For at least the next 45 days, the owners of age-restricted mobile home parks in San Juan Capistrano will not be allowed to change the rules so they can rent to people of all ages.
The City Council imposed a 45-day moratorium on park conversions Tuesday night to give city staff time to evaluate whether the ban should be made permanent.
The council’s 4-0 vote to enact a freeze drew cheers from an audience of mostly senior citizens who live in mobile home parks that are restricted to ages 55 and older.
Advocates for mobile home park owners said a ban would violate property rights and could lead to legal problems for the city.
City staff said the city of Yucaipa enacted a similar protection for senior parks in 2009 and it withstood legal challenge.
City staff proposed the moratorium on the basis that senior-only parks offer affordable housing for people on fixed incomes. Converting parks to let in younger people and families could change the income dynamic and upset the serene nature of senior parks by introducing dramatically more cars, children, skateboards, activity and noise, residents said.
“Preserve our senior way of living,” said Gregory Nellis, a resident of El Nido Mobile Home Park.
“Protect people who are financially vulnerable,” said Bob Boyer, another senior mobile home resident.
Resident Chuck Hauswirth described the senior rental agreement as “a covenant.”
Four of the seven mobile home parks in San Juan are senior parks, officials said, and the owners of two of those parks – El Nido and Rancho Alipaz – have put residents on notice of a conversion to an all-age clientele.
The city, meanwhile, is being sued by the owner of El Nido over constraints the City Council has imposed on requested rent increases.
Residents of senior parks told the council that they relied on signed contracts when they moved in to guarantee senior status, and owners bought those parks knowing they were age-restricted, subject to rent control.
Advocates for park owners said the owners purchased in San Juan knowing that age regulations could be changed, and residents knew it too.
“This is a bad policy and a complete violation of private property rights,” said Julie Paule, a representative for the Western Manufactured Housing Community Association.
She said park owners can convert to all ages if they give proper six-month notice. She suggested the city take a slower approach to “see if we can’t work out our differences without tons of attorneys.”
Councilman Brian Maryott said the moratorium will give staff time to explore questions raised on both sides. “We do run the risk of impeding somebody’s property rights,” he said.
A staff report to the council said that the council’s action won’t change anything, just preserve the status quo. It said that the city of Yucaipa enacted a similar zoning restriction in 2009, and when it drew a lawsuit from park owners the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city.
In 2013 Huntington Beach imposed a moratorium on conversion “due to a lack of senior housing options,” the staff report said, and in 2014 Huntington Beach amended its zoning code to preserve age-restricted parks.
Huntington Beach’s ordinance was the first of its kind in Orange County. Jeff Ballinger, San Juan’s city attorney, said that Oceanside, Calabasas and Lancaster all have similar ordinances and he is unaware of any challenges to them.
Paule said the Yucaipa court decision did not address the six-month notification issue, just the constitutionality of a zoning restriction.