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Illusion of Protection

Proposed County Ordinance Would Leave Mobile Home Residents Out in the Cold


On Wednesday, February 1, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is scheduled for a hearing on the closure ordinance for mobile home parks. In short, the current draft of the ordinance allows for mobile home park owners to sell the land on which the homes are located, providing residents only relocation costs within an 80-mile radius and a rent allowance for a period of time.

It is unrealistic to give people the impression that this can be done. Even if a mobile home park within that distance had an available space to rent, there are no parks that accept the transfer of used mobile homes. The issue thus becomes: Without being fully compensated, or paid, for the fair market value of the mobile homes of which they are dispossessed, residents would lack the funds to relocate anywhere near where they had resided. For the residents, most of whom are elderly and on fixed incomes, this is a severe travesty of justice: the loss of their homes without actual replacement.

Barbara Liss
Click to enlarge photo

Barbara Liss

This is a preventable circumstance, if county citizens are made aware of the gravity of the situation and demand a just law be put into place to protect the assets of their senior citizens and their families, and to prevent the mobile home park owners who do the displacing from realizing a windfall in exponential property value increases at the expense of the individual mobile home owners.

I oppose the proposal as currently formulated.

I am informed that San Luis Obispo County mobile home residents and mobile home park owners spent three years crafting a very workable ordinance, agreed upon by both sides, for SLO County. Other counties have similar ordinances on the books. Santa Barbara County mobile home owners seek a fairly balanced ordinance similar to the SLO ordinance.

I hope that the Santa Barbara Planning Commission and County Board of Supervisors review and recognize the thoroughness and hard work already invested by other counties and pass an ordinance mirroring the San Luis Obispo one. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here or show favoritism to the mobile home park owners simply because they can afford costlier representation. Santa Barbara County needs a strong closure conversion ordinance that protects homeowners from losing the value of their homes if their park should close. The relocation assistance that is offered must include in-place fair market value for homes that cannot be moved, to provide comparable replacement housing. If a park property is up-zoned, the park-owner will reap a lot of money. At least 41 other jurisdictions in the state have this provision. Santa Barbara County should offers its citizens no less.

Update, in the form of an open letter to the County Planning Commission and staff: Thank you for providing me with access to the memorandum prepared by the planning commission staff for the hearing scheduled on February 1. I have read it and although I will not be personally present at the hearing, want to voice my support for the language change proposal provided in the addendum at page 4, paragraph 2b:

The applicant shall buy the mobilehome and pay the “in-place” sale value, which shall be the appraised fair market value as determined by a certified real estate appraiser who is acceptable to the County, utilizing principles applicable in mobilehome relocation matters. The appraised value shall be determined after consideration of relevant factors, including the value of the mobilehome in its current location, assuming continuation of the mobilehome park in a safe, sanitary, and well-maintained condition.”

Unless this language is incorporated into the new ordinance, there will be unfair advantage available to be taken against the residents of mobile home parks because they are unlikely to be able to move their used mobile homes from parks closing and changing usage and zoning to new locations. Many have purchased their units outright with the intent of residing there for the balance of their retirement years and are unable to secure alternative housing of a comparable nature and kind without the provision of this language.

As well, because of the existence of the ordinance, they would be unable to seek damages in any alternate forum, such as by suing the park owners because of the protections afforded by the limitations on payments required by the ordinance. On balance, and given the high probability of windfall profit taking for altered land usage, placing the burden on the park owners to fairly compensate the unit owners makes sense, particularly when you consider the existing long term contractual understanding between the park owners and the unit owners — and the expectation the unit owners have for continued rental of the property upon which their mobile homes sit.

So long as mobile home owners, who often are elderly, on fixed incomes and under-represented when negotiating with park owners, are given proper consideration and are dealt with openly and fairly, this ordinance should accomplish its intent.

I am neither a mobile home unit owner nor a park owner. But I am watching nonetheless, as are many others. Thank you.

Barbara L. Liss is an estate planning, trust administration and probate paralegal at the law office of Christopher C. Jones, and current president of the Santa Barbara Paralegal Association. She lives in Carpinteria.

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