Owners and Tenants OK Voluntary Rent Control

Times Staff Writer

In an unusual twist to the issue of rent control, landlords and tenants have agreed to a series of voluntarily created regulations that will limit city mobile home park rents for the next two years.

"We worked through our differences people to people without getting the city involved," said Richard Homesly, a landlord and co-chairman of the Lomita Mobilehome Park Owners Assn. "I think there's been a compromise on both sides, and I think it's going to work."

Said Lomita tenant Donald J. Coughlin, president of the Lomita Mobilehome Tenants Assn., "I think we've come up with a very fair agreement that will give park owners fair returns on their investments and yet will limit rent raises to help our senior citizens who are living on fixed incomes."

The agreement reached Monday between Lomita's estimated 800 mobile home residents and 17 park owners is similar in many respects to rent control ordinances passed in other cities in the last several years.

It provides for rent increases equal to the change in the consumer price index, limits increases to one a year and passes on to tenants the cost of Internal Revenue Service-approved capital improvements and government-mandated fee increases.

Outside of Government

Unlike rent control in other cities, however, Lomita's has been created outside of government.

"I'm just tickled to death," said Lomita Councilman Hal Hall. "I'm glad both sides have come together on the issue without the city getting involved. I think the less government has to do with the people, the better off people are."

While the city has not intervened in the current agreement, however, the Lomita City Council did spur the process of negotiation.

In response to complaints from a group of Lomita tenants who charged that some recent rent increases in the city had been excessive, the council in May imposed a four-month moratorium on rent hikes. The council then considered the possibility of imposing a permanent rent control. But after some deliberation, the city encouraged the groups to first try to resolve their differences privately.

"It's a unique situation that was appropriate for this community," said William C. Meecham, director for local government of the Western Mobilehome Assn., a statewide park owners organization. "What you have is a recognition on the part of tenants that someone who has an investment has a right to see that investment grow, and a recognition on the part of park owners that they need to consider the financial impacts of rent increases on their tenants."

Negotiating Since August

The agreement will be officially signed by both parties Jan. 28. Landlords and tenants have been negotiating since August, when each of the groups selected representatives to participate.

"I'm surprised that people got together like this," said Dayle Saffell, vice president of tenants group. "Lomita's a very conservative town, and this is real unusual here. I feel we've really accomplished something."

Part of what many say they have accomplished--in addition to a compromise agreement that has in large part pleased both sides--is a saving for the city. In other cities that have imposed a rent control--such as Carson--the price tag is too high, they say.

Carson's mobile home rent control ordinance, passed in 1979, costs the city about $100,000 a year in administrative and legal fees. In addition, Carson incurred large legal bills when its ordinance was challenged in a series of court battles that ended with a city victory in the California Supreme Court in 1983.

Park owner representatives say that although the Lomita contract is not legally binding, they expect owners to comply with the settlement.

Said Meecham, who served as an adviser to the park owners during the negotiations, "It is the intent of the owners to abide by the agreement and in that (respect), it's a binding agreement." If an owner failed to comply with the agreement, he said, "the other owners would do their best to communicate with that owner and bring him into line with the agreement. . . . You might call it peer pressure."

Tenants say that if park owners do not abide by the agreement, they will take the matter back to the City Council with the hope of obtaining city-imposed rent control.

"I'm very hopeful about (the voluntary agreement). But if we have to, we'll go back to the City Council and ask for some type of rent stabilization," Coughlin said. "As long as (park owners) stick by this agreement we'll get along fine. Our agreement might even be used as a basis for other cities."

The rent agreement also provides for the restoration of parks to a "usable" level and establishes a procedure for resolving billing disputes. In addition, landlords and tenants say they expect that their cooperation will go beyond the terms of the agreement and lead to the resolution of other tenant complaints.

"The committees that have been established will give people somebody to go to if help is needed with any other problem," said Earl A. Lane, a tenant representative and regional director of the Golden State Mobilehome Owners League Inc., a statewide tenants organization. "Before, there was nobody people could turn to if they had a complaint about something."

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