Coldren Again?? The Vulture returns to El Nido.


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“The past isn’t dead.
It isn’t even past.”
Faulkner

Coldren Vulture

You’re right, it’s been less than a year since Santa Ana lawyer/profiteer Robert Coldren descended on the senior El Nido Mobile Estates residents in San Juan Capistrano, attempting to defang the city’s rent control ordinance and raise the senior’s rents over 100% – a sudden $641 a month hike – and it’s been less than a year since the SJC Council rebuffed him soundly, awarding only $37 in accord with the Consumer Price Index.

And – funny story there already, actually – Coldren being among other things a vain, thin-skinned braggart, immediately spun this ignominious defeat as a rousing triumph in a letter to his constituency of park owners.  Excerpt:

“The owner of El Nido Mobilehome Park … just this Monday won a decision from the city providing for a $37 per space across the board increase.  The park owner did this without going to court, and against an activist and committed ‘tea party’ council, members of which had vowed to prevent any increase whatever!”  [not true] Read the rest…

What a laugh, painting a scary “committed TEA-PARTY council” – what tea-partiers would support a government intrusion on property rights like rent control?  The council merely upheld SJC law, while also doing what was both right and popular – a no-brainer.  You can read a much more accurate AND entertaining account of Coldren’s flailing October defeat here.

Coldren did vow to come back every year until he and park owner Richard Worley “got what they wanted,” but nobody really took that threat seriously.  Especially when 89-year-old Worley neglected to appeal his defeat to court last year, and seemed to try to repair the hostile relations he’d created with the tenants.  But apparently the fact that one OC city still has rent control for senior mobile home tenants is an unbearable outrage that keeps Robert Coldren awake at night, and now he’s BAAACK bigger than ever, with a number of new and cruel tricks up his sleeve, and our patience with ancient Worley is worn out.

But first, Coldren’s 2016 Manifesto!

Possibly as part of the process of licking his October 2015 wounds, Robert Coldren sent out the following Compilation of sage advice to his Congregation of park owners.  This is Coldren’s Creed, the Catechism to his religion of screwing over elderly home owners, of driving them into penury or onto the street, and it summarizes what he’s been doing for many years all over California (notably in Huntington Beach).  Our emphases:

Positioning Your Mobile Home/RV Park for the Future

coldren faceby Robert S. Coldren
March 30, 2016.

Why did you buy your MH/RV park?  You were probably attracted by a number of factors:

  • Stable monthly income
  • Appreciation over time
  • A tangible asset that you have control over – not some investment fund played out on the roulette wheel called the stock exchange.

As park owners grow and change, and as parks age and change, the suitability of the investment for you may have changed.  There comes that point where you want to sell your property or change it to another use.

To sell the park or change its use, you need to have a flexible business model.  If you plan ahead, you can not only safeguard your investment but also gain flexibility to deal with changed circumstances (and make more $.)  Here are some ideas:

  • Obtain a right of first refusal to purchase the mobile home when the tenant moves.
  • If your park is designated as “senior,” consider changing the status to all-age.  I know this is sacrilege and counter-intuitive, but consider which tenant profile is more likely to generate income that grows, rather than is fixed.  Seniors or working family?  Who is more likely to have time to lobby for rent control?  Senior or working family?  Etc. etc.
  • Acquire homes when they come up for sale in your park  It is much easier to close a MHP, convert it to another use or sell it for a higher price to a developer when the park owns some or all of the units.
  • Raise rents!  If you keep your rents at market, the “cap rate” will generate a higher sales price with the higher NOI (net operating income.)  This seems obvious but I am continually surprised by the number of park owner clients and friends that do NOT target rents to market annually.
  • Raise rents!  (Sound familiar?)  Doing so also prevents old homes in your park from selling for amounts exceeding the home’s value.  This is important so your tenants do not feel “entitled” to that inflated sales price when you seek to relocate them or change the use.  Paying “in-park” value for homes in your park is just “code” for buying your own land back if your rents are below market...
  • Raise rents!  (Again!)  Regularly raising rents (annually) prevents a shock to tenants (and thus “vacancies,” depressing your park’s value) when rents are escalated in one fell swoop… [a little more, here]

And, nothing if not a preacher who leads by example, a leader who walks the walk, Coldren undertook this year to pursue these principles on El Nido to the extent he could.  Taking over the management of El Nido with his “Star Companies,” he tried one of his old tricks:  Preventing the son and heir of a deceased couple – Rich Fielder – from selling his parents’ mobile home at El Nido.

You may remember from my well-read HB Mobile Home Park abuse story of 2014, the unbelievable fact that unscrupulous park owners and managers, including but not limited to Coldren and his clients, have ended up taking possession of hundreds of mobile homes – often the tenant’s entire life savings – simply by placing insurmountable obstacles in the way of the tenant selling it.

Well, Coldren tried all those tricks to steal Rich Fielder’s mobile home – refusing to accept space rent then filing an eviction notice, questioning the validity of the trust through which the home was inherited, refusing to accept Fields’ chosen real estate company, and more.  

Rich could easily have accepted Coldren’s modest cash offer and saved himself a lot of pain and hassle in the wake of his parents’ death, but he is a “Mission Viejo firefighter” who according to credible reports “has BALLS.”  Accordingly, Rich opted to fight Coldren, mostly to set a precedent and prevent him from engaging in more such predatory behavior to other homeowners.  And from what I hear Rich’s fight is going well – I’ll have the full story once it’s all over.

