Mobile home owners at risk of eviction seek help at Imperial Beach

When Rachel Orozco moved to the Miramar Imperial Beach Mobile Home and RV Park over a year ago, she considered herself lucky. His family lived nearby and the rent was cheap.

The nearly five-acre site, just half a mile from the Pacific Ocean, is home to around 100 people, most of whom live in mobile homes. It wasn’t much – a patch of dirt and concrete – but Orozco, 32, was proud of it. She had carved out a little space for herself and her nine-year-old son.

The park is one of the last affordable housing options for seniors, vets and other low-income people in the area, but it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to stick to due to a political expensive.

Orozco must pack up and leave for at least 48 hours every six months. Otherwise, she could be evicted, as the park does not consider its residents worthy of state protection until they have been there for nine months in a row.

First, Orozco had to find another place to park his trailer. She spent two nights with her family and two nights at the hotel. She had to take personal leave in the process. The food in his fridge has gone bad. She returned to the property to find that the required deposit had increased by $250.

In total, the cost of temporarily leaving the park was roughly equal to his $740 rent, which undermined his reason for being there in the first place. She scoured listings for apartments in the area but quickly concluded that the rest of Imperial Beach was too expensive.

Her last move was in March and she has another planned for September. “It’s just stressful knowing that I’ll probably have to do it again,” she told me.

Orozco is by no means the only person in the park facing this dilemma. Other residents chose to stay put and fight the eviction with the help of a pro bono lawyer while raising awareness for their cause in the halls of government and the court of public opinion.

For years, the park has been a hotbed of political organization. With the help of the Alliance of California for Community Empowerment, or ACCE, residents have come together to resist the wave of displacement and homelessness.

Although most mobile home residents own their shelters, the land beneath them was nearly sold in 2019 to make way for condominiums. The developer backed down after the city made changes to the proposal. The deal fell apart months before the pandemic hit.

“Fortunately, we had a roof over our heads,” said Juan Nevarez, president of the park residents’ association.

Ownership changed hands earlier this year, moving from one company to another and changing names in the process. Siesta RV Park Inc. sold it to Miramar Imperial Beach LLC for $11.3 million. All the residents I spoke to pay between $700 and $800 per month, including utilities. New tenant rates start at $1,250.

Around the time development plans fell through in 2019, the six-month move-out policy came into effect. The new residents had no choice, but some of the old dug in. They continued to live as they had before, paying their rent every month, but because they rent the land under their properties, they don’t have full control: if they want to sell their mobile homes, the park has to agree to let the buyer move in.

Contacted by phone last week, Erin Ogg, one of the park’s principal owners, who bought the property as part of an investment fund, said the six-month move-out policy was built into the leases whose Miramar Imperial Beach LLC inherited. When asked why the new owners didn’t just get rid of the policy, she called it a necessary step to make on-the-spot repairs before state protections kick in.

“Otherwise they have residency rights,” she said. “We are trying to make the park much more enjoyable.”

She declined to answer further questions, citing an emergency water leak at one of three properties she manages in Oregon, and referred me to Victor Martinez and Associates. The Ontario, California-based property management company did not return requests for comment.

The locals don’t buy it. The six-month move-out policy could make repairs easier, but it also opens the door to rent increases. Several weeks ago, park managers added new garbage and sewer fees to the bills.

“They systematically push people away,” Nevarez said.

A gathering in june brought reporters onto park property. Consuelo Villalpando, vice president of the park’s residents’ association, spoke at the event knowing it could give her some warmth. The 68-year-old said she moved to the park four years ago following a divorce and was herself a former property manager living on a fixed income.

Her stay there predates the six-month move policy, and she has no intention of agreeing to those terms.

Her brother, who lived in and co-owned her mobile home, died in mid-June. Days after the rally, she received a letter from management claiming she was not a legal occupant of the property – even though she had been on monthly bills for years – and the park would not accept payment rent unless she asks for permission to continue living there.

