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Rent Dispute Settled at Mobile-Home Park

Times Staff Writer

A two-year dispute between tenants and management of a mobile home park in Dana Point has been settled, and spokesmen for both sides Wednesday credited a city task force for the successful mediation.

The deal does not lower a $200 a month rent increase for tenants of the Dana Point Marina Mobile Home Estates, but it does erase a liability of up to $4,000 per tenant in back rent. The creation of a residents’ advisory council has also helped ease the tension, according to both sides.

“I’d say it worked out about 50-50 for both sides,” said Jerry Gibbs, a San Clemente attorney representing the tenants.

“I think the task force got an awful lot accomplished,” said James D. Jones, general manager for the park owner.

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The Dana Point City Council created the mobile-home task force last month to try to resolve a tenant-management dispute that dated back to 1987. Some tenants had protested the rents they were charged and refused to pay. A proposed rent increase of $300 per tenant worsened the situation, according to Gibbs.

Last January, a new owner, the Richard Hall Co. of Costa Mesa, purchased the park “and inherited all the problems from the past,” according to Jones. Jones said the firm lowered the proposed rent increase to $200, but he said the tenants were still unhappy “because of so much tension and so many rumors.”

The new city of Dana Point became embroiled in the controversy at the City Council’s inaugural meeting in January.

“I looked out at this big crowd in the audience at our first meeting, and I thought it was very nice for so many to be showing up to support us,” said Councilman Mike Eggers. “I soon learned differently. They were there about the mobile-home controversy.”

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The council appointed Eggers and Councilman Bill Bamattre to a task force to try to resolve the dispute.

“Our primary goal was to get both sides to the table and get them talking,” said Eggers. “The first meeting was pretty tense, but it kept getting better.” Ultimately, representatives of residents and management met three times with Eggers and Bamattre, with the final meeting last Monday.

One of the major worries of the tenants, according to Eggers, was about back rents--money allegedly owed the previous owner. Eggers said the company’s agreement to absolve the old back-rent issue lifted a potential debt of up to $4,000 per tenant.

Gibbs said the company also agreed to more flexible terms in leases and in helping those selling their mobile homes in the park. The company additionally said it would provide rent assistance to nine of the 91 tenants who are waiting for federal rent aid, which has a backlog of years.

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“We didn’t get the ultimate, but we did get some long-term things tidied up,” said Gibbs.

Jones said the company, for its part, achieved a better rapport with its Dana Point tenants. “The two city councilmen (Eggers and Bamattre) did a super job with the task force,” said Jones. “They didn’t try to direct things; they just worked to help things get moving along.”

Gibbs also praised the city’s intervention. “I think the city is to be congratulated for its willingness to sit down and work with the people,” he said.

The results of the settlement will be announced in a report at Tuesday’s Dana Point City Council meeting.

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