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Governor Signs Assembly Bill (AB3006): $10.00 per Space Reimbursed by Every Tenant--for Legal Referrals

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Summary: Mobilehome Resident Tax, Even if Happy: Beginning January 1, 2019, the bill would require HCD to assess upon, and collect from, the mobilehome park an annual registration fee of $10 for each permitted mobilehome lot. Owners may pass this fee on to the homeowners within the park.

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Beginning July 1, 2020, this bill establishes the "Mobilehome Residency Law Protection Program Act" within the Department of Housing and Community Development. The program will be funded with a $10 tariff on mobilehome tenant lots. Park owners charge and collect the tariff, and pass it on to HCD. All so that some tenants can be steered to tenant lawyers. GSMOL sought the additional tax.

Per the author, "the measure balances the relationship between mobilehome owners and park owners by establishing a pilot program for assessing Mobilehome Residency Law violations at the State Department of Housing and Community Development. Mobilehome owners would have additional assistance resolving issues related to home sales, complaint responses, and charges leading to eviction," according to a press release from Assemblymember Stone's office.

The rationale for the new tenant charge is that finding a tenant attorney (despite existing referral services, tenant lawyer advertising, legal aid, GSMOL, Ombudsman referrals) is too arduous a task without charging a new $10.00 per space tariff for the same thing (referrals). In legal disputes with management, mobilehome tenants have legal recourse including legal action, small claims, arbitration, mediation services, HCD and other LEA enforcement resources, district attorneys. City attorneys who may enforce the MRL (per the Supreme Court decision in People v. McKale) and private damage recovery on a contingency fee basis. In California, the victim is king. You cannot drive a road without seeing seedy tenant advertising ("Just because you did it does not mean you are guilty," says one such).

Still, under the five-year pilot program will be created in the HCD to collect and evaluate complaints of violation of Mobilehome Residency Law. According to the press release, under the pilot program established by AB 3066, "HCD would select the most severe violations to refer to legal aid nonprofits, which would then provide free or sliding scale assistance to mobilehome owners in their pursuit of litigation."

And despite the undisputed facts today, the proponents stated that "for people on fixed incomes, litigation without assistance is often too expensive and burdensome to resolve many violations, including serious violations that can negatively affect quality of life," Stone said in the press release.

The author also seeks to target mentioned violations of the MRL, including common violations such as selective and inconsistent enforcement of park rules, park owners violating their own "no subletting" rules by renting mobilehomes they own, but not allowing homeowners to rent out their mobilehomes, interference with home sales, attempts to prevent homeowners or homeowners associations from use of the clubhouse, failure of property management to keep posted office hours or respond to resident complaints, bullying or threatening behavior by property managers, as well as frivolous charges leading to eviction.

Last year, Governor Brown vetoed a similar bill written by Stone, AB 1269, that would have required the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to enforce MRL and provide mandatory dispute resolution between mobilehome residents and park owners. Governor Brown indicated in his veto message that, while he considered the bill "well-intentioned," an inadequate fee structure to support the additional workload was a key reason for his veto.

Currently, there is an online "Mobilehome Assistance Center" at the state HCD website, with a "Hotline" link for complaints about violations of Mobilehome Residency Law. This "hotline" receives about 100 complaints each month from around the state. That equals about 1,200 complaints per year, with no data on how many complaints are frivolous or how many get resolved without any action taken. That number of complaints compared to revenue collected equals about $3,000 per complaint.

Some are saying that this burden on tenants, for sake of a few, is the creation of a sledge hammer in search of a fly. But Park residents well know who to summon for assistance. Referral services, legal aid, bar association, non-profit organizations, are all reaming with lawyers.

Referral? It imposes a superfluous burden on those who can least afford it. And there is no exemption for happy residents. Every homeowner pays. It is unclear to many, why GSMOL is heaping more taxes on its members.

Cherry-picking: The further requires HCD to select complaints for evaluation under the program, as provided. The bill would require the HCD to ally with "qualified and experienced nonprofit legal services providers" and, if a complaint submitted to the program is not resolved during a 25-day period for negotiation between management and the complaining party, the bill would require the referral of complaints selected for evaluation to an appropriate enforcement agency or one of those nonprofit legal services providers.

The bill would require park owners to provide specified information to HCD within 15 business days from the postmark date or electronic transmission of a request for that information and require the imposition of a noncompliance citation of $250 for each failure to comply.

In this example here, it appears the legislature disregards the needs of satisfied residents served in the well-operated mobilehome communities throughout the state. As though the possibility of happy residents who may want to "opt out" do not exist. Is everyone ensconced in a relative state of misery? Based on my 40 years of representing park owners of all kinds, it is just the opposite. A scant few are scripted to be unhappy. But here, the tail is wagging the dog. The legislature and perhaps some residents need a villain as a cohesive force to solidify social action. The park owner is the wrong target. And at a needless cost to the protected class. Inflicting this self-imposed remedy at the heavy burden put on the overwhelming numbers of satisfied residents is merely tilting at windmills.

--TRD

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