Rent control for motorhomes? Policy could extend protections to non-traditional tenants

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Alex Miggins sleeps in a motorhome near Mosswood Park because “it’s good, much better than being in a tent, and it’s cheaper than renting an apartment”.

But that’s not a stable way to live in Oakland. A warning note is stuck to the door of his vehicle, since the moment about a month ago, the police came to tell him to leave the area in three days. They haven’t come back to chase her yet, but it feels like her days are numbered.

Miggins was therefore intrigued to hear of a proposal in Oakland to allow people like her to park on private property in the city. Under the policy, written by Mayor Libby Schaaf and city council members Dan Kalb and Sheng Thao, landowners could rent to tenants living in one or more RVs or small houses on wheels, on their land, according to zoning rules. This is currently illegal, as all residential housing must be built on a permanent foundation in Oakland.

Miggins said it would be worth paying rent if it meant having a safe place to park and access to water and electricity. But she was concerned that landlords would change their minds and “throw people to the curb” – literally – or “raise the rent” soon after someone moved in.

That’s why Oakland officials are coming up with something unusual: including RVs as part of Oakland’s rent control and eviction protection policies. These policies limit the amount that landlords can increase in rents each year and only allow evictions for certain reasons.

If motorhomes are treated as housing units, “it makes sense to provide the same protections that exist for traditional forms of housing,” said Darin Ranelletti, the mayor’s political director for housing security.

But it would be a rare expansion of rent control in Oakland, after a 1995 state law strictly limited such policies. Oakland officials believe recreational vehicles are exempt from these rules.

The rent control proposal is part of a larger set of policies that would legalize more types of housing in Oakland, relaxing the rules around mobile, manufactured and modular homes, as well as RVs. The policies, all from Schaaf, Kalb and Thao, will be presented to the city council’s community and economic development committee on Tuesday. If the committee approves the bill, it will travel to full council shortly.

Proponents of these policies say the housing crisis demands more flexibility in how cities define and authorize housing. Traditional housing is expensive to both build and rent, so developers and residents have sought creative and cheaper forms of housing in recent years, from factory-built apartments to recreational vehicles.

“The current code does not reflect the way people live today,” Ranelletti said.

The latest estimates are 700 people living in RVs in Oakland, and many report being subjected to regular citations and harassment from the city and its neighbors.

They “deserve the dignity, comfort and security of a safe place to live,” said Ranelletti. Because motorhomes are cheaper than apartments, their occupants are generally low-income, Ranelletti said, and therefore “more exposed to fluctuations in the housing market”, such as rising rents.

State law limits rent control. Are RVs the Exceptions?

Newer buildings, those built after 1983, are not covered by Oakland’s rent control rules. Credit: Pete Rosos Credit: Pete Rosos

If the RV Renter Protection Policy passes, it would be the first time in decades that hundreds of new units could be added to Oakland’s local rent control policy.

That’s because a state law of 1995, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, limited the types of properties that cities could place under rent control. No building constructed after 1995, or after the year a local rent ordinance was passed, whichever came first, could be included in a city’s policy. The Oakland Rent Control Ordinance was created in 1983, so all residences built after that year are subject to market rents. And the eviction protections under the City Justification Ordinance only apply to buildings constructed before 1995.

The authors of the RV policy believe vehicles are Costa-Hawkins exempt, meaning that an RV built after 1983 could still be covered by rent control. Their report to city council indicates that the ban on new rent-controlled construction only applies to buildings with certificates of occupancy, unlike recreational vehicles.

Los Angeles already includes mobile homes and recreational vehicles – if the recreational vehicles are located in a trailer park – in its rent control ordinance.

“There is a precedent,” Ranelletti said.

But Oakland’s proposal would also apply to RVs parked on other private lots, in someone’s yard, for example. In many cases, they could be considered “accessory housing units,” or ADUs, which are permitted on most lots in Oakland, including those zoned for single-family homes. The policy would not, however, apply to recreational vehicles parked on the streets of Oakland.

Derek Barnes, CEO of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, a homeowners advocacy organization, said he supports efforts to adopt new types of housing, given that construction costs are so high, but are falling. beware of the “restrictions” included in these policies.

“I’m excited on the one hand – we’re thinking more broadly about what a house and housing is, and what we can do collectively to create more units,” Barnes said. “But sometimes what they don’t consider is the rising cost of owning and operating a home, which is borne by the owner.” Limiting rent increases limits the ability of landlords to perform maintenance, he said.

Renting recreational vehicles to occupants could create new costs for homeowners, such as providing utility connections, but could also eliminate other costs associated with operating traditional housing, such as property taxes and mortgage payments. Barnes said a “thorough analysis is warranted” to determine the financial impact on owners. (The ordinance covers both recreational vehicles owned by the primary owner and recreational vehicles owned by the tenant but parked on someone else’s property.)

Oakland previously attempted to legalize some RV housing last year, with a pilot program allowing vehicles to park on undeveloped land. A landlord could apply for an annual municipal permit to allow an RV to park on their land, for free or for rent. The program was not successful, with only three people applying to participate, according to the city.

The authors of the new policies propose to conclude the pilot program at the end of the year. Ranelletti said the new legislation incorporates lessons learned from the pilot program, which required owners to apply for and pay for a reauthorization each year, and only allowed one RV per batch, which likely doesn’t make the investment and responsibility pay off in many cases.

The rent control policy would not be the first time that rents have risen recently in California either, despite Costa-Hawkins. A state law, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, extended rent control to additional units, prohibiting annual rent increases greater than 5% plus inflation in any residential property.

However, the increases allowed in units covered by the 1983 Oakland Local Ordinance are much smaller. This year, increases were capped at 1.9%.


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