Mobile home tenants protest threats of rent hikes, closure

About 100 people gathered outside Youngstown mobile home park on N. McDowell Boulevard, holding signs denouncing the park owners’ actions.|

Residents of Petaluma’s Youngstown Mobile Home Park held a protest Tuesday afternoon in response to threats of rent hikes and closure, even as the city strengthens protections for renters.

About 100 protesters gathered outside the mobile home park on North McDowell Boulevard, holding signs denouncing the park owners’ actions over the past few months, which have included converting the park from seniors-only to all-ages residents, threatening park closure, and attempting to raise their rents by more than $900 a month, residents said.

“When I moved in here I thought, ‘I can relax, I can retire,’” said Youngstown resident Danny Morton. He said he’s lived in the mobile home park – originally designated for people 55 and older – for five years, and “I haven’t relaxed since I moved in here. It's been one thing after another.”

Residents carried signs Tuesday with messages such as “We are your grandparents,” “Seniors deserve care not despair,” and “Senior abuse must stop.”

For Youngstown resident Debra Parks, the recent treatment by the park’s owners is indeed a form of senior abuse.

“For the general public, think about your mother and your father. If they end up in a senior park, which there's nothing wrong with (that) until somebody starts harassing them and trying to make things difficult,” she said.

Several people spoke about the sense of panic at the park, especially among older residents.

“Some people have ended up in the hospital because of all the fear and anxiety,” said Mary Ruppenthal, who has been a Youngstown resident since 1987. The park community is a haven for older residents, she said, especially those without children or whose family members live far away. Such people rely on neighbors for help with things like grocery shopping or going to appointments.

“We tried to allay their fears and calm them down, but none of us know for sure what's going to come of it all,” she said.

Residents from Youngstown were joined by those of Little Woods Mobile Villa, another mobile park in Petaluma that is facing similar concerns, as well as representatives from North Bay Organizing Project, Legal Aid, and Sonoma County Tenants Union.

The park is owned by Three Pillar Communities, which describes itself on its website as “a values-driven real estate investment company that delivers green, affordable, factory-built homes at scale.” The company, which lists a Los Altos address, operates more than 60 mobile home parks in 14 states, as well as “a robust pipeline of future acquisitions.”

A message to the company was not returned as of press time Wednesday.

On July 17, the city of Petaluma adopted a new ordinance to strengthen protections for mobile home renters, which went into effect on Aug. 17 and limits the amount that mobile home park owners can raise rents – either by 4% of current rents or by 70% of the Bay Area Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less. The CPI is a measure of the average change in prices for goods and services.

On July 7, days before the city adopted the new ordinance, Three Pillar Communities changed the park’s 55-plus designation to all ages, said Jodi Johnson, a resident of Youngstown. Online listings for the park now show it as being for all ages.

Then, after she and others asked the city for a senior park overlay designation – which “would require at least 80% of units in a designated mobile home park to be occupied by at least one person 55-plus,” according to the city – park management sent someone to let residents know they intended to close the park.

On Aug. 2, residents received a 473-page packet informing them that rents would be increased by $923.41 a month, Johnson said. Residents are disputing the increase through arbitration proceedings – another right strengthened by the city’s recent ordinance.

Just two weeks ago, residents were again told the park would close, Johnson said. By then, they had already organized Tuesday’s protest to call attention to their plight.

The protest comes on the heels of a city-led public meeting last Thursday, held to discuss the proposed senior mobile home overlay district.

Nearly 100 Petaluma residents turned out for the meeting, which also touched on recent changes to Petaluma’s housing laws and tenants’ rights. Many of the people who attended the meeting were at the Tuesday protest.

“And what I'll say in terms of the potential notices of closure that have been issued, so far … they don't comply with the city's regulations. They are of no legal effect,” said City Attorney Eric Danly at last Thursday’s meeting. That prompted murmurs from the assembled residents, who asked multiple questions throughout the meeting.

All mobile homes in Petaluma are on land zoned for mobile home use and park owners must submit an application to the city for any park to be closed. The city has not yet received any applications for a mobile home park closure, Danly said.

As for age designations at mobile home parks, current zoning rules do not include them – however, at its meeting Tuesday night, just after the protest concluded, the Petaluma Planning Commission supported a resolution 4-0, with two members absent, to recommend that the City Council adopt an ordinance to implement the senior mobile home overlay district. The item is tentatively scheduled to be introduced at the Council’s Oct. 2 meeting, with a second reading tentatively scheduled for its Oct. 16 meeting.

If approved, the overlay district would affect Leisure Lake, Petaluma Estates, Royal Oaks, Cottages of Petaluma and Youngstown mobile home parks, all of which were originally designated as senior communities.

Five mobile home parks would be subject to the senior overlay district in Petaluma. (Courtesy of City of Petaluma)
Five mobile home parks would be subject to the senior overlay district in Petaluma. (Courtesy of City of Petaluma)

Under the proposed rules, such parks will have to include signage, advertising, rules and agreements stating they are for seniors, and park owners must show compliance every two years.

Back at Youngstown, park owners have petitioned for an arbitration over rent increases, which residents said is scheduled take place Oct. 10 and 11 at 9 a.m. at City Hall and on Zoom. City officials say the burden will be on park owners to show their need for a rent increase higher than the city’s designated cap.

You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Sawhney at 707-521-5346 or On Twitter @sawhney_media.

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