Commission raises rent at Fresno mobile home park, but residents still say it’s a win
Mobile home park residents scored a second victory this week in their now yearslong efforts to keep their Fresno homes.
In a 4-0 vote Tuesday, the Mobilehome Park Rent Review and Stabilization Commission rejected an application for a $350 rent increase at La Hacienda Mobile Estates submitted by park owner Harmony Communities. The vote came after an initial hearing on Nov. 14.
The commission chose to increase rent by 6.6%, or $24.92 per month, the maximum allowed by city ordinance. The decision goes against the Fresno City Attorney Office’s recommendation of a 6.6% increase, as well as an amount that is “fair and just” to both the park’s owner and residents.
“I honestly don't think [an increase of] $350 a month is reasonable or fair for anybody in this situation,” said Commissioner Shannon McCulligh during the hearing.
But the future remains uncertain for park residents as attorneys for Harmony have said the park would likely close in August without the $350 rent increase at La Hacienda. An attorney for the residents has argued that Harmony does not have the authority to close the park in August after the City Council rejected the closure proposal last week.
Harmony attorney Jason Dilday issued the following statement to Fresnoland on Wednesday afternoon:
"The goal of the owner has always been to continue operating the park in order to provide the affordable housing the Fresno community so desperately lacks. But the owner needs a fair return to continue providing this affordable housing. Established California law, which is reflected in Fresno's rent control ordinance, makes clear that a mobile home park owner is entitled to earn a just and reasonable return on its investment. The decision failed to provide the owner with a just and reasonable return on its investment. The owner is evaluating its options, including judicial appeal of the decision."
Harmony’s proposed hike would’ve more than doubled the rent paid by at least some residents. Park residents and operators have said tenants typically pay around $300 per month, though Harmony has said some tenants pay a little more.
Harmony argued throughout the hearings that the rental increase was necessary to keep the park from closing down, and that they were also in their right to do so as an investor looking to recoup money on their investment. Dilday told the commission that the park should get an increase close to the proposed $350 rent increase at La Hacienda.
“Based on a reasonable rate of return on the owner’s investment, the commission should award a rent increase of $295. At a minimum, the commission should award an increase of $258,” Dilday said.
McCulligh rejected the request, however, saying an experienced company like Harmony should have known the risks when they took over the property in October 2022.
“Any business owner knows going into buying something that there is going to be risks involved,” said McCulligh.
Speaking to the commissioners Tuesday, La Hacienda resident Patricia Shawn accused the company and its property manager of making false claims regarding their proposed rent increase.
Shawn cited Harmony’s reported practice of rejecting rent payments from current tenants, as well as Davies’ comments during the Nov.14 hearing that he is not looking to fill the many current park vacancies.
“Maybe if he would bring people into the park, or have let some of the people stay, he would be making his money. We have people that are still trying to pay their rent that he’s still not accepting,” Shawn said. “To me, it’s common sense; if you want to make money, you take the money.”
La Hacienda resident Kim Sands acknowledged the many struggles the park tenants have faced in the efforts to save their homes. She also noted that the park’s residents feel emboldened to continue to fight for what they feel is right.
“Harmony brought us together as a community, and we’re stronger than we were before,” Sands said. “We’re friendlier to each other than we were before because we got to know each other. God had a reason for doing this.”
Residents continue fighting against park closure
Tuesday’s hearing comes after a Fresno City Council hearing last Thursday over Harmony Communities’ proposed closure of the La Hacienda Mobile Estates mobile home park. City council rejected the proposal, with multiple councilmembers criticizing Harmony’s management of the park.
Harmony Communities confirmed with Fresnoland that they will continue to pursue a closure of the park following the Nov.16 Fresno City Council meeting.
“This is an optional hearing, meaning it is not required prior to a park closure,” Dilday said in an email to Fresnoland. “City approval is only necessary when local government permits are required…The owner still intends to close the Park in August 2024 unless they can obtain a fair rent.”
Senior Litigator for California Rural Legal Assistance Mariah Thompson and CRLA have said that they’ll continue to fight future attempts to close the park. In the meantime, they’ll be focused on fighting back against eviction notices sent to La Hacienda tenants, notices they say are illegal.