Owners of a local mobile home park are threatening to sue the city and may substantially raise tenant rents in response to a City Council decision that could lead to El Monte imposing rent control on such parks.
Last week, council members unanimously supported placing an initiative on the November ballot that if approved by voters would repeal the Mobilehome Tenant Rent Assistance Program approved by voters in 1990. While the ordinance for the past two decades provided a 10 percent rental discount for low-income seniors, it also included a clause essentially barring the city from imposing rent control laws on mobile home park owners in El Monte.
A group of Brookside Mobile Country Club residents approached council members last week, urging them to put the initiative on the ballot because they say the rent at Brookside has skyrocketed over the years and they can no longer afford it.
While voter approval would not translate into a new rent control ordinance, it would give the City Council the authority to enact such a regulation in the future.
In an Aug. 8 letter to a resident, Brookside's management company, Mobile Community Management, said unless the City Council rescinds the decision, it will raise tenant rents.
For the resident to which the letter was addressed, monthly payments in November would increase 17 percent, from $1,256 to $1,482.
The average rent at El Monte's mobile home parks is $489 for a single-wide space and $557 for a double-wide space, according to a city survey in which 18 of 33 total park owners in the city responded.
"This is just another example of how they can rule without any repercussions. They can establish rents without any regard to any authority," Councilwoman Norma Macias said.
It is unclear if the letter regarding rent increases was distributed to all Brookside residents. Representatives with Mobile Community Management did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In its letter to the resident, the management company wrote: "Unfortunately, we just found out about the city's actions and we do not know at this time who, if anyone, is responsible for encouraging the Council to take such an unadvised action, but we would assume that a few of discontented mobilehome park residents and organizations may be responsible."
About 85 percent of residents at Brookside are under rent control-exempt leases, according to the company.
According to a letter submitted to the city of El Monte from the Brookside owners' attorneys, the city's decision is illegal and based on insufficient study of the issue. They say that the company was not made aware of the decision and the 1990 ordinance stipulates the city cannot expend any city resources to enforce rent control.
However, Dave Gondek, an attorney representing El Monte, said the ballot measure has nothing to do with rent control.
"It is asking the voters to advise the City Council as to whether this program should continue or whether it should be ended," Gondek said.
"I see in the letter that we got all of this stuff about rent control and so on and so forth, but the voters aren't being asked about rent control."
Vincent McMillen, owner of the 76-space El Rovia Trailer Village in El Monte, said he wouldn't mind if the city did impose rent regulations.
"The only reason I raise rents is to afford to pay property tax," he said, calling the rent at Brookside "ridiculous."
McMillen said he charges his tenants $210 a month, but gives them a $20 discount if they pay by the first of the month.
The owners of Brookside - Tatum-Kaplan - and their management company, Mobile Community Management, have faced multiple lawsuits in Orange and San Bernardino counties from residents complaining of much of the same issues noted at Brookside.
Jeffrey Kaplan, a lawyer who heavily invested in the business in the 1980s, owns more than a dozen mobile home parks in Southern California, according to archives from the California Secretary of State's Office.
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