‘It’s a conspiracy’: Huntington Beach mobile home residents allege rent gouging
Lynn Plumb has lived in the Skandia Mobile Country Club in Huntington Beach since the late 1980s.
The 86-year-old has a cozy mobile home which she maintains on her fixed Social Security income and what she calls her “measly” savings.
She doesn’t want to leave. Where would she go? Plumb had two sons who have already passed away. She could live in the basement of her daughter’s home in Buffalo, N.Y., but she’d certainly rather stay in Surf City.
“I can’t even picture leaving here,” Plumb said. “All of the people here are like family to me.”
Plumb and many Skandia residents, though, say they’ve been unfairly pinched for the last several months, since Investment Property Group bought the 167-unit senior property from the Coulter Family Trust last August.
IPG raised their space rents $75 a month each year for the next three years, larger rent hikes than they’ve previously seen. The company, which owns about 100 mobile home parks nationwide, has offered the residents long-term leases to sign, but many don’t feel like that’s in their best interests, either.
Additionally, Skandia Home Owners Assn. president Carol Rohr said property values have plummeted since IPG raised the space rent for new home buyers from $1,445 to $2,195 per month.
That’s the cost to rent the living space — on top of owning the mobile home itself.
Rohr said IPG justified the increase in rent by publicizing a rent comparison that included seven of the 17 mobile home parks in Huntington Beach.
“Of those parks, in the last seven years, six of the mobile home parks have been purchased by corporate conglomerates that have raised rents to levels that people can no longer afford,” Rohr said. “It’s a conspiracy, honestly, to get rents much higher for all mobile home parks in Huntington Beach.”
IPG regional manager Valerie Ayala, reached by phone on Wednesday, declined to comment.
Rohr and many of her fellow residents picketed in front of the Skandia park on Bolsa Chica Street on Tuesday, the same night they spoke in front of the Huntington Beach City Council wearing shirts that read “S.O.S. — Save Our Seniors.” They’re trying to get a rental stabilization ordinance on the ballot in November for mobile home parks in Huntington Beach, not all rentals.
The city passed Measure EE in 2002, which prohibits RSOs, but Rohr said the Skandia residents are seeking what’s called a “carveout” to Section 803 of the City Charter that would allow for rent increases of 3% or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.
Gina Alexander, 62, a retail manager, lives in the Skandia park with her husband Dan Pantano, 67. She said her husband is a retired minister and on Social Security but has been a Lyft driver for the last six months to make ends meet.
“One of the reasons we selected this park was that we felt secure in the fact that it wasn’t corporate-owned and that it would stay in the family,” Alexander said. “We knew what the rent adjustments would be each year, which was never more than 3%, about $30-40 a year. Now it’s gone to $75, which isn’t horrendous, but it’s hurtful to a lot of people that are on fixed incomes. After the three years, we’re concerned that they’re going to just raise, raise, raise.”
IPG also had two representatives call into Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. Ayala mentioned that IPG has offered a rental assistance program through the Manufactured Housing Education Trust, which two Skandia residents have applied for. The program offers 10% off a resident’s rent.
However, the MHET subsidy has qualifications such as the applicant’s real value (besides his or her mobile home) cannot exceed $20,000, the space on which the applicant resides is not regulated by rent control, and not more than 10% of the residents of the park are already receiving assistance.
A prerecorded message when calling MHET states that all new applications have been delayed indefinitely.
IPG president of property management Julie Rodriguez also called into the meeting and said the company plans to own Skandia for many decades. She noted that IPG has already invested $85,000 in asphalt repairs and $15,000 on new pool furniture for the property.
“The property taxes were reassessed in the amount of $290 per site, per month,” Rodriguez said during public comments. “The rent increase of $75 does not nearly cover the increase in property taxes of the community, but we kept the increase low in order to ensure every resident can stay in their home.”
Rohr counters that the residents should not be expected to pay taxes for an action they had no control over or knowledge of.
“This is taxation without representation,” she said in an email.
Michael Lugenbuehl hopes for relief quick. Lugenbuehl, 61, has lived in Skandia for three years with his wife Julie, 70.
“She wants to retire, but we just couldn’t afford it yet,” Michael Lugenbuehl said. “We definitely can’t afford this. Some people are saying, and I completely agree, the joy is just out of this place now. The feeling of freedom is all but gone here. We are free to pay to beyond our means, we are free to leave, but we’re not free to stay here in a fair way.”
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