Key Decisions

August 2012 – Mobilehome Space Subjected To Rent Control

(filed under: Key Decisions Archive | August 16, 2012)

Other Cases Of Interest

The Space Where A Mobilehome Was Kept Was Subjected To Rent Control Even Though It Was Not The Owner’s Principal Residence

Freeman v. Vista De Santa Barbara Associates LP
(Cal. Ct. of App., 2d Dist.), filed July 10, 2012

Vista de Santa Barbara Associates, LP operates a mobilehome park. The park is subject to the city’s rent control ordinance.

Jessica Freeman leased a space in the park for her mobilehome. The mobilehome was not her principal residence. She entered into her lease on November 10, 2003. Her lease and the park rules expressly prohibited subletting her space.

Vista amended the park rules to allow subletting spaces. It did not, however, give notice of this to Freeman.

Vista sent a letter to Freeman advising her that because her mobilehome was not her principal residence, it was exempt from rent control. The letter further advised her the rent would be raised from $610 to $910 per month.

Freeman put her mobilehome up for sale and, through her attorney, gave Vista written notice of this.

Freeman continued to pay $604.82 per month as the rent controlled rate. Vista served Freeman with a three-notice to pay rent or quit. The notice demanded rent at the non-controlled rate of $910. Freeman paid the $910 per month under protest.

Freeman sued Vista for declaratory relief, injunction and damages. The court found that the rent control ordinance applied to Freeman’s lease and ordered Vista to pay damages measured by the difference between the controlled rent and the amount Freeman paid.

The Court of Appeal affirmed.

The Mobilehome Residency Law found in Civil Code section 798 et seq. Section 798.21(a) states that a mobilehome space is exempt from a local rent control ordinance if the space is not the principal residence of the homeowner. Subdivision (f) of the section provides several exceptions. One is if the park prohibits subletting. The other is if the homeowner is actively marketing her mobilehome for sale.

The court ruled that even though Vista had changed its rules to allow subletting, it had not given Freeman proper notice of the change. As a result, the change was inapplicable to her. Further, she was within the exception in subdivision (f) and her space continued to be controlled.

The court also ruled that because Freeman was actively trying to sell her mobilehome, she was within the exception in subdivision (f). It rejected Vista’s argument that the exception only applied if the mobilehome was being sold before the rent increase.