In Sequoia Park Associates v. County of Sonoma, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —-, Cal.App. 1 Dist., August 21, 2009), a California Court of Appeal found that the provisions of the Subdivision Map Act that govern the conversion of a mobilehome park from a rental to a resident ownership basis preempt a county ordinance that imposed additional requirements on such conversions, and invalidated the ordinance.
The Subdivision Map Act sets forth a detailed list of requirements for the conversion of a mobilehome park from a rental to a resident ownership basis in order to “avoid economic displacement of current tenants who do not choose to become a purchasing resident.” Government Code section 66427.5 requires a subdivider to (1) offer each existing tenant the option to purchase the mobilehome space; (2) file and make available to residents a report detailing the impact of the conversion on the mobilehome park residents; and (3) obtain and submit a survey of support of park residents. Additionally, this section obligates the subdivider to avoid displacement of all nonpurchasing residents by requiring rent increases to be phased in over a four year period, with additional restrictions on rent increases to lower income residents.
The County of Sonoma enacted its own mobilehome park conversion ordinance, which it said was intended to implement the state conversion statutes and to ensure that conversions are bona fide resident conversions. The County’s ordinance, however, imposed additional obligations on a subdivider who submits a conversion application beyond the state law requirements. The ordinance provides that an application for conversion of a mobilehome park to resident ownership will only be approved if the tenant survey, tenant impact report and maintenance impact report have been conducted and filed; the conversion is consistent with the General Plan, any specific or area plan, and the county code; the conversion is a bona fide resident conversion; provisions have been made to ensure proper long-term management and maintenance; and there are no conditions existing in the park that are detrimental to public health or safety.
The ordinance sets out specific factors to be used to determine if a conversion is bona fide. The ordinance presumes that the conversion is bona fide if more than 50% of the residents support the conversion, places the burden on the subdivider to demonstrate the conversion is bona fide if 20% – 50% of the residents support the conversion, and presumes the conversion is not bona fide if less than 20% of the residents support the conversion.
A mobilehome park operator brought a lawsuit against County to halt the enforcement of the County’s ordinance on the ground that the Subdivision Map Act, specifically Government Code section 66427.5, preempts the ordinance. The trial court upheld the ordinance, finding that it was not preempted by the Subdivision Map Act.
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order, finding that the County’s ordinance is both expressly and impliedly preempted by the Subdivision Map Act.
The court noted that the survey requirement in the current version of section 66427.5 was added by the Legislature in response to the case of El Dorado Palm Springs, Ltd., v. City of Palm Springs (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 1153, which held that a city could not impose additional requirements to mobilehome park conversion in order to prevent a sham or fraudulent transaction. Although the El Dorado court recognized that the conversion process might be used for improper purposes, it specifically rejected that there was a certain number of residents needed to support conversion before it could occur
The court held that the County’s ordinance is specifically preempted by Government Code section 66427.5. It stated that the California Legislature has regulated mobilehomes in such a manner that local governments “are allowed little scope to improvise or deviate from the Legislature’s script.” The court noted that section 66427.5 explicitly provides that the scope of a hearing before a local agency or legislative body on the issue of approving a map for a conversion “shall be limited to the issue of compliance with this section.” The court concluded that this portion of section 66427.5 has “the effect of an express preemption of the power of local authorities to inject other facts when considering an application to convert an existing mobilehome park from a rental to a resident-owner basis.” The court found that the ordinance grants discretion to local decision makers well beyond what is allowed by section 66427.5.
The court further concluded that the County’s ordinance is impliedly preempted by section 66427.5. The court cited the breadth of state law in the areas of regulating mobilehomes and mobilehome parks, noting that California “has a long-standing involvement with mobilehome regulation,” and that the state’s regulation of mobilehome parks is extensive. The Mobilehome Residency Law, which was enacted in 1979, contains almost one hundred statutes that govern the business of operating a mobilehome park. Since 1967, the Mobilehome Parks Act has regulated the construction and installation of mobilehome parks in California. The sale, licensing, registration, and titling of mobilehomes are governed by the Mobilehomes-Manufactured Housing Act of 1980. A state agency, the Department of Housing and Community Development, is “entrusted with the authority to formulate ‘specific requirements relating to construction, maintenance, occupancy, use, and design’ of mobilehome parks.” For the past 25 years, the state has also had a policy “to encourage and facilitate the conversion of mobilehome parks to resident ownership.” The court stated that “the fact that the situations where localities could involve themselves in conversions have been so carefully delineated shows that the Legislature viewed the subject as one where the state concern would not be advanced if parochial interest were allowed to intrude.”
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