L.A. County Supervisors Approve Temporary Rent Control Ordinance for Mobile Homes

Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Andrew Khouri
Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday moved to impose temporary rent caps on mobile homes. The vote comes amid a broader, controversial push to remove barriers to rent control across California in response to rising housing costs.

In a 3-1 vote, supervisors approved temporary caps on so-called space rents — the price park owners charge residents to keep their homes on the premises. The ordinance, which will come back for final approval next month, would be in effect for 180 days and limit rent increases to 3% a year for leases of 12 months and less.

t applies only to mobile home parks in unincorporated areas of the county.

In the meantime, county staff are working on a permanent rent control proposal for mobile homes, something 100 California municipalities, including the city of Los Angeles, already have in some form, according to the Mobile Home Park Home Owners Allegiance. There are 86 mobile parks with 8,500 units in unincorporated L.A. County, according to a spokesperson for Supervisor Janice Hahn, who has been pushing the measure.

Hahn, in addition to supporting permanent controls, wanted the temporary measure because she feared park owners would jack up space rents in anticipation of a permanent law. Before the vote, she said in addition to building more housing, rent controls for mobile homes are needed to reduce homelessness.

“Mobile homes are sort of the last bastion of affordable housing in L.A. County, but even that has become more and more unaffordable,” Hahn said at the meeting. “We want to first and foremost, if we can, keep people in their homes.”

Some mobile home residents urged supervisors to forbid any increase in space rents, while the mobile home industry came out against the caps.

Jared Gonzalez, a representative of the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Assn., said most park owners are mom and pop owners who care about their residents and don’t gouge them. He called the ordinance “a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Mobile home residents in attendance disagreed.

“The rent is half of my income,” Diane Cheung said. “We need to immediately freeze the rent today.”

Under the measure, park owners could petition the county for an exception to the caps if they can prove they have a hardship.

The county actions are just one effort to expand controls. Rents have jumped in large part because housing construction has failed to keep up with job and population growth during the economic recovery, economists say.

In November, voters statewide will vote on whether to allow municipalities to dramatically expand rent control.

Currently, a state law known as the Costa-Hawkins Act bans price caps on single-family homes and apartment buildings built after Feb. 1, 1995. Cities with long-standing controls also can’t expand their rules to additional buildings. In Los Angeles, that means city officials can’t put controls on buildings built after Oct. 1, 1978, except in rare circumstances.

If approved, Proposition 10 would remove those restrictions and open the door for municipalities to impose controls on newer buildings, as well as limit rent increases when a unit becomes vacant.

Under current state law, municipalities can cap rent for tenants in some buildings, but they must allow landlords to charge whatever they want when a unit becomes vacant.

Proponents say rent control gives tenants security while allowing landlords to earn a reasonable profit. However, many economists argue rent control makes a bad situation worse, further restricting supply by pushing landlords to convert units to condos and incentivizing tenants, who otherwise would move, to stay in their units.

According to California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, rent control, in theory, would also limit housing construction and raise rents in non-controlled buildings. However, the legislative analyst says, “It is unclear the extent to which these effects have actually occurred.”

The vote on the temporary mobile-home controls was originally scheduled as a so-called urgency ordinance, which would’ve needed four “yes” votes and taken effect immediately. However, at the start of the meeting, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he would abstain, and Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she would vote “no.” So the measure was brought up as a normal ordinance and passed 3 to 1, with Barger voting no and Ridley-Thomas abstaining. Supervisors Hahn, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis voted yes.

As a normal ordinance, the measure will come back for a second reading next month. If approved then, it would take effect in 30 days.

Hahn spokeswoman Liz Odendahl said the supervisor’s office is concerned that the extra time will leave too many tenants vulnerable to unnecessary increases. Supervisors were also supposed to vote on temporary rent controls for older apartments buildings last month, but that vote was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled.

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