Doug Curlee of The Santee (Calif.) Patch brings us the story of what every manufactured-home owner fears: a sudden increase in the rent they pay on the land beneath their homes.

Happily, for now, the City of Santee has a Manufactured Home Fair Practices Commission, and that commission voted to enforce fair practices. But as Curlee notes, this victory for residents is no guarantee of their future security: “Santee Mobile Home Owners Win the Rent-Control Battle — But Not the War.”

The residents of Meadowbrook Santee Mobile Estates heard the Santee Manufactured Home Fair Practices Commission confirm the victory they actually won three weeks ago against the company that owns the park, at a special meeting on Thursday.

Three commissioners voted unanimously to affirm that Equity Lifestyle Properties will not get the rental rate increase the company had asked for—a rate increase that would have jacked up space rentals by about $472 a month for the average space in the park.

Given that the average rate the residents are paying now is around $720 a month, it would have represented a staggering increase, especially to senior citizens on fixed incomes.

When a landlord announces a rent increase from $720 a month to nearly $1,200 a month, he’s not trying to cover his own increasing costs, or even just to gouge his tenants. A rent increase of that size is designed to chase off tenants so that the land can be sold to developers for some potentially more lucrative use. A rent increase of that size is basically an eviction notice.

So even though city commissioners voted to protect these residents for now, they know that the company that owns the land beneath their not-really-mobile mobile homes doesn’t want them there and will continue seeking other ways to force them to leave.

Park residents did not race home to pop the champagne corks.

They say they know full well this was a skirmish—a minor battle—in the ongoing war between the park owners and the City of Santee.

“We know this is going to go to court, that the owners are going to sue the city over the whole rent-control law” says Joanne Lepur, a Meadowbrook resident.

“It’s all part of the park owners’ strategy, and not just Meadowbrook. The city has spent more than $2 million, so far, defending the rent-control ordinance in court, and the parks are trying to keep suing until the city runs out of money,” she said.

It’s good to have consumer protections such as the Santee Manufactured Home Fair Practices Commission in place, and laws protecting residents from unreasonable rent increases are also often helpful and necessary. But these things are really only half measures.

It’s good and just and necessary for residents to be able to seek and find justice from the city or the courts, but that doesn’t change their precarious situation or resolve their underlying (literally under-lying) problem. It’s all but guaranteed that these same residents will have to seek justice from the city or the courts again soon, and there is no guarantee that next time they will get as favorable a result. Measures like a fair practices commission or laws limiting rent hikes and evictions help by limiting the power that landlords are able to bring down upon their tenants, but such measures don’t do enough to address the essential powerlessness of those tenants.

Behind the mask of Equity Lifestyles Properties is the familiar face of Old Man Potter, and he’s still the richest man in town. His deep pockets mean that he can hire expensive lawyers to exploit loopholes for any consumer protection legislation. And he can hire expensive lobbyists to create loopholes rendering such legislation meaningless. Eventually, Potter’s deep pockets will come to hold not just his vast wealth, but also the commissioners and judges the tenants rely on for protection.

Better laws and regulations protecting the tenants of Potterville are thus no substitute for the more fundamental change that needs to occur — turning Potterville back into Bedford Falls.

That’s what’s happening now in Paradise Park, a manufactured home community in Highlands, N.J., that just successfully defended their right to purchase the land beneath their homes.

The homeowners will be meeting within the next two weeks to discuss their plans to purchase the property, [Homeowners association president Loretta] Dibble said.

The group has 45 days to secure a contract of purchase. Dibble acknowledged that the homeowners have work ahead of them to make the purchase. She also said the group needs two-thirds of the residents to agree to move forward to purchase the property.

“All of us are looking forward to buying the park, making it a better neighborhood, a welcoming place for families and individuals, and an example of democratic ownership and operation. We will be our own landlord now,” said Leonard Fiorili, association treasurer.

If the homeowners succeed in purchasing their community, it will be the first resident-owned manufactured housing community in New Jersey, despite long-standing public policy and laws designed to promote these community conversions, Dibble said.

“We will be our own landlord.” That’s how it should be and that’s all that 99 percent of the 99 percent are looking for.

The right wing of American politics — the 1-percenters and the venal little Renfields who do their bidding and tend to their coffins during the day — love to pretend that everyone else is a socialistic socialist advocating socialism. I’m fairly sure that they know this is a crock of nonsense, but they love to say it anyway and to pretend that they believe it’s true.

But there’s nothing “socialist” about owning the land beneath your home and being your own landlord, freed of the threat of exploitation and eviction. Bedford Falls isn’t a hotbed of socialism and George Bailey isn’t a socialist. Bailey is a banker, a capitalist — just not a corrupt crony capitalist like Old Man Potter. We 99-percenters are not driven by envy or by our jealousy of Potter, we’re just tired of getting screwed by the landlord.

As Matt Taibbi put it, our complaint isn’t that Old Man Potter is winning, it’s that he’s cheating.

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