LARKSPUR (KPIX 5) -- Tenants of a mobile home park in Marin County are panicking over rent increases that may cause some to lose their homes. It is a group of people who are especially vulnerable to the housing crisis.
In most cases when rents start skyrocketing, people who can't afford it move out and have to look for another place to live. But what happens when you actually own the house you're living in? That's the dilemma faced by the tenants of Marin Park mobile home community in Larkspur.
People there own the structures and only rent the space they sit on plus utility hookups. But lately, they say rent hikes have been coming fast and furious--a 30 percent increase in the last year and a half.
"More than half of us are on a fixed, retirement income, which means this kind of steep increase is not something that can be handled in that short time period," resident Joan Dobkowski said.
Dobkowski says she and her neighbors have now been offered a five year lease with a 10 percent hike the first year and $75 per month increases for the following four years. The only realistic option for those who can't afford that would be to sell their homes, but that's not working either.
"Because they're almost doubling the rent when we sell our units for the new people," Dobkowski said. "No one wants to move here. So we're losing our homes as well…we can't sell them."
About 80 percent of mobile homes in Marin already have some kind of rent control, linking increases to the cost of living. But Larkspur doesn't have it yet. David Levin, managing attorney for Marin Legal Aid, said if residents sign the long-term leases, they would be forgoing any rent control protections passed by the city later on.
"That's something the renters are wrestling with right now," he said, "because they've been presented with a 5-year lease agreement and that could lock them into the rent increase schedule as proposed."
For some at the park who cannot afford the rent increases, the only option may be to simply walk away from their homes altogether.
"They're going to get less money or possibly even lose some or most of their investment," Levin said. "In many cases, all these people own is the mobile home."
Originally, the tenants had a deadline of June 1, but that was extended to July 1. At that point, they'll have to decide whether or not to accept the leases and begin paying the higher rents.
Larkspur's mayor met with the tenants last month and says the city may be willing to pass a rent control law similar to other communities in Marin County. But it probably won't happen before the July 1 deadline.
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