State - INACTIVE

Ceres council says 'no' to rent control

CERES -- Mobile home park residents who have been hard-pressed by rental increases are not getting relief from the city.

Monday night, the Ceres City Council decided not to pursue a rent control ordinance, and also heeded a committee report that said it would be too costly to subsidize rents for low-income residents of mobile home parks.

The decision came long after a residents revolt shook mobile home parks in Stanislaus County in 2006 and 2007. Three park residents attended Monday's council meeting, although they claimed the city waited until Friday to tell them the issue was on the agenda.

"I think it stinks," said Sharon Burch, president of the residents committee at Colony Park Estates in Ceres. "I think they led us on for two years and did nothing for us."

City officials took up the issue in early 2006 amid a storm of protests from mobile home park residents in Ceres, Modesto and other communities in Stanislaus County. Ceres Councilmen Ken Lane and Guillermo Ochoa were appointed to a countywide committee that studied the issue. They continued their work after the panel dissolved last year.

According to their report to the council Monday, the city has "little or no ability" to roll back rents and could face huge legal bills defending a rent control ordinance. A consultant's study also showed the most dramatic rent increases have been at Colony Park Estates, a Central Avenue complex owned by Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc.

The ELS company also owns Coralwood Mobile Home Park in Modesto and Quail Meadows in Riverbank.

On average, newcomers have to pay $640 a month for a space at Colony Park, compared with $365 to $525 at other mobile home parks in Ceres.

"It really showed that one park was out of line as far as the rents go," Mayor Anthony Cannella said. "As much as I would like to help these residents, I'm not in favor of rent control that would punish the other mobile home parks for keeping their rents down."

The report estimated it would cost $420,000 a year for the city to give rental subsidies to residents with incomes less than $20,000 a year. A similar program in Turlock costs that city only $70,000 a year, but rents are not as steep and fewer people are eligible for assistance, officials said.

Last year, the Modesto City Council passed an ordinance limiting rent increases to 6 percent a year to ease the pain for residents, some of whom complained of rate increases of $250 over two years.

According to the report, Ceres shied away from rent control because there wasn't a countywide approach for sharing legal costs if park owners challenged the local ordinances.

Colony Park residents are waging their own battle with ELS in Stanislaus County Superior Court. A lawsuit filed in 2007 alleges that ELS has failed to maintain the complex. The lawsuit cites problems with sewage backing up in homes, troubles with the electrical system and poor street maintenance. The next court date is Oct. 21.

The company did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Burch said that residents expect another rent increase is coming in November. Residents are selling their homes and leaving, and ELS has been filling the vacant spaces by renting to people with campers and recreational vehicles.

Campers and RVs occupy several spaces in the park. At one space near the back of the complex, lounge chairs and other furniture were arranged outside an RV.

Burch and her husband, Merle, are trying to sell their home, but there are few buyers because of the steep rent. "People come to buy and ask what the rent is," Burch said. "They say they won't pay that for a mobile home park."

Colony Park resident Evelyn Guzman said she is moving to Texas because she has been unable to afford the rent since her husband died last year. She sold her home for $8,000, about $6,000 less than what they paid five years ago. Someone burglarized her home this week, she said.

"My children (who are grown) don't want me to stay here anymore and I can't afford the rent on one check," Guzman said.

City officials said they can't cite Colony Park's owner for code violations. Under a state law, mobile home parks fall under the purview of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Cannella said a state inspector is aware of problems at the complex, but it's up to the state to take enforcement action. He said he's given more thought to the issue since Monday's meeting and thinks the city could use redevelopment funding to assist people with extreme hardships.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.

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