City eyes changes to mobile home rules
Petaluma leaders had not revisited the city’s mobile home rent stabilization ordinance since it was first established in 1994. But on Monday night, City Council members agreed that changes to the ordinance were needed to ease financial burdens on those living in mobile home parks.
No voting action on the topic took place at the June 5 workshop, but staff introduced amendments to incorporate into the city’s current ordinance, which caps annual rent increases for mobile home tenants at 6% – but could soon be lower.
“I’m really excited that staff has this in front of us here and that we’re making progress on it,” said Mayor Kevin McDonnell.
Under the current ordinance, annual rent increases may not exceed either 6% of the base rent or 100% of the local consumer price index, whichever is less. But the majority of council members on Monday agreed to lower those numbers, so that increases may not exceed 4% of the base rent or 70% of the CPI, whichever is less. The change aligns with the ordinance that Santa Rosa has in place.
“I’d like to see (regulations) be a little more uniform among communities,” said council member Dennis Pocekay.
In May 2022, the City Council vowed to amend the city’s mobile home rent regulations as part of its top 10 citywide priorities for this year, and council members are now expected to cast an official vote on such amendments at their June 19 meeting. The changes could go into effect as early as August.
Among the amendments council members are prepared to implement are new rules governing the arbitration process between renters and park owners. In late 2021, that process became crucial to residents of Petaluma’s Youngstown mobile home park east of Highway 101, where park owner Daniel Weisfield sought to raise rents by 40%.
In response, Youngstown residents mobilized to oppose the increase, and an arbitrator ultimately denied the increase in a February 2022 ruling. It was only the second arbitration occurrence in Petaluma since the mobile home rent stabilization ordinance was enacted in 1994.
On Monday, council members considered amendments to the arbitration process, including a requirement for park owners to forward any arbitration petition to tenant service providers specified by the city. Another amendment would forbid arbitration to take place during the month of December due to the holiday season, and another would restrict park owners from demanding rent that is more than what the city allows while an arbitration hearing is pending.
Current regulations require that at least half of a park’s affected tenants must petition for an arbitration hearing if a park owner gives notice of a rent increase above the permitted annual rent cap. However, staff recommended an amendment that would require park owners seeking an increase above the permitted annual rent cap of any amount to file a petition for arbitration.
“This amendment would place the burden of initiating arbitrations on park owners seeking to raise rents above the annual rent cap,” the staff report said.
Another amendment would require that park owners must not only provide tenants with the city’s current ordinance regulation terms, but also must be transparent with tenants about annual rent increase caps and must provide all notices in English and Spanish, or the language in which a lease was created.
Also under the current ordinance, if a mobile home space becomes a “lawfully vacant space” – which is defined in the June 5 staff report as being due to a mobile home tenant relocating to a different space or a just cause termination of a tenancy – the park owner is allowed to charge a new base rent for that space with no restrictions, so that park owners are getting a fair rate of return to pay for maintenance and other property expenses. The majority of the City Council agreed to keep that rule as is.
Details on the June 5 workshop and proposed amendments can be found at cityofpetaluma.primegov.com/Portal/Meeting?meetingTemplateId=5270.
Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5208.