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Residents of rent-controlled senior mobile home park wrestle with sudden monthly hike

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"It is most frustrating to know that Rutherford could elect to just write off the property tax as a business expense," says McLeod. Out of the 14 privately owned mobile home parks in the city, only three or four pass through property taxes to residents, he says. "What bothers us in principle is people say, 'Why should we pay property tax on land we don't actually own?'" says McLeod.

The current annual property tax for Rancho San Miguel is $147,589, and with 141 spaces, that breaks down to $87.22 per month, per space. The new owners are seeking only $54.39 per month from each resident. The previous owners paid $79,709 annually in property taxes, which breaks down to $46.13 per month, per space, though residents were charged just $12.06 per month.

There is no correlation between previous charges and any new ones, says O'Hagan. "We don't know what the prior ownership passed through. I can't comment on what they did."

Marjorie Jackson of the city's housing development department met with park owners and residents in December after a petition circulated in the park attracted 111 signatures, and reports that both parties came to an agreement that an increase retroactive to April would be spread out over a longer period, which cut by about $7 per month the immediate increase to residents.

But McLeod is still left with a sour feeling, and believes a 450 percent increase in property tax assessments to residents is too much to handle at once.

Santa Rosa's 14 privately owned mobile home parks have a total of 2,008 spaces. Of those 14, two have undergone "condo conversion," meaning the residents own their individual spaces; Rancho San Miguel is not one of those. Out of Rancho San Miguel's 141 spaces, 124 are regulated under Santa Rosa's rent-control ordinance, which has been in effect since 1993.

Residents are now concerned that the switch from ownership by a family business to an investment firm will mean more expenses for tenants. "They're going through everything to maximize their profitability, and any little things they can pass through, they're going to do it," says McLeod. "It could all of a sudden not be an affordable place to live anymore."

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