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Mobile home residents ready to fight severe rent increases

Tenants of local mobile home parks are meeting later this month to talk about ways to stop what they call outrageous rent hikes by park owners.

A lobbyist for mobile home owners is holding meetings in Rogue River and Eagle Point to discuss proposed legislation that would allow tenants to seek binding arbitration for rent hikes greater than the growth of the consumer price index.

Peter Ferris, lobbyist and executive director of Oregon Manufactured Homeowners United, said in a phone interview that mom-and-pop trailer parks around Oregon raise rents $5 to $15 a year on average, but some parks owned by corporations have been raising rents by $50 to $100 — sometimes twice a year.

"The bill would require owners to justify rent increases," Ferris said. "The $50 to $100 increases are really too much and the bill would focus on the real culprits "¦ allowing park associations to pinpoint the egregious, excessive raises, which are coming mostly from out-of-state corporations," said Ferris.

Ferris will speak at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 and 10 a.m. Sept. 19 at Parkview Estates, 315 W. Evans Creek Road, Rogue River, and at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at Butte Crest Park, 633 E. Archwood Drive, Eagle Point.

Parkview organizer Lou Baldovino said his rent recently was raised by $60, up to $455 a month. He said the increases are "exorbitant," forcing some elderly people on fixed incomes, especially those with mortgages, to move or abandon their homes.

"They can raise the rent on 90 days' notice, every 90 days, and any amount they want," said Baldovino. "For folks of modest means, this is out of sight. It should be limited to the consumer price index. If people are forced to move, some can't get their money out of their home, so they walk away."

Monika Sayre, organizer for Butte Crest, said her rent recently was raised $25 and is now $420 a month.

"It's outrageous space rent," she said. "It went up 9 percent. That's a big chunk of your income. It should only be 3 percent.

"It's the corporate owners who cause the problem, not the mom-and-pop operations. A $30 to $40 increase, whammo, all at once, it's pushing people out of the park, and you can't do anything about it. It's just hard; a vicious battle."

Sayre said she's talked to State Sen. Jason Atkinson and State Rep. George Gilman and received positive signs about getting a mobile home tenants' rights bill considered in a brief legislative session that begins in February.

Ferris said a rent control bill for mobile home owners died in committee earlier this year, but that the a proposed bill allowing tenant challenges of increases would be more effective.

A chart on the Oregon Mobile Home United Web site, www.omhu.org, shows 20 parks with steep increases, some up to 58 percent over the last five years, during which time the CPI rose 11.2 percent.

Ferris' chart of local mobile home parks shows Meadow View in Medford with a 37 percent increase in the past five years, Leisure Day park in Shady Cove with a 31 percent hike and Rogue Lea Estates in Grants Pass with a 55 percent hike.

Ferris said rent hikes have resulted in 67 park closures in Oregon since the start of the decade. "The most egregious raisers of rent" in the state have been Cal-Am, Follet and Fitterer, all California-based corporations, he said.

"For the people here, it's devastating," he said. "They can't afford it. Some are on limited income. Two-thirds of their income is taken by rent. Some have only $600 or $700 a month to live on and if they pay $455, they don't have money for much else. Some have lost a spouse, so their income gets cut in half."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.