Mobile home renters protest threats of rent hikes and closures

Residents of Youngstown Mobile Home Park in Petaluma staged a protest Tuesday afternoon in response to threats of rent hikes and closures, even as the city strengthens protections for renters.

About 100 protesters gathered outside the mobile home park on N. McDowell Street, holding signs condemning the park owners’ actions over the past few months, which included converting the park from a seniors-only park to residents of all ages, threatening to close the park, and residents saying they were trying to raise their rents. More than $900 per month.

“When I moved here I thought: ‘I can relax, I can retire,'” Youngstown resident Danny Morton said. He said he’s lived in the mobile home park — originally intended for people 55 and older — for five years, and “I haven’t felt relaxed since I moved here. It’s been one thing after another.”

Residents carried signs Tuesday with messages such as “We are your grandparents,” “Seniors deserve care, not despair,” and “Elder abuse must stop.”

For Youngstown resident Debra Parks, the recent treatment by the park owners is actually a form of elder abuse.

“For the general public, think about your mom and dad. If they end up in a big park, there’s nothing wrong with that until someone starts harassing them and trying to make things difficult,” she said.

Many people spoke of feeling terrified in the park, especially among elderly residents.

“Some people ended up in the hospital because of all the fear and anxiety,” said Mary Rubenthal, who has lived in Youngstown since 1987. She added that the park community is a haven for older residents, especially those without or with children. Family members live far away. These people rely on neighbors for help with things like buying groceries or going to appointments.

“We tried to allay their fears and calm them down, but none of us know for sure what will happen next,” she said.

The Youngstown residents were joined by residents of Little Woods Mobile Villa, another mobile park in Petaluma facing similar concerns, as well as representatives from the North Bay Regulating Project, Legal Assistance, and the Sonoma County Tenants Union.

The park is owned by Three Pillar Communities, which describes itself on its website as a “values-driven real estate investment trust offering green, affordable, factory-built homes at scale.” The company, with a Los Altos address, operates more than 60 mobile home parks in 14 states, as well as a “strong pipeline of future acquisitions.”

The letter had not been returned to the company as of press time on Wednesday.

On July 17, the city of Petaluma adopted a new ordinance to enhance protections for mobile home renters, which went into effect on August 17 and limits the amount mobile home park owners can raise rents — either by 4% of current rents or by 4% of current rents. 70% of the Gulf Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measure of the average change in the prices of goods and services.

On July 7, days before the city adopted the new ordinance, Three Pillar Communities changed the park’s 55-plus designation to include all ages, Youngstown resident Judy Johnson said. Online listings for the park now show that it is suitable for all ages.

Then, after she and others asked the city to designate an overlay for a large park — which “would require at least 80% of the units in a designated mobile home park to be occupied by at least one person over the age of 55,” according to the city — the park department sent someone To inform residents that they intend to close the park.

On Aug. 2, residents received a 473-page package informing them that rents would be increased by $923.41 per month, Johnson said. Residents are objecting to the increase through arbitration proceedings — another right strengthened under a recent city ordinance.

Just two weeks ago, residents were told again that the park would be closed, Johnson said. By then, they had already organized a protest on Tuesday to draw attention to their plight.

The protest follows a city-led public meeting last Thursday, held to discuss the proposed mobile home overlay zone for seniors.

Nearly 100 Petaluma residents attended the meeting, which also touched on recent changes to Petaluma’s housing laws and tenants’ rights. Many of the people who attended the meeting were present at Tuesday’s protest.

“And what I will say regarding the potential closure notices that have been issued so far … is that they do not comply with city regulations. They have no legal effect,” City Attorney Eric Danley said at a meeting last Thursday. That sparked grumbling from the gathered residents, who They asked multiple questions throughout the meeting.

All mobile homes in Petaluma are located on land designated for mobile home use and park owners must submit an application to the city to close any park. The city has not yet received any requests to close the mobile home park, Danley said.

As for age designations in mobile home parks, current zoning rules don’t cover them — but at its meeting Tuesday night, just after the protest ended, the Petaluma Planning Commission supported a 4-0 vote, with two members absent, to recommend that the City Council adopt an ordinance implementing the zone Supreme mobile home overlay. The item is tentatively scheduled to be introduced at the council’s October 2 meeting, and is tentatively scheduled for a second reading at its October 16 meeting.

If approved, the overlay district would affect Leisure Lake, Petaluma Estates, Royal Oaks, Cottages of Petaluma and Youngstown mobile parks, all of which were originally classified as senior living communities.

Under the proposed rules, these parks must include signs, announcements, rules and agreements stating they are for seniors, and park owners must show compliance every two years.

Back in Youngstown, the park owners filed a petition for arbitration over the rent increases, which residents said is scheduled to take place on Oct. 10 and 11 at 9 a.m. at City Hall and on Zoom. City officials say the burden will be on park owners to show they need a rent increase above the city’s set maximum.

You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Sawhney at 707-521-5346 or On Twitter @sawhney_media.

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