OCEANSIDE — To avoid a possible citizen lawsuit City Council revised ballot wording on the vacancy decontrol ordinance at a special meeting Feb. 28. The June ballot item will now read in part, “Allowing space rents to increase following sales or conveyance of a manufactured home.”Most significantly, the words “to increase to market value,” as it originally read has been dropped.
Oceanside voters represented by The Sutton Law Firm originally asked that ballot words be changed from “to market value” to “without limits” to represent the true intention of the ordinance.
Although the exact word change was not made, the Oceanside homeowner group that asked for the ballot revision said the outcome of the special meeting was a victory.
“We finally got City Council to listen to us,” said Bob Markley, an Oceanside mobile home owner. “The false claim on the ballot that rents can be raised ‘to market value’ would have made it impossible to get a fair election.”
Opponents of vacancy decontrol pointed out that most mobile home owners are retired elderly and veterans who live on a fixed income and count on their space rent to remain controlled while they live in their homes, and for future sale of their homes. If upheld, vacancy decontrol will make it difficult for current homeowners to recoup any equity, and subsequent homeowners will face space rents that can be increased without limits.
Numerous speakers said they are angry that vacancy decontrol is on the ballot after over 14,000 signatures were collected to repeal it.
“You don’t hear any of us,” Nadine Scott, an Oceanside resident, told the council. “It’s wrong and unethical to prey on the less fortunate who are less able to defend themselves.”
Scott then stood in silence for a minute to illustrate not being heard.
“Vacancy decontrol legalizes the crime of taking personal property,” said Oceanside resident Suzanna Ray. “It’s taking of a whole house.”
The previous rent ordinance controlled space rents and provided park owners a yearly increase on space rents and a guaranteed 9 to 43 percent return on their investment.
Many feel vacancy decontrol gives all the property rights to the park owners and none to the homeowners.
Others said it is time to change the previous ordinance and uphold vacancy decontrol.
“The truth is no one is going to be kicked out of their homes,” Amy Epsten, mobile home park owner, said.
“People are talking like somehow vacancy decontrol is the end of the world,” Councilman Jerry Kern said. “You’re protected as long as you live in your home.”
Kern added in an interview after the meeting that future homebuyers have the benefit of market value limiting what park owners will charge on space rents.
This was not the case 30 years ago when the rent control ordinance was originally passed. At that time some park owners doubled space rents and created an unprecedented vacancy rate.
Many believe if vacancy decontrol passes this could happen again to the next mobile home owners.
“I’m not in favor of this,” said Mayor Jim Wood. “The public needs to be informed of what it actually means. It’s confusing for people who don’t live in the parks. I think it’s intentional.”
Melba Bishop, former Oceanside councilwoman from 1980 to 1984 and 1990 to 1994, was a leader in drafting and passing the city rent control ordinance. She said she took on the challenge when a mobile home owner told her about unfair space rent practices.
Bishop said she continues to get daily calls from mobile home owners who have rent issues with park owners even with the rent control ordinance in place. Without the protection of the rent control ordinance homeowners will face frightening uncertainty, she added.
Bishop described most mobile home owners as elderly veterans or widows.
“They’ve been able to live a good life in their mobile homes and built communities,” Bishop said. “The older people help each other. They even have their funerals at the clubhouse. Everybody knows everybody. They take care of each other.”
She added that it is critical for rent control to stay in effect so homeowners can remain in their homes, and sell their homes at a fair price when they go into assisted living.
“Who’s going to buy a coach if the park owner upon conveyance can raise the rent as much as they want to?” Bishop asked.