San Rafael mobile home park to close over rent control dispute

Owner maintains property loses money and city won’t allow monthly increases

R.V. Park of San Rafael, 742 Francisco Blvd (Loopnet)
R.V. Park of San Rafael, 742 Francisco Blvd (Loopnet)

The owner of a Marin County mobile home park has threatened to close and displace 40 residents because of a court order not to raise rents.

Harmony Communities, a Stockton-based firm that runs the R.V. Park of San Rafael, notified tenants on July 25 of the owner’s intent to close the park at 742 Francisco Boulevard West in San Rafael, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

The pending closure comes in response to a city lawsuit to determine whether a rent-control ordinance applies to the property, according to the notice. The suit resulted in a July court order barring the park from collecting a $100 a month rent hike that began in November.

The notice didn’t issue a closure date, and alleges that the city wouldn’t cooperate in finding a resolution.

“Unfortunately, due to the measures taken by the city the park will be forced to close,” the notice to tenants stated. “The park has been operating at a loss for several years and has been fighting to keep this park open so no resident will have to move.”

The notice by Harmony Communities said the 1.25-acre lot “is worth much more than operating an RV Park for affordable housing,” and that the city doesn’t allow it to raise rents fast enough to keep up with inflation.

The dispute started in August 2021 when tenants received notice of the rent increases, which Harmony said would bring the average monthly rent to $650. City officials and residents pushed back, saying the increase violated a city mobile home rent stabilization ordinance, established to protect affordability.

The conflict hinges on what types of homes exist at the park. Harmony maintains they’re recreational vehicles, and thus exempt from a city rent control ordinance covering mobile or manufactured homes. The city and the residents say otherwise.

In December, the city sued Donna Chessen, the property owner, and Harmony Communities. Its attorneys cited a 2004 case that established the park as a mobile home park subject to the rent control ordinance.

Superior Court Judge James Chou granted a motion for a preliminary injunction in July, prohibiting the park from collecting rent in excess of the city’s mobile home rent stabilization ordinance. The ordinance caps mobile home park rent increases at 75 percent of consumer price index adjustments. The city continues the rent increase litigation.

Closing an affordable housing mobile home park requires the owner to prepare a tenant impact report and take steps to relocate tenants, or pay fair market value for displacement.

Donna Chessen, who with her late husband has owned the park since 2006, argues the property is no longer a mobile home park, because it contains mostly RVs. She plans to begin the closure process within 10 days and close the park next year, she said in an email to the newspaper.

“The city did this, and I don’t know how the city staff can live with themselves,” Chessen said. “We wanted to run this as an RV park forever, but that’s impossible if our rents don’t cover our expenses.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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