Torrance to consider implementing rent stabilization ordinance for mobile home parks

By Clara Harter | Source

A mobilehome rent stabilization ordinance is back on the table in Torrance following pleas from residents of Skyline Mobile Home Park, who are facing significant rent hikes under the park’s new ownership.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, may be Election Day, but it will also mark the third time the City Council considers enacting a mobile home RSO after declining to do so at meetings in June and September. The proposed RSO comes at the behest of Councilman Asam Sheikh and would limit annual rent increases to 4% plus the regional rate of inflation for a total raise not to exceed 10%.

Since Saunders Property Group purchased Skyline Mobile Home Park in October 2021, residents of the 265-lot senior-only park haveseen seen their rents increase dramatically.

A 15.9% average rent increase was announced in October 2021 and enacted in two stages – a $100 increase in November 2021 and a $96 increase in September. Residents’ rents will increase another 10% beginning in January.

These rent raises pose a challenge for many of the residents who are retired and living on fixed incomes. Some are already under financial strain, while others worry about their ability to remain at Skyline if the rent hikes continue.

“I moved here 27 years ago. When I came here, I didn’t have much,” Dorina Lollino, in tears, said during a residents meeting with Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi late last week. “I bought an older unit and worked very hard to fix the roof, fix the leaking, and now they are going to take everything away from me.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere else,” she added. “This is the only place I’ve got. I can’t leave. Please help us to stay here.”

John Saunders, the primary park owner, has said that the initial 15.9% lot rent increase was a direct pass through of the $625,000 spike in property taxes he must pay because of the land value reassessment at the time of purchase.

He believes lot rents are currently underpriced at Skyline and he intends to bring them to market rate over the next five years in order to make a fair return on his investment, Saunders said in an Aug. 29 meeting with residents. He has made a subsidy program available to residents who spend 40% or more of their income on rent and meet several other criteria.

And in response to pressure from the City Council, Saunders proposed following the rent increase limits of state Assembly Bill 1482 — 5% plus the regional rate of inflation, for a total raise not to exceed 10% – until 2030. AB 1482 is a bill that applies to rental units statewide, but currently excludes mobile home parks.

Residents, for their part, have said annual raises of around 10% are still unreasonable for those living on fixed incomes. Saunders was aware of the property tax increase when he chose to buy the property, they have said, and years of successive increases will force retired seniors from their homes – and, potentially, into homelessness.

Although the city’s proposed RSO is similar to the agreement proposed by Saunders, it puts the fate of mobile home residents in the council’s hands – rather than ownership’s – and it opens the door to potentially lower the number in the future, said Marc Van Klooster, Skyline resident and member of the Skyline RSO Committee.

An RSO would also apply to a broader swath of the city’s population, since it would protect residents at all 10 of Torrance’s mobile home parks.

Muratsuchi and LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn have both met with Skyline residents and expressed their support for an RSO.

“I’m really urging the City Council and Torrance to take action,” Hahn said in an interview with the Breeze last month. “Keeping people, particularly seniors, in their home is the best defense we have against adding any more people to our homelessness crisis, and mobilehomes are the last bastion of affordable housing that we have in LA County.”

Hahn said she supports an even stricter RSO – one that would limit annual rent raises to 75% of regional inflation, with an 8% cap – based on the mobile home RSO she helped enact for unincorporated areas of LA County.

Muratsuchi met with residents to hear their concerns on Friday, Nov. 4, and said that while he is looking into what the state can do to better protect mobilehome owners, a Torrance RSO would be the fastest way to protect residents.

“(An RSO) would best address the specific needs and concerns of mobile home owners and residents,” he said, “rather than the big bad state coming in and trying to impose a one size, fits all solution.”

The City Council has discussed an RSO for months, ever since the panel first directed staff to research forms of mobilehome rent control at at the beginning of the year.

In April, the council directed staff to draft an RSO, which they considered in June and then paused action on to grant the ownership group’s request for 90 days to work with the city and residents to address concerns.

The RSO returned on Sept. 13 and the council declined to vote on the ordinance, citing a desire to not interfere with individual businesses and and a belief that Saunders’ proposal was a reasonable solution.

Sheikh, however, said there was a need for clarity on the conditions of Saunders’ proposed rent agreement and the city’s proposed RSO. So he requested the council reconsider the ordinance.

He is also recommending the city allow the property owner to raise the space rent to market rate whenever a mobile home is sold, transferred or conveyed to a new owner.