Another West Coast RV park is being sued over the escalating issue of surging rents for RV dwellers and the legal implications of long- versus short-term RV park tenants, this time in Green, Oregon.
The class-action lawsuit, Mary Gilbert v. Rising River Resort LLC, was filed by Troy Pickard of the Portland Defender law firm.
The lawsuit mirrors other recent legal disputes that hinge upon the issues of whether or not rent increases exceed legal limits under state and local tenant protection and rent control laws, and whether RV park tenants are even protected by such laws and ordinances.
As an example, in April of this year, the City of San Rafael, California, settled a lawsuit, City of San Rafael v. Chessen, et al. The lawsuit was brought by the City in December 2021 to enforce its Mobile Home Rent Stabilization Ordinance. The RV Park of San Rafael was acquired and managed by Harmony Communities of Stockton, CA.
Back to the current lawsuit, in mid-2022, plaintiff Mary Gilbert received a notice that her rent would go from $432 to $472 per month, a 10% increase. Then, not long after, in October, she was notified of another increase to $649 starting in December — a 37.5% increase, making the total increase in rent for 2022 more than 47%.
Legal question for RVers staying indefinitely in RV parks
Here lies the crux of the legal question for RVers staying indefinitely in RV parks: Is Mary Gilbert, a long-term resident of the Rising River Resort RV Park, and “those similarly situated” members of the class, protected under the Oregon Revised Statutes that apply to residential rental tenants? If so, then under Oregon’s Landlord and Tenant Law, ORS 90, landlords are allowed to raise rent by up to 14.6%. Or is the resident of an RV park instead a transient and not a tenant?
Jessica Nichols, director of operations for northern campgrounds of Bluewater — the company that recently acquired the RV resort — told the Roseburg, Oregon News Review, “Rising River is a transient campground not a mobile home park. As a campground the rates fluctuate. They (guests) don’t sign a yearly lease or anything like that,” Nichols said. “They have an agreement that they apply so they may stay for an extended period of time.”
Troy Pickard, a 13-year veteran of tenant law, disagrees. “Generally speaking, once a tenant has lived somewhere for more than 30 days, then they would be covered by the landlord tenant law.”
What’s an unfair increase in RV space rent?
Reasonable people may disagree on what constitutes an unfair increase in RV space rent. Some will argue that monthly rent of $430 or even $649 is reasonable for a well-kept waterfront RV park like Rising River RV Resort and River House.
Another issue at the core of every such rent dispute is the question of private RV park property owners’ rights to set rents and fees at levels that provide a reasonable return on their considerable investment in infrastructure and upkeep. Undoubtedly today, there is the question of what the RV site rental market will bear. However, with the ever-increasing numbers of people who live in RVs as housing of last resort, even the rent increases allowed by the Oregon state statute become a financial burden.
The rising controversy: transient or tenant?
On the one hand, some RV parks like the predictable cashflow of long-term monthly tenants as an offset to the unpredictable and often seasonal itinerant RV park trade. But on the other hand, some states declare tenants of certain duration, e.g., those remaining for 30 days or more, as tenants like mobile homeowners renting space.
This case will turn upon the Oregon courts’ view of the difference.