Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee on Monday night reaffirmed its opposition to expanding the city's rent control program to include mobile homes. As a result, mobile home residents warned that they would seek legal action against the city to overturn the decision.
The 3-2 vote to exclude mobile homes came as no surprise. The voting majority -- Chairwoman Vanessa Honey and committee members Matthew Grunewald and Tom Means -- had each previously expressed deep concerns with the legal basis for including mobile homes under Measure V's protections. Mobile homes are never explicitly mentioned in the Community Fair Rent Stabilization Act (CSFRA), which passed as Measure V; however, tenant advocates point out this type of housing is also not excluded by the law's language either.
Simply put, bringing mobile homes under the city's tenant protections would require too much bending of the law to make it work, Grunewald said.
"Our hands are tied in many ways," he said. "I have difficulty trying to overcome the assumptions that need to be made and all the discrepancies with the mobile home residency law."
Adding to the confusion, the committee's lawyers, who had previously recommended covering mobile homes, were now giving advice on how to go the opposite route. Attorney Karen Tiedemann suggested policy language specifying that mobile homes were not rental units as defined under the CSFRA, which she suggested would be legally defensible in court.
Yet many tenants speaking that evening cited Tiedemann's past statements, when she urged the committee to expand coverage to mobile homes. At a January meeting, she told the committee she could find no way to argue that mobile homes weren't covered under the law.
Despite that advice, the rental committee voted not to implement policies to bring mobile homes under the rent control program on the 3-2 split, with Evan Ortiz and Emily Ramos opposed. The rental committee decided to revisit the issue on Monday after the Mountain View City Council sent a letter asking for a formal decision on mobile homes.
Since then, tenant advocates have warned they would have an "open and shut" case against the city. On Tuesday afternoon, Trey Bornmann, president of the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance, confirmed to the Voice that the group would seek a lawsuit against the city.
"Transparency is lacking and the City Council should be held accountable for what is happening at the RHC. It is obvious their appointments have questionable ethics," he wrote in an email. "This is not acceptable. We have secured legal counsel and will be pursuing legal action."
It remains to be seen what kind of lawsuit could emerge. The Mobile Home Alliance has reportedly received offers of pro bono legal help from Fenwick & West, the same law firm that successfully helped defend the CSFRA last year in a suit brought by the California Apartment Association.
In a related matter, the Rental Housing Committee is already facing a separate lawsuit that deals with many of the same questions over what kinds of rental housing are affected under the law.
In a civil suit filed Feb. 1, attorneys for the Mountain View retirement community Redwood Villa argued that the rent control regulations shouldn't apply to their senior housing. Redwood Villa is an 81-unit senior home that provides round-the-clock care and regular meals for its residents.
According to the civil complaint, city officials informed the Redwood Villa representatives in December that they would need to roll back rents to October 2015 rates and comply with all other CSFRA provisions. Redwood Villa attorneys say their client should be considered a service operation, not a rental complex as defined by the CSFRA. They point out that the rent control law specifically exempts medical care facilities and nonprofit senior homes.
At Monday's meeting, the Rental Housing Committee discussed the Redwood Villa suit in closed session and provided direction to staff. No decision was reported out of the meeting.