Back to the Main Stage

coldrenSo anyways, the main story is that back in May, Coldren pulled another surprise on El Nido residents, serving them notice that their monthly rent will jump up an additional $403 beginning in September – a sudden hike of about 60%.  At the same time he sent a “heads up” letter to the tenants’ attorney Bruce Stanton (a really nice guy who faces off against Coldren regularly and often wins) letting him know that the panicked residents would be calling him soon, and that “We of course would not want to fight this year, if we don’t have to, and are rolling out a program designed to allow us and the tenants to get the amount of that [increase] down to something less than 60 bucks [from $403.]”

The catch?  His proposed “resolution documents” involve the old trick of getting the elderly homeowners to sign a lease, which he euphemistically calls a “Rent Credit Agreement.”  And this Rent Credit Agreement subtly does away with – you guessed it – the tenant’s RENT CONTROL!  

There’s more in that agreement that sucks for the homeowner, but I’m in a hurry to get to the most outrageous part:  The initial reaction to the vulture’s demand for a $403 hike was derisive laughter, given the faceplant he’d executed nine months earlier.  But at the opening hearing August 2, Coldren made it clear WHY he felt the park owner was entitled to an extra $403.

You’re going to want to sit down for this…

  • During last October’s contretemps, the tenants paid their nice-guy attorney Bruce Stanton a modest $36,000.
  • At the same time, for roughly the same amount of work, the aristocratic Robert Sawyer Coldren claims to have charged park owner Worley nearly ten times that amount – $327,000.
  • One way a large rent increase could have been justified last year, and wasn’t, would have been to show a substantial increase in Worley’s EXPENSES.
  • There is precedence for park owners adding their legal expenses onto their tenants’ rents.
  • You guessed it – Coldren is demanding that El Nido tenants pay an extra $403 a month beginning next week, all to cover the exorbitant legal fees he charged the park owner in order to screw them over (and even failed!)

Is there any way this can actually fly?  I mean, actually fly and lightning not hit Coldren from the sky?  We will find out in the next two days, Wednesday & Thursday August 24-5, in the San Juan Capistrano Council Chambers.  I’ll have the story for you.  I’ll let tenant organizer (and one of The Register’s Most Influential People of 2015) Tom Perrin have the last few paragraphs:

perrin

“…As we understand from various sources, the park owner of the El Nido Estates, Mr. Richard “Dick” Worley, who drives through the park in his white Jaguar, and his attorneys, Robert Sawyer Coldren, driving his Porsche Cayenne SUV, and Daniel T. Rudderow, driving his white Hyundai Genesis around town, are all millionaires. Obviously they have no concerns or respect for the residents living in the El Nido Estates, and no respect for the laws, ordinances, of the City of San Juan Capistrano. As it stands, they appear to be trying to drive senior citizens, veterans, disabled and handicapped individuals, and people living on fixed incomes, out of their homes. All of this seems to be okay with the park owner and his attorneys. They have a total disregard for the futures or welfare of the citizens residing in the El Nido Estates and a total disrespect for the laws governing the City of San Juan Capistrano.

“The City of San Juan Capistrano city council, city planners and city managers, over time have made conscientious, responsible decisions with regard to housing matters within its city, and they have taken steps to help with this issue. One of these measures was to establish a rent control ordinance, which limits the amount that rent can be increased in the mobile home parks within the city; thus helping to maintain communities for retirees, and residents living on fixed incomes.

3 ladies“This attempt to raise the rents of the tenants living in the El Nido Estates is also an attempt to ignore or undo the City of San Juan Capistrano’s rent control ordinance. This blatant attempt to defeat or override the city’s ordinance also creates an expenditure of finances and staff resources in order to uphold their city laws.

“Mobile homes offer a unique housing arrangement. The residents of the mobile home parks in San Juan Capistrano must buy their home, and in most cases, then have to pay rent for the space that their home occupies in the chosen mobile home park. The mobile owners are solely responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of their homes, and the surrounding areas within the allocated spaces. They are also required to pay an annual tax on their homes, and to pay their own utilities, i.e. water, gas and electricity.

“Mobile homes are not really mobile and the mobile home residents, unlike apartment dwellers, or even condominium owners, are not able to simply just pick up and move at will, or on short notice. By imposing an extraordinary rent increase, which many in the El Nido Estates cannot afford to pay, and to allow only 90-day window for the owners of the house to try to sell their home and move, could almost be construed as a form of extortion. The park owners essentially have the mobile home owners as hostages. If they cannot pay the elevated rent or move, they are in danger of losing their homes—or perhaps through some other scheme they might lose equity that they have built up in the homes.

medina“As earlier stated, the people residing in the El Nido Estates are senior citizens, many of which are veterans, and some are disabled or handicapped. They pay taxes and they are responsible citizens, and because of their retired, or semi-retired status, they don’t contribute substantially to automobile traffic in the city. They typically don’t travel too far out the city and they tend to use the local physicians and dentists for their medical care. They shop locally in the city’s supermarkets, shops, hardware stores, etc. They frequent the restaurants and theaters in the city. The park owner is essentially trying to extract $745,000.00 per year from those residents, to either go into his personal bank account or to be spent outside the City San Juan Capistrano.

“The owner of the El Nido Estates is not only putting the park residents in an untenable situation, he is threatening to take away their savings and in perhaps other ways jeopardize their ability to live within their limited means. The emotional stress this matter has created cannot be overstated,

“The El Nido Estates residents have no other option available to them than to try to fight this increase through the rent control procedure as provided by the City of San Juan Capistrano. The City of San Juan Capistrano is very conscious of the need for affordable housing in the city, and the need to help protect the senior citizens living in their city.

el nido fighters“Hearings at the San Juan Capistrano City Council Chambers are scheduled for August 24th, and 25th. We are hopeful that the city’s rent control ordinance will again protect everyone’s interests.

“Respectfully,  Thomas Perrin, Jr.
El Nido Estates
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675”


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.