Mobile home residents may get booted

March 25, 2008 1:44:30 PM PDT
In Marin, hundreds of homeowners are worried about their future. That's after a ruling in their rent control case that could force them from their homes, and depending on what happens on appeal, people just like them all over California could face the same fate.

Foy Sargent and his wife Caroline have lived at the Contempo Marin Mobile Home Park for 24 years. Caroline has severe arthritis and a heart condition. And as if that's not enough, now their landlord is planning to raise their rent from $655 dollars a month to nearly $2,000 dollars. It's beyond their budget and they feel stuck.

"We have to stay. With her illness and everything, I am married to Marin County doctors. I don't have any choice to stay, even if I go broke," says Foy.

Residents at Contempo Marin own their homes, but rent the land. They had been protected by rent control for mobile homes, but a federal judge ruled it's unconstitutional. So with that, the park owner immediately announced plans to almost triple the rent.

Many of the residents are elderly, on fixed income, or disabled. They packed a homeowners meeting, pleading for help.

"Soon, I might be thrown out and I would have no place to go," says homeowner Nancy Gabinksi.

The city of San Rafael is appealing the ruling, saying rent control is critical to the community.

"We value enabling people from all walks of life to live in our community," says Damon Connolly of the San Rafael City Council.

The park owner is Equity Lifestyle Properties. Company executives refused to talk on camera. The major shareholder is Sam Zell, a billionaire who owns the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. The company had a PR firm send a statement, saying rent control actually "drove up the sale prices of homes" and that it "serves no public purpose and benefits only a handful of people."

The judge in this case agreed. But past rulings have supported rent control, so residents have reason to hope they'll win the appeal. If they don't, it could mean similar rent hikes at other mobile home parks around the state.

The park owner has offered to negotiate individually with residents, but if they sign a long term lease, they lose any future protection they might get if rent control is upheld. A ruling on that could be a year or two away.