People who live in mobile home parks are in a precarious position: They own the homes they live in, but rent the space underneath them. And few receive the protections that other types of renters enjoy.
In El Dorado County, where a new mobile park owner is offering decades-long leases, residents fearing displacement are hoping elected officials step in. While dozens of California counties and cities have passed protections of their own, few statewide rules exist.
“It's an individual fight,” said Tamara Janies, a mobile home park resident and active organizer with the Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League. “Every county, every city has to fight for it individually.”
There are 560,000 mobile homes in California, and many residents are growing increasingly vulnerable. And across the state, residents are struggling with increased fees.
In 2019, new owners purchased a park in Anaheim and raised space rents by as much as $200 a month. Residents of a park in Loomis have seen sharp rent hikes, too, leaving many who live on a fixed income fearful for their future.
“Imagine someone on social security making $1250 a month,” Janies said. “How long before they lose their home?”
The new owners at Sunset Estates Mobile Home Community in El Dorado Hills have offered some tenants 25-year leases, according to documents reviewed by CapRadio. That lease includes a clause that would exempt residents from “any ordinance, rule, regulation, or initiative measure … which establishes a maximum amount that a landlord may charge a tenant for rent.”
The owners of the park in Loomis offered similar 25-year leases to renters, according to The Sacramento Bee.
“People are already in a panic health wise about being concerned,” Janies said. “And now they feel like their home is being threatened.”
Janies and others first raised the issue to El Dorado County representatives earlier this year, raising flags about patterns they’d seen elsewhere in the state.
El Dorado County Supervisor John Hidahl expressed renewed interest in the county tackling local measures earlier this month. The long leases landlords have presented to residents at parks across the region are especially concerning to him.
“I’m generally not in favor of government trying to control free enterprise activities,” Hidahl said. “[But] when it comes to the point that we're forcing people to be homeless because they have no other alternatives, then there's something wrong with that.”
Hidahl plans to bring the issue up as soon as the board reconvenes and swears in two new members in January. He hopes to see the board pass an emergency ordinance limiting how much park owners can increase space rents, and prohibit them from pushing decades-long leases on residents.
Hidahl wants to avoid pushing vulnerable and often low-income residents out of one of the few affordable housing options left in the county.
“A lot of seniors end up in these mobile home parks, it's kind of their sanctuary of last resort,” he said.
Unlike renters or other homeowners, mobile home residents cannot so easily pack up and leave if their space rent gets too expensive.
“The people who really are getting trouble with these rent increases annual rent increases in the parks, are those on fixed incomes,” said John Bertaut, vice president of the Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League.
Despite the name, mobile homes are never easy and rarely affordable to move — if they can be moved at all. The cost of moving an old mobile home may well exceed the purchase price, particularly for older homes. In some instances, it can be impossible to move a home without permanently damaging it.
That leaves mobile home residents vulnerable to the whims of their landlords — and investment companies are increasingly looking towards mobile homes as an untapped market.
“When corporate interests come in and start purchasing parks, there's a greater motive for profit, and a greater motive to raise rents, knowing that they have, in some ways, a captured audience,” said Dr. Andy Rumbach, professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Colorado, Denver.
A 2019 report found interest has increased significantly. Many of the investment companies purchasing mobile home parks see them as an opportunity to turn a profit quickly, according to the report. Companies will dramatically increase to space rents, leaving residents stuck between paying higher fees, or leaving altogether and losing their homes.
To help, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2872 over the summer. The law outlines baseline protections for mobile home park residents, but does not establish any statewide rules about how much a park owner can increase the rent on a given space. Prior efforts to pass statewide caps on space rent hikes have failed in the legislature.
Still, that law doesn’t go into effect until next year, leaving mobile home residents in El Dorado County hoping for a local response.
“It is a very common concern, and it's growing every day,” Hidahl said.
Clarification: We have updated the headlines of this story to clarify that El Dorado County may take up the protections, but the action isn't certain yet.
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