners, who often lived on their property, die off and their heirs either sell the park or turn it over to a management company to run. The result being absentee owners with no tie to either their tenants or the community and whose prime concern is getting a return on their investment.

“I’ve been aware for some time of predatory investor groups, LLC’s (limited liability companies), that have been buying parks throughout the state,” Smith said. “They keep their identity secret through the LLC.”

Smith said her decision to get involved in the issue actually dates back to the early 2000’s when she lived in Sacramento. An investor bought part ownership in the mobile home park she was living in. Unhappy with the changes that followed, in 2005 she moved to the Crestview Mobile Home Park in Placerville.

Later her sister moved to a different mobile home park in the county – Greenstone Estates in Shingle Springs. Two years ago it was purchased by Cascade Management and since then changes have happened there as well.

According to Smith and Janies, a number of local mobile home parks have been sold to LLCs including Greenstone Estates and Diamond Springs Mobile Home Park in Placerville. Janies said she believes Bonanza Mobile Home Park in Pollock Pines is also in the process of being sold to a LLC.

Janies, who lives in Bonanza, said promotional ads to attract investors to buy Bonanza speak of having a captive audience, where someone can make a lot of money, raise rents as often as wanted and lower the amenities. “It basically said how they can take advantage of us publicly in order to attract investors,” she said.

“They can raise the rents every 90 days according to state law with a 90 day notice and there is no cap,” said Janies. “This is a problem all over the state. They also raise the rents in order to force people out of the park so they can put in manufactured homes and raise the rents higher.”

Questioned who lives in most mobile home parks, Smith said it’s mainly seniors, veterans, the disabled and low-income people although she admits to not having any real numbers. “The range of incomes also varies in parks. There’s not a lot of housing in the county and where are people to go if they can’t afford to live in these parks? she asked.

Janies said in the case of her park there are a number of vacancies so they have started moving in RVs and fifth wheels to fill the spaces. “So now we have people who own a home in the park having someone living next to them who is going to camp there for 30 days.”

Other changes that worry Janies and Smith are rent increases and billing separately for utilities that used to be included in the space rent. They stated that at Greenstone they stripped water and garbage out of the rent so people now have to pay separately for that and they alleged the owners of the Diamond Springs MHP are doing the same.

“But they don’t call it a rent increase,” said Smith, who noted that her sister was paying $550 a month and then the rent went to $615. “But my sister said if she were to sell her home, the rent would go to $850.”

“Many of the people living in these parks are living on a fixed income and can’t absorb big rent increases,” noted Janies. “There are people living in my park who live on $800 a month and if two-thirds of your income goes to rent, you can’t afford to pay for utilities. You can’t afford to heat your home during the winter.”

“We’re not opposed to making money but we’re opposed to exploitation,” Smith insisted. “The terminology is they are using us like a cash cow because they see … they are going to get money off every single space on a monthly basis.”

In Smith’s case, she asked the owners of Crestview about purchasing the park and had even lined up financing.

Other than tenants buying the park, Smith said the only solution is a rent stabilization bill with rent increases based on the COLA (cost of living adjustment) or the CPI (consumer price index). “That’s one way to keep space rents affordable and make it less likely that investor groups would come into this county,” she said.

Parks cost money to run

On the other side of the issue are the companies managing these mobile home parks who insist their space rents are reasonable given what it costs to maintain and upgrade them.

In what is becoming a familiar story, the manager at Crestview Mobile Home Park in Placerville said the park was previously owned by a family. When the owner passed away, his children hired Storz Management to run it. Storz also manages several other parks including Diamond Springs MHP.

The manager at Crestview said tenants at the park pay $550 a month while other residents with a lease had their rent raised a percentage of their base rate. With 116 spaces, some of the spaces at Crestview are rented to those with RVs and travel trailers with no time limit on how long they can stay.

Water, sewer and trash are all included in the rent and at present there are no plans to charge separately for trash and water. The manager said the rent was raised before Storz took over and went to cover the increase in taxes, trash and water.

Like other parks for seniors, tenants have to be 55 years of age or older. The manager said Smith discussed buying the park but said she may not understand the huge investment of money involved in maintaining the roads, sewer pipes and other facilities. Investments that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It takes a lot of money to run a park and keep it up to standard,” the manager said.

Bonanza Mobile Home Park in Pollock Pines is similar to Crestview in that it was a family run business for many years. But after the owners died, the children inherited the park. However the manager said as far as he knows it’s not for sale.

The park charges $350 a month for RVs and $500 for mobile homes. The rent includes water, sewer and garbage. With a total of 61 spaces, 51 of them are for homes and 10 for RVs with no limit on how long they can stay. He said the last time they implemented a rent increase was five months ago and that was for only $15.

Another local mobile home park for seniors is Greenstone Estates in Shingle Springs with 102 units. Managed by Cascade Community Management, Brock Kaveny, the president of the company, said this is the only mobile home park in the county they manage.

“We’re basically operating a small city,” he noted, saying they receive their water from EID but operate their own sewage treatment plant.

“We recently installed water meters because we’re only allowed to treat so much water per day/per month,” Kaveny said. But when they installed the meters, they reduced the space rent proportionately.

The rent, which was recently increased to $631 a month, covers the space, garbage and maintenance of the common property. Water, sewer and other utilities at Greenstone are charged separately. Rent is higher for larger spaces as some tenants have double wide trailers. Those on long-term leases won’t have another increase until next year.

Kaveny said they also fund their own rental assistance program so if a tenant qualifies for Section 8, their rental increases are negated or significantly reduced.

At the board of supervisors meeting when the issue of the rent control ordinance was brought up, Kaveny said rent control prevents other developers from wanting to come in and build additional housing and reduces the overall supply.

Instead he believes the solution is for the county to incentivize builders by giving them a fee discount in return for building multi-family housing where rental increases for some or part of housing stock is limited to CPI increases.

Kaveny said he understands the worries of seniors whose social security increases don’t match the CPI, but at the same time he said people don’t always understand that if companies don’t keep up with the CPI, the value of the business decreases and so does the incentive to maintain the property.

“People discussing buying parks may not know what’s involved in maintaining it,” he commented. “We have spent about $25,000 in tree work in last 12 months. We also have to put in retaining walls and expect to spend another $60,000 to $80,000 just on those.”

Grassroots movement

With strong opinions on both sides of the issue, Smith acknowledged that many mobile home park residents are not unhappy where they live and may not even be aware that there is an issue that could affect them in the future.

At the same time, she wants to cut off “predatory corporations” as quickly as possible so even if these corporations do come to the county they know they can only raise rates so much and can’t use mobile home owners as “cash cows”.

“The bottom line is there is not enough affordable housing in our county and this is one segment that could be protected,” she stressed. “The county has been unwilling to provide this protection which is why we are going to the voters and ask them to do so.”

To attract more people to become involved in passing a local rent control ordinance, Smith and Janies plan to start holding monthly meetings of the El Dorado Mobilehome Owners Coalition.

Their first meeting will be tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 25 from 10 a.m. to noon at Denny’s Restaurant, 99 Fair Lane Drive in Placerville.

The meeting is open to mobile home owners and park leaders who are interested in joining the group’s efforts. For more information, people can contact Janies at 530-391-1423 or Smith at 530-957-3567. They also have a website at https://www.edmoc.org/

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