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The new suit claims Petaluma’s rules passed to protect seniors violate federal housing laws

By Jennifer Sawhney | Source

In yet another challenge to the city’s mobile home rules, the owners of Youngstown Mobile Home Park have filed a second lawsuit against Petaluma, this time claiming that an overlay district passed last October to protect senior residents violates federal fair housing laws.

In the suit – filed Jan. 12 in Sonoma County Superior Court against the city of Petaluma, its City Council and 20 unnamed individuals – the park owners claim the city’s senior mobile home park overlay prevents them from renting to younger people and thus forces them to discriminate against potential renters in violation of the Fair Housing Act and its amendments.

The unnamed owners, filing as “Youngstown MHP LLC,” also claim in the suit that their attempt last June to convert the historically seniors-only park to all-ages was intended to “put Youngstown on viable financial footing.”

The latest legal maneuver follows an attempt last summer by owners to raise rents by over $900, as well as threats to outright close the 102-unit mobile home park on North McDowell Boulevard in the wake of the city’s push to strengthen its mobile home laws.

The proposed rent hike triggered an arbitration process that began Jan. 17, with residents gathering to watch as lawyers and witnesses debated the case.

For Youngstown resident Rudy Maglenty, who joined neighbors to watch the hearings last week, the situation has been overwhelming.

“It’s really disappointing. … We wake up in the morning wondering what’s going to happen,“ he said.

City leaders and staff said the new senior mobile home overlay ordinance passed last October would maintain the seniors-only designation of five of Petaluma’s seven mobile home parks. Per the ordinance, a minimum of 80% of units in parks designated as “seniors only” must be occupied by at least one person 55 or older.

But according to the new lawsuit, “Restricting Youngstown’s handful of available non-rent-controlled lots to senior citizens (who form only a small segment of the market, and who may be more price sensitive than consumers who are of working age) means, by definition, that Youngstown will be prevented from achieving the maximum potential rents for those lots.”

About 35% of Petaluma’s population is 55 and older, according to 2022 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The previous lawsuit, filed in October by owners of Youngstown and Little Woods Mobile Villa, an all-ages park on Lakeville Highway, was a federal complaint claiming that city and state mobile home laws force owners to operate at a loss, weaken contractual agreements, and take away owners’ property rights.

Little Woods residents, themselves hit with proposed rent hikes of over 300%, are scheduled to begin their own arbitration proceedings in March. Residents at both parks must shoulder the costs of arbitration – said to be at least $50,000 – although Petaluma People Services Center has offered to assist with fundraising to cover some of those costs.

Youngstown is owned by the LLC and operated by Three Pillar Communities, an investor-backed company based in Los Altos that has over 70 mobile home communities in 14 states, according to its website.

EDITOR NOTE – GSMOL Associate Manager Betty Hauzenrader has been working with the homeowners and GSMOL Attorney Bruce Stanton is representing them.  


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