A manufactured building in a mobile-home park is the only relatively affordable way for some people to own a home in Napa. But if the roadways are cratered or the lawns unruly – or a questionable fee or rent hike shows up on the monthly bill – where can a resident turn?
On Sunday, advocates for mobile home owners brought together more than 40 of their fellow owners at a Napa workshop to show them ways for them to report dangerous conditions, unkempt grounds or damaged sewer pipes – as well as uncooperative or hostile managers or owners.
Standing up for their rights – or even knowing exactly what those rights are – can be difficult for those living in a type of housing governed by its own set of state rules, often unlike the regulations for fixed-in-place houses and apartments. But a team of housing justice advocates, attorneys and state housing officials offered two hours of advice for those who may own their residences, but must rent out the ground they sit on.
The need for the mobile-home community to know its rights is growing more acute as the soaring cost of fixed housing squeezes residents – including the many seniors trying to hold onto their park spaces while living on retirement payments, according to state Sen. Bill Dodd, whose office sponsored the summit at the Napa Masonic Lodge.
“Twenty-seven thousand people commute into Napa each day, which is just crazy, and traffic is increasing,” said the Napa Democrat, a former county supervisor who sits on the Senate’s Select Committee on Manufactured Home Communities. “Young people struggle to live here, and seniors struggle to stay here.”
Whatever particular problems residents may have at their mobile-home centers, speakers at the Napa forum urged tenants not to give away their state-granted rights to landlords – and above all to decline long-term leases and spurn private arbitration that would moot their right to resolve property disputes in court.
“The last thing you want is to be in arbitration with the park,” said Craig McIntosh, a Roseville attorney specializing in mobile home law. ”You have to pay the arbitrator all the way along and believe me, the park owners know how to destroy you there. Everyone thinks arbitration is quick, it’s fast, it’s fair, (but) there’s no time limit to it and the arbitration just keeps going on.”
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“Don’t be scared of these people who put a piece of paper in front of you,” Terri Pohrman of the Vallejo Mobilehome Coalition urged a female audience member later. “Call me – don’t sign any papers without an attorney or speaking with Fair Housing. It’s intimidation – that’s exactly what they want to do.”
The afternoon brought a measure of clarity for one couple new to the mobile-home life – Patrick and Chaunte Burns, who moved to Las Casitas park in American Canyon in July.
“We’ll know now the specific people to contact, as individuals and collectively as residents of the park,” Patrick Burns said at the end of the two-hour open house. “Now we have faces to go with all the three-letter acronyms.”
Beyond better informing Napans about the legal resources available to them now, Pohrman is setting her sights higher – toward pushing for rent-stabilization protections, which have proved elusive in the valley. In June the most recent attempt, Measure F in St. Helena, would have allowed those living at the Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park to sign short-term leases of a year or less with rent increases no greater than the consumer price index, but was rejected by nearly 60 percent of voters.
Pohrman, a mobile home resident in Vallejo, said she and other members of her coalition plan to petition city councils in St. Helena, Napa and Yountville during 2020, using public comment periods to encourage them to pass rent controls at mobile home parks.
Earlier at the Napa meeting, Pohrman expressed no illusions about the constant battles ahead for protecting one of the last forms of housing within reach to many in the Bay Area’s superheated real estate atmosphere. “For the last 15 years, I’ve gone to sleep thinking about mobile home parks, and it’s like thinking about Donald Trump,” she wearily told her audience.
When a woman in the audience asked “How do you sleep?”, her reply was rueful even through her laughter: “I don’t!”