Mobile Home Residents Chino Once Sought To Protect Have Now Filed Suit Against The City

(March 11)  Four years after the city of Chino threw its weight behind a group of mobile home park residents in their ongoing difficulties with their landlord, those residents have turned on the city and have filed a lawsuit against the municipality.
In 2009, the owner of the Lamplighter Mobile Home Park, Tom Morgan and his company, Chino MHC LP, sought to subdivide the park and develop property within that would be vacated by its residents or sell the coach spaces to any residents willing to purchase them.
The planning commission approved the subdivision of the park at 4400 Philadelphia St., essentially allowing the rental units to be turned into ownership lots.
On April 20, 2010, the city council overturned the planning commission.
The city council took the action largely out of sympathy for the mobile home park’s 260 residents, many of whom are elderly and living on fixed incomes. The city has long had a rent control ordinance which sets rents at the Lamplighter at two-thirds of the consumer price index. Rental rates for Lamplighter residents ranged from $300 to $600.
City staff and the city attorney, Jimmy Gutierrez, advised the city that Morgan and Chino MHC LP were acting within the law by moving to subdivide the property even if by doing so an indirect result was that the mobile home park was getting around the limitations of the ordinance.
At least two of the council members said they were persuaded to overturn the planning commission because they believed the residents at the park would be unable to qualify for loans to purchase their lots and would essentially be thrown out on the streets.
Councilwoman Eunice Ulloa, while acknowledging that Chino MHC LP was legally entitled to undertake the subdivision, argued that the conversion should be denied on “humanitarian” grounds.
In July 2010, Morgan and Chino MHC LP, represented by attorney Richard Clouse, filed suit against the city of Chino in San Bernardino County Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga, seeking $34 million in damages and assurance that the units could be transformed into ownership lots.
The city made a spirited defense of its action in court, expending close to $500,000 in legal fees.  Ultimately, however, the city took a drubbing.
The judge hearing the matter, Superior Court Judge Joseph Brisco, in  January 2011 ruled that the city could not prohibit the conversion of the park and issued a court order for the  city council to reverse its decision.
The city appealed but lost in October 2012, when the Fourth District Court of appeal ruled that the city could not stop conversion of the mobile home park to tenant ownership unless it could show the owner was taking the step to avoid rent control.
Clouse succeeded in demonstrating that the conversion was a legitimate undertaking to maximize the value of Chino MHC LP’s investment.
The state supreme court refused the city of Chino’s further appeal.
Out of options, the city council on October 15, 2013, with Mayor Dennis Yates absent and councilman Glenn Duncan abstaining, voted 3-0 to allow Chino MHC to sell the lots in the park.
On November 5, 2013, the council gave final approval of the conversion plan.
As a consequence of that vote, the park residents’ association has retained Irvine-based attorney Robert Solomon and on February  3 filed a civil action in Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court, naming the city of Chino as respondent and Chino MHC LP as real party in interest.
The suit filed Feb. 3 in Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court asks the court to overturn the Chino city council’s Nov. 5, 2013, approval of the park owner’s plan to convert his rent-controlled property to tenant ownership.
The suit maintains the council abused its “discretion” by approving the plan in the face of information indicating that a survey of residents conducted by Chino MHC contained inaccurate and misleading information and that the approval violates the city’s general plan and the state Fair Employment and Housing Act. Moreover, according to the suit, the conversion will put the city of Chino out of compliance with state-mandated  low-income housing availability requirements.

Leave a Reply