Rancho del Bordo residents ask for action
ATASCADERO — The Atascadero City Council voted unanimously to address grievances aired by local residents concerning practices by a local mobile home park that they decried as “predatorial.” Brought up during the public comments portion at a September meeting, Mayor Heather Moreno formally agendized the matter for the Oct. 22 Council meeting.
Citizens requested that the City introduce a space rent stabilization ordinance, also known as rent control, that would combat what they deemed as unfair rent practices. They also asked for a temporary moratorium on mobile home parks from raising rent until an SRSO could be set in place. Karen Levenway, a tenet at the Rancho del Bordo Mobile Home Estates, said that her property rent increased by 25 percent in one year with another expected increase coming soon.
People who purchase mobile homes, also referred to as coaches or manufactured homes, own the structure but often rent the property on which they sit. The owners of the mobile home parks are responsible for the maintenance of common spaces, upkeep of roads on the property and liability insurance.
The Oct. 22 presentation by City Attorney Brian Pierik highlighted the difficulty and cost of imposing a rent control law. He stated that both federal and state law favor landowners when it comes to their investments in these types of business models. Pierik said that previous litigation sets a precedent that landowners deserve a “fair rate of return” from their investment. He also advised against the City simply adopting an SRSO from another municipality. Therefore, the City staff would need to perform a costly process in establishing an SRSO that would fit Atascadero’s specific circumstances. Pierik said that five cities in San Luis Obispo County have SRSOs in place including rent control ordinance set by the County.
Almost everyone who came to support the City developing an SRSO owns coaches on the Rancho Del Bordo Mobile Home Estates. When asked for a show of hands, only four people were not from Bordo. An additional grievance voiced by the coach owners was the burden that Bordo imposes on new tenants. Commenters said that Bordo requires new renters to pay four times the first month’s rent before they can move in which can equate to thousands of dollars.
Bordo tenants complained that they were stuck paying high rents since the rate increases and required money upfront makes selling their properties more than problematic. Both Bourbeau and Levenway stated the rule of thumb for selling is that for every $100 increase in rent, the coach value goes down $1,000. Mobile homes also become practically immobile after they have settled for a few years.
A few of the commentators from the early meeting applauded the rent practices of Villa Margarita Mobile Home Park. Tracey Finegan who manages the property said that Villa Margarita raises its rent once at the beginning of the year based upon California’s Consumer Price Index. Finegan said that if the annual CPI is negative, then Villa Margarita does not adopt a rent increase. The property also does not raise the rent when a new tenant purchases the coach.
Councilmember Charles Bourbeau referenced the comedic investigative HBO show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” concerning predatory practices taught by Frank Rofle, co-founder of Mobile Home University.
“One of the big drivers to making money is the ability to increase the rent… if we didn’t have them hostage, if they weren’t stuck in those homes in the mobile home lots, it would be a whole different picture,” said Rofle in a recording.
In the end, no temporary moratorium was enacted. The Mayor citing the City’s finite resources to research and devise an ordinance opted to instead create a special committee to address the issue. Comprised of Bourbeau and Councilmember Roberta Fonzi, the Ad Hoc meeting will act as a mediator between the mobile home park and its tenants in hopes of coming to an agreement.
The owners of Rancho del Bordo could not be reached for comment before press time.