In my last two articles, I have mentioned in passing State laws which concern owning mobile homes and operating mobile home parks. The rule of law was and can be fuzzy in the area of mobile home parks and home ownership, so much so the California Senate created Section 798 of the California Civil Code which is collectively known as the Mobile Home Residency Law (MRL) to address conflicts in rental parks.
This section of Civil Law covers the various rights of tenants and the right of park owners under State law. At the time of its passing, 1978 to be exact, the MRL was a boon to the rights of mobile home park residents in rental parks. Over the past few decades, mobile home park owners have found ways to work around the laws as they have been written and benefit from the loopholes they have found.
I want to discuss two different ways in which the mobile park owners have taken advantage of the vague language in the MRL and found ways to line their pockets with cash at the expense of the homeowners.
First, there are matters of infrastructure within mobile home parks. Since the owners of rental mobile home parks own the land underneath the homes, those items of infrastructure – things which either are found in the land or attached to the land – belong and are the responsibility of the mobile home park owner. Among the many things which are included, one of the most problematic areas is driveways.
Driveways, according to the MRL, under §798.37.5 (c), are the sole responsibility of the mobile home park owner, unless the owner of the home has gained permission and has installed a driveway on their space. In most circumstances, the mobile home park owner has installed the driveways in the park and are therefore responsible for the maintenance and/or replacement of them.
Again, I will offer two examples from my own mobile home park regarding the problems which can arise from the lack of enforcement or lack of knowledge of these laws. My particular mobile home park had a policy of replacing older, asphalt driveways with new, concrete driveways. In two cases, the mobile home park owners passed the costs of replacing the old driveways on to the resident homeowners, totaling just under $10,000 for the two.
This is illegal under State law and I convinced the owners of the homes to take the park to Small Claims Court. In both cases, the residents won their initial court case easily since the MRL clearly states, in very unambiguous terms, that driveways installed by the park, belong to the park, and should not be paid for by the residents. In both cases, the mobile home park appealed and lost on appeal as well.
There are a number of cases which were brought to my attention after word of the legal victories got out, where parks had charged residents for the installation of driveways. In each of these cases, the residents requested new driveways because of the poor conditions of the older driveways – in one case in my mobile home park, the asphalt driveway needed to be replaced because the resident was in an electric wheelchair and the driveway was potholed and in serious disrepair.
Mobile home park owners, if left unchecked, will take advantage of the residents at every turn; there are numerous examples of this. In some cases, the park owners can be brought into line with the law through court victories. In other cases, the park owners have the advantage until the law is changed to better serve the residents.
In particular, the case of leases versus month-to-month rental agreements has fallen in favor of the mobile home park owners and will probably not change until the law itself is changed.
When entering into a rental park, there are three options which the park owner can present to the resident: a long-term lease, a shorter-term lease, or a month-to-month lease. In the case of the first two options, local mobile home rent control ordinances do not apply. In the case of a month-to-month lease, rent control does apply. There have been many cases in the past where, when a new, prospective resident approaches a rental park for a lease, the prospect is only offered one – or both – of the first two options, so they can avoid having to lease under rent control.
This practice has been challenged and the park owners have won this battle. The courts ruled that incoming, prospective residents are not technically “homeowners” and, as such, the law which is found in §798.18 does not apply to them. Once a homeowner has established residency, then §798.18 applies and all three types of lease agreements must be offered.
Mobile home park owners have used this exception to only offer long-term leases to incoming residents, in some cases for 10 or 15 years, with huge annual increases written into the language of the lease. Often, the resident doesn’t stay in their home for that length of time and therefore never is eligible for rent control protections which are offered to other residents of the same park.
In addition to discouraging new, qualified residents, this practice lines the pockets of the park owners with annual increases which would otherwise be against local rent control ordinances. This prevents, in many circumstances, existing residents from finding a buyer for their home at a decent price and often results in sales for pennies on the dollar or residents abandoning their homes outright.
State law continues to provide protections for renters and mobile homeowners. The state just passed rent control protections for apartment renters. There are a number of differences between a mobile home owner and an apartment renter and, in my next article, I will go over a few of these basic differences and what they mean to the mobile home owner.