A Sacramento company has filed a civil complaint challenging Humboldt County’s recently approved mobile home rent control ordinance, Measure V.
The complaint filed by Ocean West Investors LLC claims the implementation of Measure V as currently written will result in significant and unlawful financial impacts to its McKinleyville mobile home park Ocean West Senior Village. Measure V was passed by county voters in November 2016.
“The main concern for Ocean West is that Measure V is going to cause significant economic problems for every one of the park owners that operate up there,” Ocean West’s Santa Ana-based attorney William Dahlin said Wednesday.
The complaint was filed in the Humboldt County Superior Court on Feb. 9, with the county having 20 days after the filing date to respond.
County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck said Wednesday they still are reviewing the complaint, but will be defending the measure.
“We feel the measure is appropriate and valid and we will be presenting a defense to the lawsuit,” Blanck said.
Measure V was a voter initiative drafted by a group of mobile home park residents. Blanck said the county reviewed the initiative and found that it complied with current laws. The measure only regulates rent increases at mobile home parks with ten or more spaces in unincorporated areas, of which there are more than 40 in the county.
The ordinance limits mobile home park owner’s ability to increase rent to five methods:
• An adjustment level with the Consumer Price Index a statistic published periodically by the Federal Bureau of labor Statistics, which measures changes in the price level of a number of consumer goods.
• When a lease agreement ends; rents after which will be based on the rate during the lease.
• After the sale of the mobile home to someone other than a family member or someone with the legal right to do so.
• After an owner petitions to raise rents to a level that provides a fair return.
• If more than half of park residents agree to an increase in rent after park owners make improvements to the lots.
Dahlin said that the measure as currently written limits Ocean West Senior Village’s ability to increase its rent for a fair return.
He states the measure currently requires park owners to wait until 2017 is completed before they are able to challenge the assumptions that go into calculating a rent increase that would result in a fair return for park owners.
The complaint also states the measure violates state law by limiting the expenses mobile home park owners can recoup after petitioning to increase their rents to fair market returns. Dahlin said tens of thousands of dollars can be spent by park owners in this effort for both legal representation and to conduct the studies to justify the proposed rent increases.
Under the measure, Dahlin said park owners can submit their proposal to a county hearing officer while tenants at the park can submit a counter proposal in a sealed envelope.
If the rent increase proposed by the tenants is higher than what the county hearing officer offers the park owner, Dahlin said that the measure would make it so park owners would not be allowed to recover attorney’s fees and costs, which he said is normally achieved through temporary rent increases.
Dahlin said the complaint does not seek to overturn Measure V, but instead correct two specific problems that his clients see in the ordinance.
“We’ve tried to make this pretty narrow,” Dahlin said. “This is not a broad challenge saying a county cannot have rent control.”
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors met in closed session Tuesday to discuss the case, but no action was reported out.
Patti Rose — who was treasurer of Measure V’s drafting organization, the Humboldt Mobilehome Owners Coalition — urged the board Tuesday to defend the measure, stating that the lawsuit is trying to “take the teeth out” of the ordinance and “invalidate it.”