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Pollution. Loss of power. Unsafe facilities. In “On edge of a desert paradise, Coachella farm workers live in grim conditions,” California Watch contributor Patricia Leigh Brown details the hardships of Eastern Coachella Valley mobile home residents. Here, you will find ways you can become part of a potential solution. We’ve listed contact information for key government officials and agencies, resources for mobile home owners (including volunteer and donation opportunities), and a Q&A with two experts on California’s Mobilehome Residency Law.
If you want to alert California Watch to issues in the Coachella Valley, text COACHELLA to 30644 or click here. If you are a mobile home owner or a mobile home park owner, please share your experiences with us by clicking here.
Understanding your rights as a mobile home owner
The relationship between a mobile home owner and a mobile home park owner is unlike any other. Renters typically own their mobile home but rent the land where it’s situated. Under California law, both the mobile home owner and mobile home park owner have rights and responsibilities. The law is difficult to navigate, so we reached out to Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Manufactured Homes and Communities, and Tim Sheahan, a vice president of the Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League, for explanation.
California Watch: What is the Mobilehome Residency Law?
Sen. Lou Correa: The “MRL” is California’s landlord/tenant law for mobile home park residents. No other state has such a similar, comprehensive body of law.
Tim Sheahan: It goes beyond the rights of regular landlord/tenant law because of the captive nature of having a large and immobile financial investment affixed to someone else’s land.
CW: The Mobilehome Residency Law is a civil code. Who enforces it? If the law is being violated, what are the recourses for a mobile home owner?
LC: California Civil Code is enforced through the courts system. Recourse for a mobile home owner who feels their rights have been violated under the MRL is to bring their case against the violator (either the park owner or manager, or another resident) before a judge, usually in the venue of small claims court.
TS: Typically, the burden is on both homeowners and park owners to file civil suits to enforce their rights, but the MRL does give city and county attorneys, along with the state attorney general, authority to file civil actions.
CW: Are the basic rights of mobile home owners protected under the Mobilehome Residency Law? Or do other laws pertain to them?
LC: Basic residency rights – the right to live a reasonably peaceful existence – of mobile home owners are protected under the MRL. Other rights, such as personal safety, depending upon the case, may fall under the protection of the criminal code.
CW: When it comes to park maintenance, who is responsible for maintaining the common areas?
LC: The park owner is responsible for maintaining the common areas of a park. The common area amenities are listed in the resident’s rental agreement. In the unusual case where a resident’s actions may damage or compromise the common area, then the resident is liable for correcting the damage or restriction caused.
CW: Does the park owner’s responsibility include access to water and electricity?
LC: Yes. Basic utilities are parkwide necessities. Some older parks distribute water and electricity through a master meter/submeter system. Newer parks are on an individual metered system, where each resident’s home has a separate meter and receives a utility bill directly from the utility provider.
TS: Rental contracts are also supposed to specify services provided.
CW: Can a park continue to collect rent if its permit to operate has been suspended?
LC: If the state Department of Housing and Community Development has officially suspended the park’s Permit to Operate, then the park cannot legally collect rent during the time of the suspension.
React & Act
CW: How do evictions work?
LC: Because they are expensive, time consuming and emotionally wrenching, evictions are options of last resort for park owners. After the park owner has followed the provisions in the MRL for notifying the resident of the violation and allowing the resident an opportunity to correct the violation, and if the resident has not corrected the violation, then the park owner may file an unlawful detainer lawsuit (eviction) against the resident. An eviction period typically lasts only 30 days. Once the resident receives the court-ordered eviction notice, the resident has five days to file a written response. If the court does not receive the resident’s written response by the end of the fifth day, then the resident’s eviction is typically guaranteed. Once the eviction judgment is issued by the court, and if the resident has not vacated the park, then the sheriff may be summoned to forcibly remove the resident from the park. Information on legal advocacy can be obtained from the court.
