‘It is a great place to live’: Petaluma mobile home park owner speaks out in hearing

During last week’s hearings, residents testified that the proposed increases, which would be unprecedented in Sonoma County, would put further strain on those who are already struggling.|

The owner of a Petaluma mobile home park planning a record lot rent increase spoke publicly for the first time last week, maintaining that the proposed 40% increase is reasonable for the affected community.

During two days of arbitration hearings last Thursday and Friday, Youngstown Mobile Home Park manager and co-owner Daniel Weisfield defended the move as being the result of increased property tax rates, mortgage and other expenses.

“We upgrade our communities in a way that upgrades the quality of life, upgrades homes and creates communities in which residents are proud to live in,” Weisfield said during the hearings, which were hosted on Zoom.

The hearings came after Youngstown MHP LLC, which bought the property in 2020 and is owned by Weisfield and his family, issued a letter to residents Nov. 10, 2021, detailing a $286-per-month lot rent increase. Weisfield is also the owner of Three Pillars Communities, which he said is not affiliated with the purchase of Youngstown.

A Petaluma rent stabilization program launched in 1993 states that monthly rent may not be raised above the annual consumer price index or 6%, whichever is of lesser value, on a yearly basis. Any effort to raise rent above that value requires an arbitration process.

The arbitrator on the case, assigned from California Hearing Officers, said a decision is expected to be made by Feb. 7.

Established in October 2020, Los Altos-based Youngstown MHP, bought the North McDowell Boulevard property for $14 million in November 2020. Weisfield said in the hearing that he was aware of Petaluma’s rent control ordinance before he purchased the Youngstown property with help from a bank loan, and did consider the factors of the ordinance. However, he said after analyzing the current market conditions, the physical condition of the property, rental comparables and past financial records, Weisfield said he felt it was necessary to boost rents. He also said that the monthly increase would go down to about $250 per month a year after the increase goes into effect, after a one-time property tax increase is paid.

But the park’s financial records, according to an expert analyst, show a healthy operation that regularly recorded large annual profits.

The previous owners had a net operating income of $436,384 in 2017, $579,477 in 2018 and $453,986 in 2019, according to a financial analysis written by Deane Sargent, managing director for manufactured housing programs for PMC Financial Services. Further, Sargent projected Youngstown MHP LLC would turn a profit of $528,851 in 2021.

During last week’s hearings, residents testified that the proposed increases, which would be unprecedented in Sonoma County, would put further strain on those who are already struggling.

Elizabeth Ruggio, a 25-year resident of the park who testified Thursday, said that her current base rent is $675. Other expenses, including ongoing cancer treatments add up to about $1,500 per month, she said. Meanwhile, she only receives about $1,583 per month from social security funds.

Another resident, Elizabeth Buckley, 98, said she lives by herself at the moment, and would have to have someone else come live with her in order to afford the rent increase.

“I can’t imagine the anxiety, the upset that this is causing the residents,” said attorney Richard Reynolds, one of four attorneys representing the residents.

Longtime resident Mary Ruppenthal, who also testified, said in a phone interview that she is pleased with how the residents were represented in the hearings, but she is also worried about the potential outcome.

“I’ve lived here for 35 years. This is my home filled with memories,” Ruppenthal said. “Where are we going to go?”

Weisfield said during the hearings that while he understands the concerns at hand, he doesn’t feel bad about raising rents, adding that he is providing an “extremely high-quality community” at Youngstown and with that, the price at hand is reasonable.

“It is a great place to live,” Weisfield said. “And if this rent increase is granted, we’ll still be affordable to the people who are very low income under the standards published in Sonoma County and the federal government.”

He also sought to assure residents that the park would offer a rental subsidy program to allay eviction fears.

“We’ll do everything we can to make sure no one who lives in the park becomes housing-burdened or has to leave the park in economic distress,” Weisfield said. “We do not want to see our residents out on the street.”

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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