The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday indicated its intent, on a 3-1 vote, to temporarily cap rents at mobile home parks in unincorporated areas, though the proposed ordinance requires a second vote and will not take effect any sooner than Oct. 4.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger voted against the ordinance and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained from the vote.
Supervisor Janice Hahn backed the plan for a 180-day moratorium on rent increases in excess of 3 percent for mobile home spaces leased for a period of 12 months or less.
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Hahn said residents in the parks are in a tough spot because they own their home but rent the land it sits on.
"The term 'mobile home' is misleading," Hahn said. "Mobile homes are often placed permanently in a park and moving them is difficult and expensive. This gives mobile home park owners a virtual monopoly and gives residents few options if they cannot afford rent hikes or fees."
Sometimes the owners are forced to sell their homes to their landlords for below market value because moving the home is cost-prohibitive, she added.
In February, spurred by complaints from residents at Rowland Heights Mobile Estates, Hahn asked the Community Development Commission/Housing Authority to look at a rent control ordinance. That work is still underway and Hahn worried that owners might try to jack up rents in anticipation.
"We have to step in and protect these residents in the meantime," she said.
Hahn had hoped to pass the moratorium as an "urgent" measure, which would mean it would take effect immediately. But an urgent matter needs four votes to pass, and neither Ridley-Thomas nor Barger were willing to lend their support.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl suggested dropping the "urgent" label so that the measure could pass on three votes. That means that the ordinance will have to be reconsidered at the board's next meeting on Sept. 4 and, if passed, would then take effect 30 days later.
A representative of the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association told the board there's no evidence of a widespread problem with rent increases at mobile home parks or of a connection to homelessness.
"Our members are mostly mom and pop family businesses who save for years to build or buy a mobile home park," Jarryd Gonzales said, calling rent control "a solution for a problem that just doesn't exist. This is like a doctor who prescribes a patient medication without the proper diagnosis."
Barger agreed, saying that the high rate of mortgage interest on mobile homes -- which she pegged at 9 or 10 percent -- was a bigger factor in affordability than rent paid to landlords for space in the park.
"We are attacking the symptom and not the cause," Barger said.
She proposed that the county invest aggressively in opening more mobile home parks on county land, because the cost of housing people there would be a fraction of what it costs to build conventional affordable housing, and called on the CDC to provide a more complete set of information.
But others said a permanent cap on rent was necessary to adequately protect seniors and other residents who live in more than 8,500 units in 86 mobile home parks in unincorporated areas of the county.
"The majority of resident owners in our park are on limited fixed incomes and basically have very few options for living somewhere else. Rent control can be a life saver," said Ray Williams, who owns a home at Leisure Lake Senior Mobile Home Park.
Hahn said the CDC had originally considered an absolute moratorium on any rent increases, but settled on the 3 percent cap to try and strike a balance between residents and owners.
In a letter to the board, the CDC recommended adoption of the ordinance "to protect the owners and occupiers of mobile homes from unreasonable space rent increases, while at the same time recognizing the need for park owners to receive a fair return on their property and rental income sufficient to cover increases in costs of operation."
Hahn tied to the ordinance to the county's battle against homelessness.
"Mobile home parks are really the last bastion of affordable housing here in L.A. County," Hahn said. "If the county ever wants to address the homelessness crisis we are going to have to prevent residents from falling into homelessness. This is an opportunity to do just that."