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Arbitrators Limit Rent Hikes on Land at Seacliff

Times Staff Writer

An arbitration panel has trimmed a land company’s demand for what residents called “astronomical” rent increases on the ground beneath their seaside homes near Ventura.

Some homeowners in the Seacliff gated community had contended that they would be driven from their houses if the Seacliff Land Co. were allowed to more than triple their rents.

In a decision disclosed this week, rents will be increased annually by 7.5% to 10% during the next four years, said a homeowners’ association spokesman.

“We think it was a fair decision,” said George J. Bregante, an attorney who lives at Seacliff. “But at the end of the next four years, we could be facing the same exact problem again.”

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In a pending lawsuit, residents are asking either for a rewritten lease or for the chance to buy their lots at reasonable prices, Bregante said.

Rick Hambleton, a partner in the land company, expressed disappointment over the three-member arbitration panel’s decision.

“Seacliff believes this decision does not represent the reasonable rental value of the premises, as called for under the lease,” he said.

The homeowners’ predicament stems from the fact that the land on which their upscale houses sit belongs not to them but to Seacliff Land. The leasing arrangement was once common along the Southern California coast, but the tiny subdivision 10 miles up the coast from Ventura is one of the practice’s last strongholds.

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For more than 50 years, the company raised the rent by an average of 3.9% yearly. Last year, however, homeowners were shocked to learn that some of their rents would rise by more than 300%. They said the increases would strap residents on a fixed income and make the 49 homes on the narrow ocean-side strip virtually unsalable.

At the time, Joan Cathcart, a retired teacher whose rent was to jump from $930 to $2,910 monthly, asked: “How many people would want to buy here? You’d have to be either a millionaire or crazy.”


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