San Leandro mobile home ordinance put on hold; park owners offer moratorium on rent increases

Former San Leandro mobile home owners John Busch outside the city council chambers during a meeting last February. Busch's eviction last year from the Bayshore Commons mobile home park was widely covered in the local press.

After San Leandro mobile home owners, many seniors with limited means, spoke Monday night of suffering harassment by their mobile home park owners, along with fears of retaliation, the San Leandro City Council voted to continue an agenda item that would have given them some protections from displacement.

The council, which unanimously voted to direct staff to further study the proposed ordinance, also accepted a “gentlemen’s agreement” offered by the city’s nine mobile home park owners to not raise rents for 90 days, while they meet with city staff.

San Leandro City Attorney Richard Pio Roda cautioned the agreement is not enforceable by the city, yet the council proceeded.

San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter asked Doug Johnson of the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association, the group representing the city’s mobile home park owners, to have each of them to write a “note” obliging to the self-imposed moratorium. She later politely warned the group she would publicly disclosed the park owners who violate the pact.

The offer from the mobile home park owners appears to have been a last-minute gambit. City staff said Monday night that it was the first time they had heard of the proposition for a 90 days hold on rent increases.

“I don’t like them,” a San Leandro mobile home owner said about the owners of her park. “I’m scared of them.”

In exchange, the mobile home park owners asked to join the city staff and mobile home tenants in recrafting the proposed ordinance into a “more productive and fair ordinance,” said Johnson.

The group also suggested a lack of previous involvement in the legislative process. However, Cutter said they had met with the group on three prior occasions. In addition, there was numerous conversations between park owners and city staff.

A number of seniors voiced displeasure with park owners, describing them as unscrupulous in their desire to harass mobile home park residents in order to find reasons for eviction. Others questioned the amount of capital improvements added to the parks, often a stated expenditure used by park owners to later justify increased rents on mobile home spaces.

A resident of Bayshore Commons, the mobile home park on Grand Avenue, which in many ways fueled the city’s push for rent protections, told the council she felt “squeezed” by the park owners. “I don’t like them. “I’m scared of them,” she said, using a cane to walk to the lectern.  Said another mobile home resident, “The owners believe in harassing you until you get out.”

The proposed ordinance would limit annual rent increases to the lesser of four percent or the Consumer Price Index, while offering specific protections for mobile home owners of 62 years and older, in addition, to the disabled. The ordinance also includes a 30-day appeal process, prohibits park owners from retaliating against tenants, and allows them to refuse making an illegal rent payment.

Parks owners would be required to register each year with the city (they do not presently), along with a notice of sale to the city and park residents. A city staff report last week suggested anecdotal evidence that large rent increases at San Leandro mobile home parks are coming from Trailer Haven and Bayshore Commons. Both were acquired in recent years by new owners.

While many mobile home owners and tenant activists lauded the proposed ordinance, they urged the city to use a more Bay Area-centric Consumer Price Index rather than the regional index referenced in the staff report. They also urged for the inclusion of just-cause rental protections.

“There’s a loophole that you could drive a truck through, said San Leandro resident Rob Rich. He fears the exclusion of the just-cause will undermine the intent of the ordinance.

“What is to prevent owners from kicking out tenants to raise rents?” asked Jeromey Shafer, a tenant activist and former mayoral candidate. “This is critical. We need to implement this quickly. Evictions are happening now. Retaliation is real.”

Mobile home park owners, however, contend state law already includes protections against evictions without cause. But San Leandro staff is unclear about the efficacy of their assertion.

Despite the treatment of some of city’s mobile home owners being a pressing and high-profile issue for more than a year, the San Leandro City Council appeared deeply apprehensive to move the item to a vote Monday night. “There’s more work to be done,” Councilmember Ed Hernandez told city staff. The near exact sentiment was offered by several of his colleagues.

Councilmember Victor Aguilar, Jr. was the only officials to veer from the prevailing wisdom “We are putting our seniors at risk and we need to protect our mobile home owners from rent increases,” he said. Aguilar later suggested lowering the threshold to annual rent increases from 4 to 2 percent.

Meanwhile, the continuance of the discussion will not provide much relief to mobile home owners. San Leandro City Manager Jeff Kay said there’s no certainty an ordinance might be ready earlier than the first meeting in April, citing a number of significantly differing views on the council and uncertainty over just-cause.

John Busch, the 82-year-old San Leandro mobile home resident who was evicted by the new owners of Bayshore Commons, and who became the face of the current crisis by refusing to leave his space, was circumspect about the night’s inaction.

“I’m not surprised for various reasons. I realize this a lot to solve in one meeting,” said Busch, who was arrested last November for failure to vacate his space. He spent the weekend prior to last Thanksgiving in jail.

“It was a long way to get this point,” he added. “The city staff told me last year that this would never get before the council, but it did, and they thanked me.”

“In the meantime, we’ll put the fire underneath the feet of the council,” said Busch. “We’re not gong to take anything less.”

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