Mobile Home Residents Ready To Sue City Over Rent Control

Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Mark Noack
Mountain View Voice

Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee could soon be headed back to the courtroom over a decision to exclude tenants at mobile home parks from the city's rent control protections.

Earlier this month, an attorney representing two mobile home residents at Santiago Villa issued a demand letter urging the committee to reverse its decision not to extend rent control to Mountain View's 1,100 mobile homes. If the committee refused, the residents would file a lawsuit to get the action rescinded, said attorney Armen Nercessian of the firm Fenwick & West.

"Mountain View voters provided a clear mandate to the city: protect Mountain View renters, including mobile home residents," Nercessian wrote. "By adding exemptions to CSFRA that have no basis in either law or policy, the RHC has disregarded the terms of this mandate and failed to live up to its express duties under CSFRA."

In his letter, Nercessian said he was representing two Santiago Villa residents, identified as Mariel Bolhouse and Tim Larson. Both his clients have also filed petitions with the city for a rent adjustment, he said.

The Rental Housing Committee briefly discussed the new legal threat in closed session on Monday. Members later announced they had voted 3-1 not to change their position, with committee member Emily Ramos opposing and member Evan Ortiz abstaining.

The legal basis for bringing mobile homes under the CSFRA is extremely complicated. The voter-approved law never once mentions mobile homes, and attorneys for the city say the language contains numerous conflicts with the state's Mobilehome Residency Law.

Nevertheless, city legal staff advised the Rental Housing Committee members earlier this year to bring mobile homes under the rent control program approved by voters as Measure V. The law explicitly excludes certain types of housing, such as hotels, condominiums and duplexes, but mobile homes are never mentioned among these exemptions. City legal staff explained that it would be hard to argue that mobile homes shouldn't be covered under the law.

Despite that legal advice, mobile homes didn't have enough political support on the committee. A majority of Rental Housing Committee members said they were uncomfortable with various legal tweaks and huge financial stakes at play. In a 3-2 vote, Chairwoman Vanessa Honey along with committee members Matthew Grunewald and Tom Means voted to exclude mobile homes.

Ever since that decision, mobile home residents have warned that they would seek legal recourse. Trey Bornmann, president of the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance, said on Monday that mobile home plaintiffs would first pursue a writ of mandate to effectively reverse the Rental Housing Committee's decision. If that effort is successful, mobile home residents may go further and sue for damages, he said.

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