Selma makes headway on mobile home rent stabilization

Selma City Council directs city staff to research, draft an ordinance imposing rent stabilization regulations on mobile home parks

Selma City Councilmember Blanca Mendoza-Navarro addresses city staff during the City Council meeting Feb. 5, 2024. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published February 22, 2024  • 
1:00 pm

SELMA – City staff and council members have not forgotten about the requests for help with rising rental costs that older Selma residents living in mobile home parks brought up last year. 

At its meeting on Feb. 20, the Selma City Council revisited the conversation around mobile home rent stabilization and unanimously agreed to move forward with finding a solution that works for all parties involved. Dozens of residents attended the meeting, and the council heard more than 15 comments about the situation, mainly from residents who are worried they will be priced out of their homes.

“I’ve heard you, I’ve heard your issues in the past, and I do feel for you, because I’m all for it,” Councilmember Sarah Guerra said to the residents present. “I think that we need to have some kind of rent stabilization here in the community of Selma, because this is what’s gonna happen, and it’s gonna happen over and over if we don’t get some kind of control.” 

The topic was first brought up at a council meeting in November 2023 by mobile home park residents — primarily older adults living in Selma’s McCall Village — who asked the city to take action to protect them from burdensome rent increases. 

Since then, city staff looked into average mobile home rental costs across the state, as well as what kind of ordinance they could create to address the issue. At the meeting, staff asked the council for direction on what they would want to see in the ordinance before they continue with their research. 

City Manager Fernando Santillan said that with the direction from council, city staff will bring back a draft of a rent stabilization ordinance for the council to review in about three months. 

Community feedback

At the council meeting, City Clerk Reyna Rivera read two letters the council received in opposition to the creation of an ordinance. 

“Despite what you have read in the media or what you may have heard from only one side, our rent increases have been more than reasonable,” Joe McHenry, a part-owner of McCall Village, wrote. “In the last 20 years, our rent increase average is 3.5%.” 

McHenry acknowledged that last year’s rent increase was larger, at nearly 7%, but wrote that “while seniors received more than 8% increase in social security, park owners remained saddled with an increase in cost to operate our park.” 

McCall Village residents have said that because most of them live on fixed incomes, yearly increases in their rents are difficult to keep up with, especially as the cost of all other living expenses rises as well. 

Resident Betty Alice read out McCall Village’s yearly increases in rent since 2016 to the council and said that “instead of social security helping us to go forward a little, management helps us to go backward.” 

Many mobile home park residents own their mobile home but rent the land that it sits on, and they also pay mobile home park owners for the cost of utilities and other amenities provided within a mobile home community. Moving a mobile home is costly and it is challenging to find a new space; when mobile home owners cannot afford the space rent, their options are limited. 

Further, many mobile home residents are living on social security income and would not be able to afford rent anywhere else in the city, nor do some of them have any family they would be able to live with. 

Residents said they are deeply worried about future increases and what will happen to them if they cannot afford to live in their current residence. They also spoke about how the management of their mobile home park has decreased in quality over the last few years and how they are unhappy with how security, utilities and amenities are handled. 

Some residents who spoke at the meeting said that it sounded like the McCall Village residents had more of a management issue than a rent stabilization issue and suggested that instead of imposing a rent stabilization ordinance on all mobile home parks in the city, the council should work to mediate the issues the McCall Village residents have had with the park owners.

Drafting a rent stabilization ordinance

Deputy City Manager Jerome Keene explained that this ordinance would be specifically about rent stabilization, not rent control. As opposed to rent control, which often places a specific limit on the amount a landlord can charge for rent, stabilization is meant to prevent excessive increases in rent over time, Keene said. 

According to the city staff report, rent stabilization would also prevent the exploitation of the city’s current mobile home inventory “while maintaining the opportunity for mobile home park owners to receive a fair and reasonable return on their investment.” 

Keene said that the rent stabilization methodology — meaning how the allowable increase in rent is calculated — is an important element that the city needs to work out for the ordinance.

Similar to the rules outlined for other rental properties by the state’s Tenant Protection Act of 2019, a local rent stabilization ordinance could allow for a percentage increase of either a specific amount — such as a flat rate of 5% — or an amount based on how much the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased over the year, whichever is less. 

“That CPI increase I think is the crux of some of this discussion, and depending on where you look, CPI can vary depending on the source,” Keene said. “You could have a national CPI, you could have the Western region CPI … so depending on the source you look at, using a more regionalized, specialized source for CPI may benefit (the city).”

Keene said the ordinance would need to be specific about what CPI to use when calculating allowable rent increases so that different mobile home parks are not using different sources. 

The ordinance would also include requirements for notifications of rental increases, such as every resident being notified on the same day at least three months in advance of the increase. 

That aspect would address one of the concerns previously brought up by McCall Village residents, which was a “perceived lack of disclosure … with how their rent was increased,” Keene said. 

Keene said that when drafting the ordinance, the city will need to take into consideration the exact definition of what constitutes rent, because some rents include utility costs and some may just be a “base” rent, and the methods that residents would be able to protest rental increases. 

If there is a protest to a rent increase, Keene said the ordinance would need to specify “what those petition requirements would be and who could provide those, … who the reviewing body of said petition would be, … and then what that process would be in terms of the information presented and how it’s presented, … and then what the review standards of that petition would be.” 

The city council did not give specific suggestions for those topics, but directed staff to draft an ordinance that was well-defined and included the elements Keene mentioned.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter