Situated atop a scenic coastal canyon mesa in the Linda Vista area of San Diego is Linda Vista Village (LVV)–a mobilehome park that was specifically created as an affordable housing community for homeowners who were displaced from mobilehome parks elsewhere in San Diego in the late 1970s.
Set in the central part of the city, LVV residents enjoy the amenities of San Diego’s coastal climate with cool onshore breezes and warm sunshine. Linda Vista translates as “pretty view” and many home sites of this 220-space park are perched on the mesa’s rim overlooking 900 plus acres of dedicated open space, Tecolote Canyon Natural Park. What could possibly spoil the appearance of paradise?
Two words: exorbitant rents. Add a few more descriptive words: an unaffordable rent increase structure. A rent structure that has begun to result in economic evictions for residents—many who have lived here for years, like myself, and some who have called LVV home since the park’s inception in 1979.
Although originally an affordable MHP community serving a valuable public purpose (from the masterlease itself “…to provide housing opportunities to both low-income persons and families and to elderly persons and families.”), living in LVV has devolved into the exact opposite due to a lease amendment in 1983 between the City of San Diego–the property owner–and the leaseholder who manages the park. This amendment calls for annual rent increases of between 5 to 9 percent, supposedly tied to the Consumer Price Index.
Back in the early 80s, when rents were only $200/month and during a time of rampant inflation, 5% annual hikes seemed reasonable and didn’t amount to much. But, keep in mind that this rent structure equates to annual compounded interest. Yearly increases are not based on the rent amount when the lease amendment was approved—rather they are calculated on the previous year’s rent.
Over time, LVV residents have seen base rents skyrocket from $775/month only 3 years ago to almost $900/month today. Under the current lease terms, our monthly rents will soon be in the 4 digits with no end in sight until the masterlease expires in 2034. That is, if any residents are still around by then who are able to pay what will be a staggering $2500 per month. And that’s just space rent—it doesn’t include other expenses such as home mortgage payment, sewer & water, trash collection and utilities. Also, this outrageous figure is calculated on the annual gouging staying at “only” 5%. The landlords could raise the rent as high as 9% each and every year for the duration of the lease. If that were to happen, rents would go completely off the charts, which would exacerbate an already tenuous situation.
This is to say nothing of the fact that throughout the Great Recession, when the CPI actually declined, the 5% annual increases mercilessly marched on. This unjust profiteering continued despite a outcry from an overwhelming majority of residents who petitioned the leaseholder in 2011 to refrain from increasing rents during those years of the grim economic downturn, which still lingers on for many residents today and is only aggravated by the ever escalating rents.
The leaseholder’s response? Despite the recession’s severe impact, they refused to stabilize the rents stating that the increases were “fair.” Their so-called “solution?” Those of us that cannot afford to live in a mobilehome park in San Diego move to “Arizona” or elsewhere. They further insulted all who live here by stating that elderly residents generally own their home free and clear so their only housing payment is the space rent. Of course, their claim flies in the face of financial reality. Real housing costs, in addition to those listed above, also include property taxes, homeowners’ insurance and upkeep. Any mobilehome owner can attest to the fact that maintenance expenses alone over time can easily amount to thousands of dollars above and beyond simply paying space rent.
In short, these rent increases are creating severe financial hardships, and already causing several economic evictions. Particularly hard hit are those living on fixed incomes who are forced to choose between either paying their rent or other indispensable necessities.
In the autumn of 2011 the Linda Vista Village San Diego Homeowners Association (LVVSDHOA) tried in good faith to negotiate a fair and equitable real solution including:
That our current rent amount be adjusted to “San Diego County MHP market average rent”, and that rents paid in excess of the “market average rent” be refunded since the time the original lease agreement was assigned to the current Lessee (1997); and,
That the current annual rent increase calculations for Linda Vista Village, based on the 1983 amendment to the lease between the Lessor and Lessee, be amended to reflect the lesser of the annual increase to the CPI or 5%. We base this request on the negligible percentage increases (in some instances decreases) in the CPI over the past 26 years. The annual increases in the CPI no longer warrant an annual rent increase of 5% (as was the case in 1983) for the residents of LVVMHP.
These requests were included in our petition, but the leaseholder failed to address them. We earnestly attempted to convey that the “business as usual” rent increases are no longer warranted and create a growing sense of urgency and desperation among many LVV residents.
There was no further response from the landlord. They already told us to move if we didn’t like it—enough said. So much for upholding the lease mandate of providing “affordable housing” at LVV, which they are signatory to. It was clear that their almighty bottom line was unethically driving policy—this from a company who recently joined with a development company to form “Inspire Communities.” Their new motto “Enriching American Lives Through Affordable Housing Communities,” should more truthfully read “Enriching OUR Lives Through Unaffordable Housing Communities.”
LVVSDHOA’s Rent Stabilization Committee, of which I am a member, conducted extensive research during the summer of 2011 and discovered that the MHP average monthly rent in San Diego County was $687. At that time $813/month was being extracted from each LVV homeowner—again with no end in sight to the egregious increases that are announced each November, just in time for the holidays.
So, there we were. Despite our best efforts at initiating negotiations aimed at a reasonable solution we were stonewalled–the lessee wasn’t really interested in engaging in meaningful dialogue with us. And why should they? They are sitting on a cash cow, lining their pockets with excessive profits pried from our hides.
In 2012 we found ourselves stuck between a proverbial rock and a very hard place. What to do? Hold on as long as possible until we can’t pay the increases and be evicted for non-payment? Or fight. Was restoring LVV to a truly affordable place to live worth fighting for?
Fortunately, coming from a position of strength by holding the ethical and moral high ground, our strong HOA board, in conjunction with concerned residents, wisely chose to challenge the status quo. After a vote, with the vast majority of HOA members in support, legal action was initiated by Peter Zamoyski, Esq. of Tatro & Zamoyski, LLP, a law firm with extensive experience in mobilehome park litigation. A lawsuit was filed against both parties to the lease—Tecolote Investors LLC, the lessee, and the City of San Diego, the lessor–in November of last year.
So ends Part One of our tale to right a wrong—a wrong that affects the lives of hundreds of residents who long to live in a mobilehome community that is genuinely affordable and provides sorely needed housing for low-income families and elderly persons. Part Two will befeatured in December’s edition—be looking for it!
Article by Skip Shaputnic. email address: skipthearch@sbcglobal.net