TS: If evicted, the homeowner is supposed to be given a reasonable period of time to find a buyer or to move the home.
CW: If a park is closing down, are there any special eviction steps that must be taken? Do they have to help with relocation?
LC: In jurisdictions where no permits are required to close a park, then the park must give residents at least a one-year written notice of termination of tenancy. Where local permits are required, the park must give residents a 15-day written notice that the park owner will appear before the local planning commission or board to request permits for a change of use. After approval of all permits, the park gives the residents a six-month notice of termination. In this case, the local jurisdiction may require the park to pay the reasonable relocation costs (determined by the local commission or board) of displaced residents.
TS: There are some steps and timetables that have to be followed. State law leaves it pretty open for local government to mitigate reasonable compensation for homeowners. Local ordinances can be adopted or provide zoning protection of the mobile home communities (to discourage closure) or protection against unfair rent increases.
CW: Can a park limit the amount of water or electricity a mobile home owner uses?
TS: A lot of our laws are based upon what might be considered “reasonable.” If the park pays for water usage, it might be reasonable for them to restrict such things as outside watering, washing cars and driveways. Most homeowners pay for electricity, but because the utility infrastructure is so poor in some parks, some owners have restricted or prevented the use of such things as air conditioners, dishwashers, washing machines and clothes dryers because such appliances cause such a heavy electrical drain that it could create power outages. The park is required to meet the utility needs of every home at the time the home is installed.
LC: A park may request that residents scale back on usage during peak hours, as may be the case in some older parks that have smaller utility delivery systems. If a park shuts down utilities for a period long enough to cause a health and safety emergency, then the resident may contact the state Department of Housing and Community Development or the local health or building department, depending upon the agency that has enforcement jurisdiction. Part of California’s diverse landscape is its vintage trailer parks that were established prior to the widespread availability of microwave ovens, hair dryers and plasma televisions. In the case of an appliance as seemingly as basic as a window-box air-conditioning unit, if all coaches are running theirs on high output during a heat wave, it could cause a serious strain on the park’s electrical infrastructure.
CW: Do these laws apply to all mobile home residents?
TS: (Many Coachella Valley mobile home parks are on Indian land, and) Indian land is often considered sovereign, so state laws likely don’t apply. So the feds have to be called in.
Resources for mobile home owners/ways to get involved
Coachella Valley Healthcare Initiative
Write: Regional Access Project Foundation Inc.
75-105 Merle Drive, Suite 800
Palm Desert, CA 92211
Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League
Write: 11021 Magnolia St.
Garden Grove, CA 92841
Download California Mobilehome Residency Law here. En español.
National Consumer Law Center
Write: 1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 510
Washington, DC 20036
Key government agencies, officials
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer
Write: 312 N. Spring St., Suite 1748
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Write: Office of Public Affairs
Department of the Interior
1849 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20240
California Department of Toxic Substances Control
Write: P.O. Box 806
Sacramento, CA 95812-0806
Department of Housing and Community Development
Write: 1800 Third St.
Sacramento, CA 95811-6942
Office of Mobilehome Ombudsman: 800-952-5275 or http://www.hcd.ca.gov/codes/ol/ombpg-menu.html
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Write: 451 7th St. SW
Washington, DC 20410
Environmental Protection Agency
Write: U.S. EPA Region 9
75 Hawthorne St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Report possible environmental violation: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/complaints/index.html
En español: www.epa.gov/espanol
Mobile Home Tenant Loan Assistance Program (Riverside County Economic Development Agency)
Write: 44-199 Monroe St., Suite B
Indio, CA 92201
Riverside County Department of Environmental Health
Write: 4065 County Circle Drive, Room 104
Riverside, CA 92503
Riverside County Transportation & Land Management Agency
Write: P.O. Box 1629
Riverside, CA 92502-1629
Senate Select Committee on Manufactured Homes and Communities
Write: 1020 N. St., Room 520
Sacramento, CA 95814