Robert Herold, 89, and his wife LaVerne, moved to the Skandia Mobile Country Club in Huntington Beach eight and half years ago to be close to their son during their golden years.
But with new park owners spiking rents, the Herold’s feel as if their dream has been crushed.
The couple are living off Social Security and a 34 year old pension which hasn’t increased over time and are now worried about the rent shooting up $225 over three years.
“The increases that we are going to be sustaining won’t be able to be met, by not only myself but by others in here,” Robert said about the expected rent increases in an interview earlier this month at the park.
Robert along with other park residents are rallying to get city officials to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to decide on a new law that would stop such high rent increases at mobile home parks in the city.
There’s a trend with mobile home residents pushing back on rent increases recently across Orange County.
Back in 2019, residents at the Rancho La Paz Senior Mobile Home – which straddles Anaheim and Fullerton – embarked on a similar fight to get the two cities to pass ordinances that would stop high rent increases.
After about two years of activism from the residents, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill crafted by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) to address such rent hikes.
Due to pushback from mobile home park owner groups, a stipulation was put into the bill to only apply to mobile homes that reside between two cities.
“What’s irritating to me is that our grand legislation in Sacramento passed a bill … but you had to be a quote, qualified park,” Robert said. “All they had to do was forget that qualified part and we’d be in business.”
Lupe Ramirez who spearheaded the movement at the Rancho La Paz mobile home park in Anaheim and Fullerton has spoken to residents at Skandia on how to tackle the issue, advising mobile home residents to write to state officials and speak up at meetings.
For Ramirez, the fight doesn’t end just at Rancho La Paz and said she is working with other parks in various cities in the county to help them with their battle.
“Until we can get the predatory lenders out of the business of buying mobile homes, to repurpose them or to make seniors and poor people homeless, it’s not going to change,” Ramirez said in a Thursday interview.
She said after moving to Orange County she became really appalled that most people in office here don’t seem to care about poor people, disabled people and senior citizens.
“The long term solution is — since we’re not going to get any help from the individual cities – that there should be a statewide moratorium on rents, the same thing they did for the apartments,” Ramirez said.
“We need statewide (action) and we need them to start recognizing that this is the last vestige of affordable homes in California and they damn well need to protect it.”Lupe Ramirez, Rancho La Paz Mobile Home Resident
Mobile Home Residents on Fixed Incomes Face Rent Increase
The Skandia Senior Mobile Home Park – a 167 unit park – fell under new ownership last August after it was acquired from the Coulter Family Trust for $58 million.
According to public records from the Orange County Clerk Recorder’s office, SKANDIA MHC, LP managed by Michael Scott and Lee Kort, as well as SKANDIA BLF, LLC, managed by Brian Fitterer, now own the mobile home park property.
They are both located at the same address in Irvine as the Investment Property Group (IPG), which manages the park.
The group then informed residents that rent would be going up by $75 annually for the next three years after the park was bought.
While that may not seem like alot to some, many people who live in mobile home parks are seniors and veterans living on fixed incomes and their only source of income comes from pensions and social security checks.
Some have medical expenses too and use their spare income to primarily pay for groceries.
Ramirez spoke to what it was like for some seniors at her own mobile park in Anaheim and Fullerton when they got a notice on rent increases and why they took a stand.
“We had people here that were trying to decide whether they were going to buy groceries or pay their rent, or buy their insulin or pay their rent so we had to do something.”Lupe Ramirez, Rancho La Paz Mobile Home Resident
Unlike other renters, mobile home residents are not only responsible for paying space rent to park owners but they also are responsible for expenses that come with owning a home. Park owners are responsible for the common areas.
“We’re homeowners. This is not like renting a home. We carry a mortgage. We are responsible for that mortgage payment each month plus our space rent plus the upkeep of our home,” said Skandia Resident Dan Pantano at the Huntington Beach City Council meeting on Feb. 1.
Julie Rodriguez, president of property management for IPG, told Huntington Beach city council members earlier this month that they have reinvested $100,000 into the community in the first six months since the park was bought.
“The property taxes were reassessed in the amount of $290 per site, per month. The rent increase to $75 does not nearly cover the increase in property taxes of the community but we kept the increase low in order to ensure every resident can stay in their home,” she said.
But not everyone thinks the increase is fair or low.
Carol Rohr, Homeowner Association President at the park, said she was petrified when she first heard of the increases and still is.
“Definitely every single one of us is thinking, how can we afford these rents?” Rohr said. “It’s a huge increase.”
She said the group is not only raising rents for current residents in the park but that the space rent for people who decide to move to Skandia is shooting up by $750 causing the value of the homes in the park to plummet by $75,000 or more.
Rohr said the Investment Property Group tried to offer them a lease agreement after residents expressed concerns on the rent changes.