This led to a stalemate. Villalpando showed me a receipt for the warrant she gave the park on July 1 as well as a letter from the manager nearly two weeks later saying she had three days to pay the rent or vacate the site. Otherwise, the park has threatened to take legal action.

“Because I’m a troublemaker, they’re looking for ways to get me out,” she said. “I just want peace of mind, a quiet environment.”

After the property changed hands earlier this year, the park’s residents’ association warned property managers they wanted to collectively buy the park if it were to be put up for sale again. ACCE pioneered the idea of ​​asking for public funds to help create a community land trust.

Mobile homes are relatively cheap to buy, so it’s no surprise that shipments of new manufactured homes have generally increased as housing costs soar and baby boomers at the bottom of the socio-economic -economic retire.

Against all odds, this is what makes mobile homes, in the words of one capital adviser, “a darling of private equity.” Blackstone, the New York-based company that bought around 5,800 apartments in San Diego last year, also bought a portfolio of 14 mobile home communities in 2018, following in the footsteps of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund.

Other investment advisers note that mobile home parks have higher rates of return than apartments because the cost of running them is relatively low. Mobile homes depreciate faster than other types of real estate, which means the owner can deduct more from their taxes. And because demand for manufactured homes increases during a recession, investments in mobile home parks are relatively resilient.

As one wealth manager explained, “This stranded tenant base is what allows park owners to enjoy phenomenally stable revenue numbers, even in the face of a major recession.” At least two real estate investment trusts – Sun Communities and Equity LifeStyle Properties – are publicly traded. Their shares have exploded over the past decade.

Given all of this, it’s not hard to see why investors would watch the “big downsizing” and seem dazed by its prospects.

“They’ve turned housing into a commodity,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, ACCE’s legal director. “People make money doing nothing.”

Housing, in other words, is no longer a matter of supply and demand these days. It is a question of financialization.

The fact that mobile home parks are relatively inexpensive to operate doesn’t just make them a vehicle for speculation. The structures are also difficult to move and maintain. That’s why California’s Mobile Home Residency Act, first passed in 1978, states from the outset that residents of mobile homes deserve special protections.

Under state law, mobile home leases can only be terminated for one of seven reasons, including a drug or prostitution conviction and nonpayment of rent. But these justifications only apply if the tenant is at fault and there is a possibility of correcting the problem.

One of the obstacles against residents is that California does not consider an RV owner a resident worthy of protection until they have occupied land for nine months. Another hurdle is that AB 1482, the state’s tenant protection law passed in 2019 that capped annual rent increases, does not apply to mobile home parks.

In the meantime, residents have started attending meetings at the Imperial Beach Library with Alysson Snow, who runs a housing rights clinic at the University of San Diego School of Law, to consider their options. Snow defends several of the residents in unlawful detention cases. But as she acknowledged, even the threat of eviction is a powerful tool against a resident because the dispute becomes a public record for the next landlord to see.

“It’s okay if you win,” she told me. “The mere fact that someone has filed a complaint against you makes it difficult to go elsewhere.”

Going forward, Snow recommended that Imperial Beach take its own steps to extend state rent caps inside the park and outlaw the six-month move-out policy.

I ran this from Mayor Serge Dedina, who said he was horrified to learn of the treatment inside the park after residents and organizers testified at a public hearing in May. In response, the city council ordered the city manager to watch it. The problem, Dedina said, is that the regulatory structure for mobile home parks falls under state jurisdiction.

ACCE also suggested that if residents can’t find the money to buy the park themselves, the city finds it instead.

“If we had funding, I would absolutely support this in a second,” Dedina said. “Overall, for me, one of the learning experiences as mayor is the shocking condition of people living in trailer parks and the shocking lack of interest from the state of California.”

Some sort of solution is in the works, although the details are not yet clear. In an email, Imperial Beach City Manager Andy Hall told me he was working on proposals that would stabilize rents and meet the park’s moving policy. “We hope to present them to the city council as early as September,” he said.

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