Activists Target Mobile Home Parks : Adults-Only Housing Challenged in Legislature, Courts
Civil liberties groups are striving to make 1985 the year in which mobile home parks--the last legal bastion of adults-only housing in California--will be barred from excluding children.
“It is the last loophole in housing discrimination against children,” said Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles attorney who successfully sued an all-adult mobile home park in Malibu last year. “The battle is joined.”
Proponents on both sides of the issue predict that the long-debated question of who may live in mobile home parks could be decided this year in the Legislature, the California Supreme Court, or both.
In the San Gabriel Valley there are about 175 mobile home parks with more than 10,000 spaces, said a spokesman from the state Department of Housing. While most are in the East Valley, El Monte leads the list with 50 parks and 1,675 spaces.
Several Parks Elsewhere
Pomona has 19 parks with a total of 1,868 spaces, La Verne has eight parks with 1,752 spaces, and San Dimas has six parks with 1,350 spaces. Other concentrations are in Rosemead, South El Monte, Baldwin Park and Glendora.
Attention is being focused on mobile home parks because the other strongholds of all-adult living have been struck down by the courts. In 1982, the state Supreme Court ruled that apartment owners could no longer refuse to rent to children because doing so violated anti-discrimination provisions of the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. A year later, the court ruled that condominiums could not ban children.
A case originating in Los Angeles has provided the Supreme Court with the opportunity to rule on the mobile home issue.
Last November, the Appellate Department of Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled that mobile home parks in the county could no longer bar families with children unless the park qualified as senior citizen housing. The decision is being appealed by attorneys for the Point Dume Mobile Home Park in Malibu, which tried to evict Steven and Barbara Zipp after their daughter was born in 1980.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide by April 10 whether it will accept the case for review, said Allred, the Zipps’ attorney.
2 Bills Introduced
Meanwhile, two opposing bills dealing with mobile home residency have been introduced in the state Legislature.
William Craven (R-San Diego), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Mobile Homes, has introduced a measure that has gained the support of numerous consumer advocacy and civil rights groups, including the Consumers Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Gray Panthers and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. It would prohibit mobile home parks from discriminating against children, but it would permit the existence of senior citizen parks for those 55 and older.
A second bill, to the surprise of consumer groups, is being carried by Assembly Majority Leader Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles), a foe of other adult-only types of housing, who filed his bill this month just before the deadline for bill introductions.
Roos’ bill would maintain the all-adult status quo. As a result of the Zipp case, Los Angeles since November has been the only county in the state where the all-adult park is illegal. Linda Wilson, an aide to Roos, said the bill was intended to abrogate the Zipp decision so the laws would be uniform throughout the state.
Owners Support Bill
Roos’ bill has been endorsed by the Western Mobilehome Assn., which represents 2,000 park owners. “I hope people understand having Los Angeles County out of step with the rest of the state is not a good policy,” said Denny Amundson, the association’s executive director.
The Zipp decision has caused confusion among park owners, residents and prospective buyers with children in Los Angeles. Some families apparently are still being turned away from mobile home parks, while others are being warned that they could be evicted if the Supreme Court rules in the park owners’ favor in the Zipp case.
“I’m taking the position that adult-only (parks) are alive,” said Linda Lester, one of the Point Dume park’s attorneys. “I will continue to take that position until we exhaust legal remedies.”
Craven said he introduced his “compromise” bill to end debate on the issue. The senator said recent court decisions that have gone against mobile home parks make it obvious the tide has turned away from park owners who want to exclude children.
“To us, it seems to be a logical and equitable solution,” said Craven, who formerly authored all-adult mobile home legislation. Craven’s bill would protect present residents who live in parks that in the future could become senior citizen parks. The bill also includes provisions that would allow younger people to live with a senior citizen under certain circumstances.
Chris Dotto, manager of Glenaire Mobile Home Park in Glendora, said, “People here are upset about the situation. While we do have some children, our 50 spaces are primarily occupied by adults. They are concerned that lots of children make the home so much harder to sell. And we are not a senior citizens park.”
The Fountains Mobile Home Park in La Verne is primarily occupied by senior citizens, said Grace Langston, a resident and mobile home saleswoman. “It’s hard because I can see both sides of the issue,” she said. “But our park, with 286 spaces, is 20 years old and was not built for families. Some of our residents have lived here since the park was built and they prefer a quiet way of living. But we’ve had no inquiries from families.”
Although some consumer groups say they would prefer to leave out the senior citizen exception, they have banded together to support the compromise bill and to try to persuade Roos to drop his measure. Economics has made it imperative that families be allowed to live in mobile home parks, which offer housing at affordable prices, advocates say.
“By eliminating access to mobile home parks, families are deprived of having an avenue for getting low-income housing,” said Harry Snyder, director of the West Coast office of the Consumers Union of the United States.
Experts say abolishing all-adult mobile home living will be more tricky than outlawing adults-only apartments and condominiums because of the Mobile Home Residency Law, a measure passed in the 1970s that allows adult-only mobile home parks. Apartments and condos never had comparable legal protection.
Consequently, while consumer groups insist that the all-adult parks violate the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the mobile home industry says the practice is protected by statute.
In the Zipp case, the appellate court ruled that the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the mobile home law were not necessarily in conflict. The court interpreted the Legislature’s “adult only” designation as referring to senior citizens.
Maurice Priest, the lobbyist for the Golden State Mobilehome Owners’s League, which represents 200,000 mobile home residents, said he hopes the matter will be resolved because the uncertainty has “caused nothing but stress and ulcers to a lot of people.”
Priest did say that, “whatever happens, there will be no immediate impact. It will be gradual, as people want to sell.
“I hope 1985 is the year they make a decision,” he said.