The tenants of Goleta’s Rancho Mobile Home Estates — who own their structures but rent the land they sit upon — scored another victory this week when Judge Denise de Bellefeuille ruled on Wednesday that the owner of the park would not currently be allowed to convert it into a condominium-like property. (Read about the arguments in the case here.) It was the second big win in just over a month for these tenant-homeowners, who also were on the victorious side of a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in December that determined their existing rent control ordinance was legal. (Read about that decision, which may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, here.)
Specifically, de Bellefeuille ruled that the park owner, Daniel Guggenheim, did not properly complete a homeowner survey that is mandated by state law before subdividing the property and that the City of Goleta did not then adequately consider the results of the one survey that was conducted, which only received responses from a tiny fraction of residents. For the condo conversion — in which the homeowners then have the option to buy the land they rent, a move that effectively eliminates rent control (except for low-income tenants) once the first parcel is sold — to now go forward, the judge demanded that a new survey take place with the input and support of the Monarch Country Mobile Home Owners Association (which represents the Rancho homeowners) and that the city then fully consider the results of that survey before approving the conversion. Considering that the tenant-homeowners overwhelmingly appear to oppose the condo conversion, the judge’s decision would seem to sink any hope of converting without more court battles in the future.
”Once again, determination and persistence in our work to protect our homes from a most aggressive and many-years campaign by mega-wealthy investor/developer real estate park owners to eliminate rent stabilization ordinances for the pads under our homes, and/or do an end-run via sham conversions is paying off,” exclaimed Monarch president Kenneth Tatro in a victory email that called this a win for his compatriots statewide. “Had we not filed this case, the equity in our homes would have been wiped out, and even some folks would surely have lost their homes.”
His attorney, James Ballantine, concurred, explaining, “This is a great victory for the homeowners at Rancho Mobile Home Park, who were facing yet another assault by this park owner on their equity in their homes. In this case it was the park owner attempting to condominium-ize the park and charge the homeowners for the value of their spaces for which they have already paid.” He explained that the case can be appealed and that it will be likely due to Guggenheim’s “proclivity to (unsuccessfully) appeal the decisions against him.” Added Ballantine, “However, the judge’s decision is legally sound and solidly based upon the factual record in this case, so an appeal in this case is likely merely to add to the park owner’s losing streak of appeals.”
Guggenheim’s attorney in this matter, Thomas Casparian, issued the following prepared statement: “With all due respect to the Court, its decision is directly contrary to that of several other trial courts and courts of appeal. The decision cites a only single case in support, which came out after our matter was argued to this Court which the parties never briefed. In fact, the parkowner won that appellate case, which ruled that a City cannot require majority resident support for approval. We will likely ask the Court to reconsider its decision, and we will certainly take the case to the Court of Appeal if necessary, where we have won these issues on appeal every time.”
“The sad fact is many Park residents,” Casparian continued, “want the ability to own the lots they can now only rent and they will be prevented from doing so by this decision. Yet every resident would have the right to continue to rent, and low income renters ($85,700 or below for a family of four) would have strict rent control protection forever.”
Though also technically on the losing side, the City of Goleta’s attorney Tim Giles was actually pleased with the decision, because the young city felt hand-cuffed into approving the conversion due to the vagueness of existing state law. “The city welcomes Judge de Bellefeuille’s clarification regarding this ordinance,” said Giles. “The fact that she recognized the city was diligent in attempting to understand this language shows that it is in need of judicial clarification.” Giles said that the city is also grateful to hear that Assemblymember Das Williams is planning to introduce legislation to make sense out of the state laws regarding condo conversion of mobile home parks. “We hope that it’s successfully passed by the legislature and signed by the governor,” said Giles.