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Seniors take legal action against City of Thousand Oaks

Effort to to protect their independence and prevent potential homelessness

Los Angeles (June 22, 2012)  – A number of Senior citizens, all members of a group known as SAFE (Senior Alliance for Empowerment) and all residents of the Ranch Mobile Home Park in Thousand Oaks, California, have decided it is time to take action in order to protect their one major asset and their ability to live independently and with dignity. Today, they filed a lawsuit against the City of Thousand Oaks. The suit demands that the City reverse the improper action it took last year that resulted in a rent increase of more than 200 percent and the removal of the rental protections upon which these very low income seniors relied when they bought their homes in the Ranch in the first place.

For more than 30 years, The Ranch has been a haven for low-income seniors because of its age, income, and rent restrictions that were supposed to be in place “in perpetuity.” The average age of the current residents is 80 and the average monthly income is below $1000. Half of the residents are persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, given the protections provided, they have been able to live independently.  Although Ranch residents rent the spaces where their mobile homes are located, they own their homes. Those homes are most often their only significant asset.

“We all moved in here in reliance on the rent restrictions that have been in place since 1977. Now we are struggling to remain in our homes because the City changed the rules for no reason other than the apparent greed of the park’s owners,” said Jim Wolf, a member of SAFE and resident of the Ranch.

“I don’t know where I will go,” laments Bobbi Lee, another resident and member of SAFE who said she suffered a stroke last year as a result of the stress of fighting to keep her home affordable.

As recently as 2010, the city reaffirmed that rental increases at the Ranch were governed by the Ranch’s own development permit, and not the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance which was enacted to protect tenants in all of the other mobile home parks in the area. Moreover, the City represented that the Ranch would continue to provide low-income housing for seniors. Despite these representations, the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, as amended last year and applied to the Ranch, strips Ranch residents of a number of protections they previously enjoyed under the development permit, and removes the age and income restrictions at the Ranch.

The complaint charges that through the unlawful application of the City’s recently amended Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which has never previously applied to the Ranch, the low-income senior residents of the Ranch now stand to lose their homes because their rent is no longer affordable.  Barring reversal of this action, many residents of the Ranch will be forced out of their homes and into government-subsidized housing or onto the street, an absurd result which rent control ordinances are designed to prevent. Thus, the lawsuit seeks to have the City rescind those portions of the rent control ordinance which the City has been applying to the Ranch and to enjoin the City from violating the tenants’ rights under federal, state, and local law.

The seniors’ group, SAFE, is represented by Bet Tzedek along with pro bono attorneys from the law firms of Perkins Coie; Horvitz and Levy LLP; and  CGS Law; as well as by the public interest law firms California Rural Legal Assistance; and Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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