February 1, 2013

The Mobilehome Park Owners’ Spectrum

By Lisa L. Toke

Published in the WMA Reporter, February 2013

Lisa L. Toke of Andre, Morris & Buttery has been representing mobilehome park owners in all capacities since 2004, when she joined the firm’s mobilehome park practice group. The services Lisa provides include consultation, revision of park documents, and representation in court and administrative proceedings. While Lisa loves to take cases to court, she also loves to save her clients time and money by resolving disputes outside of court.

In the years I have been representing mobilehome park owners, I have developed a theory regarding the different approaches owners take to their parks. On one end of the spectrum are the owners who focus on their residents to the detriment of their parks, referred to here as Group R. On the other end of the spectrum are the owners who focus on their parks to the detriment of their residents, referred to here as Group P. And the rest of the owners, referred to here as Group RP, are somewhere in between.

Before I wrote this article, I would have predicted that Group R would have the lowest attorney’s fees, because the residents in this group are treated so well by their owners that they don’t have anything to complain about. Read on to find out if that is the case.

We can all agree that money makes the world go around, so it is not surprising that money, in the form of rents, is probably the most important issue to owners and residents alike. Rents are, therefore, the area in which the differences among the groups are most apparent. When I first meet with an owner and ask about the rents in his park, it is a sure sign that he falls into Group R if he tells me, often sheepishly, that he has not increased them in years. If I ask why, he will offer a number of reasons but the bottom line will be that he feels badly about doing so. When about the rents in his park, it is a sure sign that he falls into Group P if he tells me his primary focus in life is to increase rents as often and by as much as possible. Of course, the Mobilehome Residency Law and local rent control ordinances limit the frequency and amount of rent increases, but Group R owners don’t even give their residents the increases to which the owners are entitled under the law. Group P owners, on the other hand, not only give their residents every increase to which they are entitled, but they come up with ways to give other increases to which they may or may not be entitled. This is not to say there is anything wrong with giving residents every increase to which the owners are entitled, just that Group R owners take a different approach to rent increases than Group P owners.

The difference in approaches taken by the different groups is also apparent in how the owners deal with violations of park rules and regulations. I have literally had a Group R owner tell me a resident had been violating a particular rule for fifteen years and the owner had not sent the resident one letter about the violation, let alone a seven-day notice. When I asked why, the owner said he did not like confrontation and kept hoping the violation would go away on its own. I have also had more than one Group P owner ask me to prepare a seven-day notice to a resident for an easily remedied violation without discussing the violation with the resident verbally or in writing. I believe the most prudent course of action, usually followed by Group RP owners, is for the owner and/or the attorney to discuss the violation with the resident and serve a notice if the discussion does not result in a resolution.

Because Group R residents are accustomed to being treated so well by their owners, they can become upset and mutiny if things change. One Group R owner, for example, had never passed a single capital expenditure through to the residents of his park, and they became so upset when he did so that they filed a failure to maintain lawsuit against him. Group P owners, on the other hand, always seem to be locked in some sort of battle with their residents, and battles, not surprisingly, generate attorney’s fees. I would therefore encourage all owners to fall into Group RP, somewhere in between Groups R and P. Such owners avail themselves of the (few) benefits to which they are entitled under the law, seek legal advice when necessary, and focus on their residents and their parks, rather than one to the detriment of the other.

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