Sunnyvale’s mobile homeowners are eligible for key financial perks – if they sign up in time

Fred Kameda is pictured inside his home with the front door behind him.
Fred Kameda walks into his home in Plaza Del Rey mobile home park in Sunnyvale, CA, on Oct. 18, 2021. Kameda is among a group of mobile homeowners who took part in MOU negotiations earlier this year. (Kavish Harjai/Peninsula Press)

Sunnyvale’s nearly 11,000 mobile homeowners have 60 days as of Nov.1 to stabilize rents for their lots. But communicating how mobile home residents can secure these protections within a short timeframe will be a challenge.

“A lot of residents still are kind of not paying attention, and so it’s critical that they know this is a really important financial thing for their future in the mobile home parks,” said Fred Kameda, a resident of Plaza Del Rey mobile home park.

Sunnyvale City Council unanimously approved the terms of the memorandum of understanding on July 13. The MOU is a 20-year-long contract between the city and mobile homeowners that regulates certain financial aspects of living in a mobile home.

On top of a mortgage, mobile homeowners pay a fee to rent the space on which their home sits—this is known as space rent. Mobile homeowners who want to sell their home have struggled in recent years because park owners have increased the space rent it charges new buyers.

Lynn Saldua, who wants to sell her home and move closer to family, currently pays around $1,300 a month to rent a space in Plaza Del Rey. In 2021, however, the park raised the new buyer space rent to $2,380, meaning anyone buying Saldua’s home would have to pay $1,000 more a month than what she was paying to rent the same space.

A sign outside of the Plaza Del Rey mobile home park reads "Can't Sell Our Homes"
A sign is clipped onto a tree outside of Plaza Del Rey mobile home park during a protest on October 18, 2021. Several residents in the park have struggled to sell their homes in the past. (Kavish Harjai/Peninsula Press)

Additionally, while mobile homeowners expect an increase in their space rent each year, residents in some parks have seen an uptick in the percentage by which park owners are increasing the fee. For example, Gail Rubino of El Dorado mobile home park said space rents there increased from 3% in 2015 to 6% by 2019.

The MOU sets a limit on both types of increases.

Kameda and Rubino are among a group of 10 mobile homeowners called the Resident Stakeholders Group, which advocated on behalf of the mobile home community during MOU negotiations earlier this year.

The memorandum applies to all mobile home residents in Sunnyvale who own their homes, but for the terms of the contract to be applied to them, mobile homeowners must sign a lease addendum by Dec. 31. This makes it all the more crucial to inform the community about the MOU terms.

Park owners sent the lease addendum to their residents on Nov. 1.

For the approximately 92% of the Sunnyvale mobile home community that have a long-term lease, this 60-day period is the only time they can elect to be covered. Otherwise, they will have to wait until their lease expires to be included under the memorandum’s terms.

The RSG “wants to make sure that all the work we’ve done to get the MOU doesn’t fail because somebody didn’t know about it,” Kameda said, referring to the years Sunnyvale mobile home advocates have pushed the city to adopt some form of rent control.

To that end, the resident advocates and its volunteers are preparing to go door-to-door to deliver an informational flyer to all 3,700 mobile homes that are covered under the memorandum’s terms. The group has also set up this email address dedicated to fielding MOU-related questions from the community.

Sunnyvale’s memorandum comes soon after Mountain View’s City Council adopted a rent stabilization ordinance for its mobile homes. Advocates in Sunnyvale initially campaigned for a similar ordinance, which they say offers stronger protections and enforcement, but City Council voted in favor of pursuing the memorandum in Oct. 2020. Other cities in Santa Clara County that have adopted a rent stabilization ordinance for mobile homes include East Palo Alto, San Jose, Los Gatos, Milpitas and Morgan Hill.

The resident advocates are working on outreach efforts in conjunction with the city of Sunnyvale, which was criticized over the summer for not effectively communicating about MOU negotiations.

During the public comment period of the July 13 City Council meeting, one mobile home resident called the city’s outreach efforts “lacking and unacceptable.” Another said most of the people she had spoken with had not heard of the MOU.

Several council members at the meeting also pressed Sunnyvale Housing Officer Jenny Carloni for a plan on outreach.

“We have to be very, very clear and explicit in the language as to what we mean, because otherwise [mobile homeowners] will break out their torches and pitchforks at something … because there’s a misunderstanding with the terminology that we’ve used,” Vice Mayor Glenn Hendricks said at the meeting.

Since that meeting, Carloni said the city has been focused on crafting and carrying out a communication plan, starting with an information packet it sent out to residents at the end of October. The packets have a frequently asked questions sheet that provides examples of how the MOU will work in practice. The frequently asked questions sheet can also be found online in English and in Spanish here.

“The outreach plan the city has put together will absolutely reach all of the residents,” Carloni said, adding that the city obtained mail addresses directly from park owners.

Throughout the month of November, the city is also hosting four Zoom meetings for mobile homeowners who have questions about the memorandum. To find out more information about dates and how to attend, look at the “Upcoming MOU Outreach” section of this page.

However, the city cannot provide legal advice on the lease addendum. For those questions, the city is directing residents to the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and Project Sentinel.

Under the contract’s terms, park owners can increase current resident space rent by either 75% of the consumer price index or 3%—whichever is greater in a given year. It also creates a three-tier system for increasing space rent on turnover of a home: In the first year of the MOU, park owners can increase space rent up to 5% upon sale to a new person. In the second year, they can increase it up to 10%, and every year thereafter, park owners can increase it up to 15%.

Three protesters are holding signs.
Residents protest Hometown America, which owns Plaza Del Rey mobile home park, on Oct. 18, 2021. (Kavish Harjai/Peninsula Press

Saldua, the Plaza Del Rey resident, said the MOU will help her and other mobile homeowners who want to sell their homes.

In 2020, during the pandemic, Saldua lost her job working in accounts payable at a dermatology office. Ever since then, she has relied on social security to pay for her mobile home. Still, between a $500 mortgage and an additional $1,320 space rent, Saldua comes up $100 short every month. She must dip into her savings to cover the remaining costs and the rest of her living expenses.

At that rate, Saldua said she would run out of savings in a few years. And even then, Saldua considers herself lucky. She said she knows of people in similar situations who don’t have savings.

Saldua said she plans on putting her home up for sale this year or next, adding that under the MOU’s terms, a potential buyer will no longer have to pay a space rental fee that is 83% more expensive than hers, but rather one that is only 5% more expensive. Given the tiered framework of the MOU, Saldua said she expects many of her neighbors to also put their homes up for sale in the coming year or two.

Saldua said she plans on moving to either Montana or Arizona, where her children are based.

“It’s just too expensive here in California now,” Saldua said. “I’ll be more financially set—you can get homes in Arizona much cheaper than you can get homes here, so I might be able to get a home there and not have to pay a mortgage and space rent and run out of money.”

A representative of Bradenburg, Staedler and Moore, which owns four of the 10 mobile home parks covered by the MOU, declined to be interviewed.

Ken Kravenas, COO of Hometown America, which owns Plaza Del Rey, said in a statement that he is “grateful for the opportunity to collaborate” with the residents and the City.

“The MOU gives clarity to all stakeholders, and we look forward to moving forward and operating under the mutually agreed upon terms,” Kravenas said.

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