LAKE FOREST : Mobile Home Rent Decision Is Delayed

Mobile home park residents hoping to resolve a dispute with park owners over rent rollbacks were disappointed when the City Council, for a second time, put off a decision on the controversy for 60 days.

Council members said Tuesday night that they were encouraged by progress in recent negotiations between the two sides and felt that the delay would allow time for a settlement.

However, their vote for a postponement was met with a loud chorus of "no" from about 50 mobile home tenants, predominantly senior citizens, in the audience.

"We made some progress on the minor issues," said Ernie Rettino, a spokesman for the tenants, "but there was no progress on the main issues--rent rollback and rent relief."

For almost a year, park tenants have been going to the council for help with what they say are uncontrolled rent increases. Since most of the city's mobile home park renters are senior citizens, many can't afford the rent hikes, say the group's leaders.

Park owners deny that rent increases have been unreasonable and maintain that since most of the tenants have long-term leases, a standard rent contract is unnecessary.

Tenants claim that a majority of the current leases are up in less than five years, with some expiring within 24 months.

In April, the council set aside $2,000 to hire an independent mediator to sit in on negotiations between the two groups. The council asked both sides to report back in 60 days.

Rettino said some common ground was found in areas such as capital improvements to the four mobile home parks in Lake Forest. But no agreement is close on a tenant proposal to establish a standard lease that controls the amount and number of rent increases, he said.

"We are the ones being hurt," Rettino said. "We are the ones paying exorbitant rent. The longer (the owners) procrastinate, it's to their advantage and our disadvantage."

But council members and representatives of the park owners said they were encouraged by the recent negotiations.

"We think we're going to get (a settlement)," said Ron Hanson, owner of El Toro Mobile Home Estates. "No one will be 100% happy, but that's part of negotiations."

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