Petaluma officials had not reviewed the city’s ordinance stabilizing mobile home rentals since its inception in 1994. But as of Monday night, city council members agreed that changes to the ordinance were needed to ease the financial burden on mobile home park residents.
There was no vote on the issue at the June 5 workshop, but staff tabled amendments to be included in the city’s current ordinance, which caps the annual rent increase for RV renters at 6% — but that could soon be lower .
“I’m really pleased that the staff have this before us and that we’re making progress on this,” said Mayor Kevin McDonnell.
Under current regulation, annual rent increases may not exceed 6% of the base rent or 100% of the local consumer price index, whichever is lower. But a majority of council members on Monday agreed to lower those numbers so increases cannot exceed 4% of base rent or 70% of CPI (whichever is lower). The change is consistent with Santa Rosa’s ordinance.
“I wish there was a little more consistency in the rules across communities,” Councilor Dennis Pocekay said.
In May 2022, the City Council vowed to amend the city’s mobile home rental regulations as part of its top ten citywide priorities for this year, and council members are now expected to cast an official vote on such changes at their June 19 meeting. The changes could come into effect as early as August.
Among the changes that council members are ready to implement are new rules for the arbitration process between tenants and park owners. In late 2021, that process became critical for residents at the Youngstown mobile home park in Petaluma, east of Highway 101, where park owner Daniel Weisfield sought to increase rents by 40%.
In response, Youngstown residents mobilized to oppose the increase, and a referee ultimately denied the increase in a February 2022 ruling. It was only the second arbitration in Petaluma since the passage of the Mobile Home Rent Stabilization Ordinance in 1994.
On Monday, council members discussed changes to the arbitration process, including a requirement for park owners to refer any request for arbitration to tenant service providers designated by the city. Another change would prohibit arbitration from being held due to the December holiday season, and another would prevent park owners from charging higher rents than the city allows while an arbitration hearing is pending.
Under current regulations, if a park owner announces a rent increase above the permitted annual rent cap, at least half of the affected tenants of a park must request an arbitration hearing. However, the staff recommended an amendment that would require park owners seeking an increase above the allowable annual rent cap of any amount to file a request for arbitration.
“This change would place the burden of initiating arbitration on park owners seeking to increase their rents above the annual rent cap,” the employee report said.
Another change would require park owners not only to provide tenants with the city’s current ordinance terms, but also to be transparent to tenants on annual caps on rent increases and all communications in English and Spanish, or the language in which a lease agreement is written has been completed, must submit created.
Even under the current regulation, if a mobile home pitch becomes a “lawfully vacant space” – which is defined in the June 5 staff report as a result of a mobile home tenant moving to another space or a valid termination of a tenancy – the park owner may for these Space without restrictions require a new ground rent so that park owners receive a reasonable return on maintenance and other real estate costs. The majority of the city council agreed to keep this rule unchanged.
For details of the June 5 workshop and proposed changes, see cityofpetaluma.primegov.com/Portal/Meeting?meetingTemplateId=5270.
Amelia Parreira is a contributor to the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.