“We’ve had that reviewed by several attorneys who all tell us we would be crazy to sign that lease,” Rohr said.
She added Skandia residents aren’t the only ones in Huntington Beach who have faced these types of problems with rent increases.
In Huntington Beach, there are 17 mobile homes where residents pay rent for the space their mobile houses occupy, according to Rohr.
She said in recent years corporations have been buying the parks and immediately hiking rent prices to rates people can’t afford.
“Since then hundreds of people have had to abandon their homes, many of them seniors, many of them veterans,” Rohr said. “They had to move in with their families.”
Residents Worry They Will Lose Their Homes
Skandia residents are scared of succumbing to the same fate.
They’re worried about losing the homes they’ve enjoyed living in and had strategically planned to spend the rest of their days in with the increases of rent.
Robert enjoys living in the mobile park because it is quiet and secure, close to grocery stores and doctors but most importantly because of the proximity it is to his son.
“Our son is seven miles away from us here. He has been very beneficial especially during the pandemic. For the first number of months, he did everything for us. We did not leave the house,” Robert said.
Robert, originally from Santa Monica, had intended to have a military career as an officer but a collapsed lung brought that dream to an end. Instead, embarking on a career in the defense industry and was involved with the U2 spy plane, Polaris submarine missile and spent many hours in Area 51.
Now Robert and other residents feel they have to defend their homes from skyrocketing rent increases and
“I wake up every day in fear – fear that I will lose my home … Along with my fear, I also have a prayer and my prayer is that someone will help us, someone will help us save our homes. City council members, I’m hoping that you will be that someone.”Skandia Resident Jeanne Farrens sat the Huntington Beach City Council meeting on Feb. 1.
Despite pressure from residents, the city council has yet to bring up such a ballot measure at their meetings.
It doesn’t look like they have any plans on doing so.
Huntington Beach Mayor Barbara Delgleize said in a phone interview Thursday that it would be up to the residents to get the measure on the ballot and that the council is looking to help in other ways.
Last week at their meeting, Huntington Beach City Councilmembers unanimously voted to organize a resource fair for low income seniors and mobile home residents in the city.
Delgleize said that the city is really trying to make the fair “a day of substance” to help the seniors.
“I can’t promise you at this point that we’re going to solve the problems in Skandia but I would like to see us open the door to possibilities where maybe seniors could apply for some assistance,” Delgleize said.
Opposition to Rent Stabilization
The residents’ push to reign in rent increases at mobile home parks isn’t without challenges or opposition.
One hurdle they have to overcome is that Huntington Beach’s city charter includes a property rights protection measure passed about two decades agot that forbids the city from regulating rental prices.
Skandia residents aren’t looking to change that rule entirely; they just want a carve out for mobile home owners to stop park owners from drastically increasing space rent every year.
Allison Plum, who sits on the city’s mobile advisory board and is a Del Mar mobile home resident, said in an interview Thursday that she is in support of the carve out.
“We can’t just pick up and move if the rents go up on our land lease,” she said. “Everyone’s budgets are stretched … it doesn’t help when a predator comes in and they do their predatory equity of increasing the rents right away just so their stockholders see that there’s a big bump.”
Plum, who resides in a park that is still family owned, said residents understand that park owners need to make a profit but believe rents have to be at a fair price to keep the homes affordable.
Others on the advisory board disagree with Plum.
Chris Houser, who sits on the Mobile Home Advisory Board and is one of the owners of the Rancho Del Rey mobile home park, spoke out against a carve out at a Feb. 1 city council meeting.
“Residents want to limit their increase in rent but who is going to put limits on the increase to our expenses? Our expenses climb every year with insurance, employment and ever increasing maintenance costs.”Chris Houser, Mobile Home Advisory Board member and one of the owners of the Rancho Del Rey mobile home park
Vickie Talley, who also sits on the Mobile Home Advisory Board, called into the Feb. 1 city council meeting as well and said residents should get signatures to get their measure on the ballot rather than go through the council.
Talley is also the executive director of Manufactured Housing Educational Trust and said the group provides a subsidy program to Skandia residents.
“The really sad thing is that the HOA there is telling people not to apply. And yet I’m listening to people tonight that say they think they’re going to be homeless. If they can’t afford the rent, they need to apply for the rent subsidy,” she said.
“They’re being scared unnecessarily. It’s really a shame.”
But Rohr said that the homeowner association never suggested not taking advantage of the program that offers a 10% subsidy.
She and Robert, however, have criticized the program’s qualification guidelines which they say makes it almost impossible to qualify for.
These qualifications include: a resident’s personal property – not including the home – must not exceed $20,000 and residents have to own and live in the park for three consecutive years.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.