New Ventura County Ordinance Restricts Mobile Park Condo Conversions

Friday, March 21, 2008
Catherine Sailant
Los Angeles Times

Ventura County leaders this week put the brakes on so-called condo conversions of mobile home parks, enacting a law that would withhold approval of such plans unless park owners could prove their tenants support them.

The issue is important to local governments and affordable-housing advocates across the state, who say too many conversions could deplete one of California's last remaining stocks of affordable homes.

"Mobile home parks continue to be one of the most affordable forms of housing that we have in California, and particularly in rent-controlled jurisdictions," said Brian Augusta, a staff attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

Residents of the parks typically own their homes but rent the spaces on which they are located. In a conversion, the park owner is permitted to subdivide the park property and offer each lot for sale.

Proponents say subdividing offers tenants the chance to own the land beneath their homes. But tenant groups and affordable-housing advocates say the conversions allow owners to circumvent local rent control protections and have forced seniors and families out of their homes. Some believe owners suggest conversions mainly to get out from under the rent restrictions.

More than 100 local governments in California have passed laws that limit how much rent can increase at mobile home parks. But under the state's conversion law, local rent control laws become invalid when a single mobile home lot in a park is sold.

Many tenants of mobile home parks have low enough incomes to remain covered by a state rent control program. But housing advocates say the protections in the state program are not as strong as in local ones.

"It is a real problem that needs to be taken care of now before it really does grow way out of control," said Glenn Bell, a Los Angeles affordable-housing advocate.

Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation aimed at closing the rent control loophole in the conversion law and giving local governments more of a say.

A similar bill, SB 900, is expected to make its way through the Capitol this session. But Ventura County's leaders did not want to wait.

Ventura County's new law -- which aims to give tenants more say -- requires a public hearing by the Board of Supervisors if a mobile home park owner is unable to prove that a majority of park residents support conversion. Supervisors can reject an application if that support is not evident.

If less than 20% of tenants support a conversion, an owner's application will be immediately rejected without a hearing.

Ventura's law, which passed 3 to 1 on Tuesday, is patterned after a similar ordinance that Sonoma County supervisors passed last year.

Mobile home park owners went to court to try to overturn Sonoma County's law. The law was upheld at the trial court level, but owners have appealed, said Richard Close, the Santa Monica attorney representing them.

Close said park owners were considering legal action against Ventura County too.

"We believe the ordinance is illegal under state law," he said. "It's meant to prevent subdivisions and conversions in Ventura County."

California has about 5,000 mobile home parks, which provide housing for 700,000 residents. Conversions have taken place or are underway in about 40 locations, including Pacific Palisades, Carson, Palm Springs, Santa Paula, Vallejo and Buellton.

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