$1.5 million settlement goes to mobile home park owners

The City of Chino reached a $1.5 million settlement this month with a mobile home park owner who brought a lawsuit against the city, alleging the council’s actions caused a loss of income by delaying and interfering with plans to convert the park to resident ownership.

The lawsuit, which originally asked for $34 million, was filed in July 2010 by Chino MHC, owner of Lamplighter Chino Mobile Home Park, which is on the northwest corner of Philadelphia Street and Ramona Avenue.

The long-running discourse between the city and Chino MHC began in spring 2010 when the planning commission approved a tentative tract map to the mobile home park owners who wanted to require residents living there to purchase the individual spaces their homes sat on, along with shares in common facilities such as the clubhouse.

In April 2010, the city council responded to the mobile home park residents’ appeal for help by overturning the planning commission decision. At the time, then-city attorney Jimmy Gutierrez warned the council that the decision could result in lawsuits that the city would lose.

The council’s action prompted Chino MHC to file two lawsuits in July 2010, the one alleging the loss of income, and a second, asking the court to approve the mobile home park owners’ conversion plan. 

In early 2011, Superior Court Judge Joseph Brisco ruled that the city could not prohibit the conversion of the park, based on a survey of tenants, most of whom opposed the plan.

The city appealed, but lost in October 2012, when the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that the city council could not stop conversion of the mobile home park to tenant ownership unless it could show the owner was taking the step to avoid the city’s rent control policy regarding mobile home parks.

The California Supreme Court refused the city’s request to hear the case.

In October 2013, following a three-hour public hearing, the council voted 3-0 to allow Chino MHC to sell the lots in the park, ending a legal battle that the city estimates had cost taxpayers $500,000. Then-councilman Glenn Duncan did not vote because he lived within 500 feet of Lamplighter. Then-mayor Dennis Yates was absent from the meeting.

The sole comfort for the residents who opposed the plan was a written guarantee by Chino MHC that no one would be evicted.

Among the documents filed by the park owner during its lengthy confrontation with the city was a “tenant impact report” that waives the owner’s right to evict any tenant.

“Under this scenario, non-purchasing resident households will not be required to vacate their spaces,” Mr. Gutierrez told the council.

In 2013, about 80 percent of Lamplighter residents qualified as low-income tenants, Mr. Gutierrez said. The park owner was to be allowed to increase those rents only as much as the cost of living index allowed each year after the park was converted and the city’s rent-control ordinance was no longer in effect.

The other 20 percent of residents who did not qualify as low-income were expected to see their rents increase to market levels incrementally through 2017.

“The settlement agreement resolves long-standing disputes and litigation between the parties,” city spokeswoman Arianna Fajardo said in July. “The settlement makes clear that it is not an admission of any wrongdoing whatsoever on the part of the city. Instead, the city council wished to move beyond the disputes and avoid further expenditure of time and funds litigating these matters.”

As part of the settlement approved by the council on July 17, the city must approve, permit, and allow the recording of the final tract map for the mobile home park conversion by the end of this month.

The city has until mid-August to pay Chino MHC the $1.5 million.

Story originally published by Champion Newspapers here.