Mobile Home Park Owner Delays Rent Increase on Seniors After Meeting With Anaheim Leaders

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The Rancho La Paz senior mobile home park on the border of Anaheim and Fullerton, where residents faced a rent hike starting June 1, but the owner decided to push it back until Sept. 1 after meeting with Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu. March 27, 2018.

Roughly 400 people living in the Rancho La Paz senior mobile home park straddling Anaheim and Fullerton faced up to a $400 rent increase in June.

Until they lobbied their city council elected officials.

Rents were scheduled to increase June 1, but an agreement brokered Wednesday by Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and Councilmen Trevor O’Neil and Stephen Faessel put a temporary hold on that increase until Sept. 1.

“As a result of our meeting, I’m pleased to announce Rancho La Paz’s ownership has committed to rescind the proposed increases and to spend the coming months working with residents to find common ground,” Sidhu said in a news release.

In the meantime, Rancho La Paz owner, John Saunders, will meet with residents.

“I look forward to meeting with residents to talk about a way forward that allows time to adjust and also brings improvement to the community,” Saunders said in the news release.

Anaheim Councilman Jose Moreno, who scheduled an urgency ordinance addressing the rent spike on an upcoming agenda, said he wasn’t aware of the meeting and still plans on bringing the issue forward.

“I was not aware nor invited. But am thrilled for residents who can now take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. That said, the overall condition still remains. Residents have no formal protection from being [gouged] with extreme rent hikes. There is a serious policy hazard still present for renters being vulnerable to extreme rent hikes and I’m hopeful Mayor Sidhu will support a simple common sense policy fix to that hazard,” Moreno said in a Wednesday text message.

Fullerton Mayor Jesus Silva echoed what Moreno said.

“We’re going to move forward (on a rent control ordinance) and see if we can get some votes on this and protect the other five mobile home parks (in Fullerton),” Silva said Wednesday.

Silva said, while he’s excited for the Rancho La Paz residents, he was concerned Fullerton wasn’t at the table with Saunders Wednesday.

“That whole deal was brokered with nobody from Fullerton,” Silva said. “We’re going to try to reach out to the mayor (Sidhu) over there and to make sure we’re on the same page and get some clarity on what happened.”

The delay on the rent increase came after Rancho La Paz residents showed up to both the Anaheim and Fullerton March 19 City Council meetings and asked the councils for help.

They filled both council chambers.

“Everybody who’s here for the mobile home issue, raise your hands,” Fullerton Councilwoman Jan Flory said at the beginning of the meeting. “Okay, that tells the tale.”

In the past, Saunders went through similar battles over mobile home park rent increases in Huntington Beach.

The Huntington Beach City Council approved a ballot measure in 2014 that would’ve enacted rent control in mobile home parks, but withdrew it after Saunders ironed out new leases with tenants, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I think it is very unfair for people who are seniors in their 70s, 80s and 90s to be hit with an extreme hike like this — up to a 55 percent increase in some cases,” Fullerton Councilman Ahmad Zahra told Voice of OC March 22. “What we want to do is sit down with the owner and talk about how we can work through this together and make sure we’re not displacing hundreds of people of their homes. I think we do need to step in and really help our residents. I mean, this is the least the city can do.”

Moreno said the proposed increases were at least 40 percent.

“First thing is, these rent spikes are all over 40 percent — every resident is getting hit with at least 40 percent rent increase by June 1 — many of them 55 percent. So this has created a community trauma. These are seniors on fixed income, many disabled. So they can’t afford an increase, they absolutely cannot afford it,” he said Tuesday.

Before Wednesday’s sudden announcement, Silva, Zahra and Moreno said they had been trying to secure a meeting with Saunders. Zahra also said he reached out to local Congressmen Gil Cisneros (D-Yorba Linda) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), as well as state Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) about the issue.

Fullerton council members formed an ad hoc committee to meet with the owner and also agreed to send a letter to the owners at their meeting.

In Anaheim, Moreno was able to get a temporary urgency ordinance on an upcoming agenda for discussion. He was the only Anaheim council member to bring up the mobile home park issue during the March 19 meeting.

“I ask for this, colleagues, knowing that the supply matter is important. I don’t dismiss the market, but it’s going to take two to three years before we get enough supply. These folks need relief right now,” Moreno said.

Voice of OC hasn’t been able contact Saunders and when a reporter spoke to the park manager, they said they don’t know who the owners are or how to contact them.

Moreno said he was able to meet with one of the owner’s consultants.

“He shared with me the range of rent increases, which start at $297 and can go up to $397, depending on the size of the lot. He shared that the owner included a rent subsidy for those who may struggle with that increase … but it only covers 12 percent of residents,” Moreno said, adding there’s no longterm rent projections.

At the Fullerton City Council meeting, Rancho La Paz resident Jack Gutman said the rents will become unaffordable.

“I happen to be 93 years of age. I happen to be one of the few veterans that made the invasion on D-Day and Okinawa,” Gutman said. “All of a sudden, these people, the new people that took over, they wind up adding $300 a month … I appeal to you, please just do something that might help … I implore you to do what you can for these wonderful people who have gone through so much and have so little.”

Clay Hage — director or operations for Park Management Incorporated, who operates the neighboring mobile home park Country Place — said courts generally shoot down any sort of moratorium on rent increases.

“I’ve been in this business for over 30 years … I can tell you that every time I’ve seen a similar scenario, what happens is that when a rent ordinance is adopted by a city council is there’s great cheers, only to be followed by great tears shortly after,” Hage said.

Hage also said when new owners buy mobile home parks, the property taxes go up.

“The courts have said they are entitled to a fair return on their investment,” he said.

According to Anaheim’s news release, property tax went up $800,000 after Saunders bought the land.

Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said Wednesday, before the deal, since the city is chartered, the city council is able to enact urgency ordinances, like the one Moreno is proposing.

Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer said Wednesday, before Anaheim’s announcement, attorneys need to look into any sort of rent control.

“It clearly needs to be looked at from a legal standpoint. Because the owner has, under state law, provided a 90 day notice (of rent increases),” Domer said. “What does it mean and how do we react to it?”