Anaheim Offers No Rent Help for Mobile Home Residents

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The Rancho La Paz senior mobile home park on the border of Anaheim and Fullerton.

Elderly Anaheim mobile home park residents who petitioned the City Council for help won’t get direct assistance from the City Council after council members tabled a proposed temporary rent freeze ordinance indefinitely.

The move comes after roughly 400 mobile home seniors at Rancho La Paz, which straddles the border of Fullerton and Anaheim, faced monthly rent increases up to $400. The increases were scheduled to start June 1, but were pushed back until Sept. 1 after residents lobbied both city councils for help March 19, filling both council chambers on the same night.

Councilman Jose Moreno brought the proposed six-month rent control forward Tuesday that would have capped rent increases at three percent or to the consumer price index, whichever was higher.

“A reminder to our colleagues, this is a temporary rent stabilization effort,” Moreno said. “It’s not just seniors, there’s also families that are seeking you to represent them.”

Moreno said extreme rent increases, like seniors faced at Rancho La Paz, can cause residents to fall into homelessness.

“500 people are looking at me saying, ‘Why can’t you help us?’ So this is me trying to help them,” Moreno said, adding the six-month rent freeze would buy residents more time to work out the rent situation with the mobile home park owners.

But the majority of the council members were against the temporary ordinance.  

“First of all there is no such thing as a temporary government anything,” Councilwoman Lucille Kring said. “There are other jurisdictions that have chosen this path and I don’t think the results are having very positive outcomes.”

Mayor Harry Sidhu, while acknowledging rent increases have outpaced wage growth, said increases are part of a state and national trend.

“It is unrealistic to think that Anaheim alone [can] correct the market forces that have driven the issue,” Sidhu said, adding that increasing the housing stock will help alleviate rent hikes.

“There is no city in Orange County with local rent control ordinance or ordinance that will seek to interfere with the landlord and the relationship. This tells me that all the cities in Orange County have concluded this is not an effective approach,” Sidhu said.

Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who moved to table the item Tuesday, cited an April study by the Mobile Home Educational Trust, a special interest group for mobile home park owners, stating the average rent among Anaheim’s 27 mobile home parks is $1,154, with the highest at $1,600.

“You’ll see that Rancho La Paz was, in fact, the lowest of space rents,” O’Neil said.

The study showed the average Rancho La Paz rent was $765.

“I’m certainly not defending an extreme rent hike, but even if the owner did impose that extreme rent hike of his $200, $300 whatever it was, it would still be below the average in the community,” O’Neil said.

He said rent control ordinances can lead to property neglect and drive housing values down, and even lead property owners to operate something other than mobile home parks on their land,

“The problem with rent control is that it puts the needs of the tenants over the needs of the park owners. Yes we all want to pay less rent, but the owner has to maintain his park and if he doesn’t have sufficient funds to do that coming in from rents, it creates his market imbalance that distorts things and creates a lot of problems down the road,” O’Neil said.

Councilman Jordan Brandman said he’s been speaking with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and various state legislators, whom he didn’t name, and said the Legislature may be crafting some type of policy to address mobile home park rents.

But earlier in the meeting, Moreno said, “If owners know that a rent stabilization effort is coming down from the state, then the owners will raise rents now.”

The City Council voted 6-1 to table the rent ordinance, with Moreno dissenting.

Meanwhile, the Fullerton City Council is expecting the take up the issue again at its first meeting in July after postponing its rent control proposal April 2 — the same night Anaheim postponed the ordinance the first time.  

Sidhu, along with Councilmen Stephen Faessel and O’Neil met with park owner John Saunders March 27, and he agreed to delay the rent increases for three months.

Saunders, who recently bought the mobile home park, has promised both cities he’ll be working with residents to create a reasonable rent increase schedule and help low-income residents obtain rent subsidies. According to a March 27 Anaheim news release, the property tax increased eightfold from $100,000 to $800,000 since Saunders purchased the property.

“We have an owner who is committed to operating and improving this park for years to come,” Sidhu said in the news release. “He needs to able to recover reasonable costs. Working constructively over the next several months, I believe we can achieve this.”

Despite the rent increase delay, Rancho La Paz residents still have been petitioning both Fullerton and Anaheim city councils for help because they fear September’s rent increase will be too much for them. Many are on fixed incomes like Social Security.

Moreno originally proposed two ordinances April 2 — one an urgency ordinance which would immediately take effect and the other a standard ordinance which needs two votes and 30 days to take effect — that would temporarily restrict mobile home rent increases to three percent or a change in the consumer price index, whichever is higher.

But O’Neil moved to immediately table the items, which killed discussion and started a verbal fight on the dais between Moreno and the council majority.

Since city officials already met with Saunders and delayed the rent increase and an ad hoc committee is analyzing housing affordability in Anaheim, O’Neil said, April 2, that city intervention through an ordinance is not needed because “it is now nothing more than a solution in search of a problem.”  

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.

After hearing council members give their positions on the ordinance Tuesday, Moreno again said the rent hikes could leave some people homeless.

“Here’s residents saying, “Are we first or are we not?” … Who’s first, the residents or the owners? Who can go homeless on an extreme rent hike: The residents or the owner?” Moreno asked.

Moreno also criticized the study conducted by the mobile home owners special interest group and asked council members if they took campaign contributions from them.

“Raise your hand if you have not received any money in your campaigns from Mobile Home Educational Trust,” Moreno said.

Only Moreno and Councilwoman Denise Barnes raised their hands.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.