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RENT HIKE APPROVED AT MOBILE HOME PARK CITY BOARD OKS $20 INCREASE AT SHERWOOD.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick Staff Writer

LANCASTER - In Lancaster's first mobile home park rent increase hearing in at least seven years, the city rent board authorized Sherwood Mobile Estates to raise monthly rents the $20 its owner sought.

Before an audience of some 100 Sherwood residents, who said the hike was unjustified, the Lancaster Rent Arbitration Board voted 3-1 to permit rents to rise to an average $295 a month.

``It's a 7 percent increase. Inflation is 4 percent. The rent increases they've received in the past have been less than the Consumer Price Index ... don't think it's too unreasonable,'' said rent board member William Steele, who represents park owners on the city panel.

Rent board member Thomas Lacey voted against the increase.

The city's 1993 mobile home rent law allows a park to raise rent without a hearing if it is no more than 60 percent of the Consumer Price Index rise, so for three of the board members Tuesday night's meeting was their first meeting. Another member didn't show up to be sworn in. A deputy city attorney gave them instructions during the meeting in how to conduct business.

Steele said Sherwood's owners, who purchased the park seven months ago, met the standards set in the city mobile home park rent ordinance.

The ordinance says park owners are entitled to ``a just and reasonable'' return on their investment, based in part on changes in property taxes and rent at comparable Lancaster parks.

Sherwood's new owners said park property taxes increased $43,558 when they bought it - or $19.94 for each of its 182 spaces - and rents at six other Lancaster parks range from $302 to $375 a month.

But park residents said paying an extra $20 a month is a serious matter, particularly since the park is only for senior citizens.

Paying an extra $20 a month will be a real hardship for her elderly mother, said Peggy Meyer, who spoke on her parent's behalf at the rent hearing.

``She lives on her Social Security. Twenty dollars a month for her is a big deal,'' Meyer said. ``It will mean $20 less on groceries. It means she might have to sell her home.''

Sherwood residents said the parks to which Sherwood was compared were better maintained with more amenities. They also pointed to a March 2005 state appellate court decision that said a Chula Vista mobile home park could not pass a property tax increase through to residents as a fee.

Deputy City Attorney Allison Burns said the Chula Vista court decision involved a different situation.

In Chula Vista, she said, a park owner charged park residents a fee to cover a tax increase, in addition to the regular rent. State law controls what mobile home park owners can charge as ``pass through'' fees, specifically banning fees for property taxes, but does not regulate rent.

State law does in fact supersede a city ordinance, but the court decision doesn't apply in Sherwood's situation, Burns said.

Sherwood residents enlisted on their side former Mayor George Root, who was on the City Council when it stiffened Lancaster's rent laws. Root said the rent board's decision misinterpreted the ordinance's allowance for rent hikes to cover tax increases.

The provision was meant for park owners whose taxes are raised, Root said. It was not meant to help individuals or companies that buy a park and get a tax hike because of the reassessment triggered by the change in ownership.

``That's supposed to be covered in their cost analysis when they bought the park,'' Root said after the hearing.

Root predicted that the board's approval will lead to other Lancaster mobile home parks applying to raise their rents.

``This will open the door for the rest of the parks,'' Root said.

Charles F. Bostwick, (661) 267-5742

chuck.bostwick(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 21, 2005
Words:639
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