Douglas County commissioners handed disgruntled Tahoe Shores tenants a small victory last week, unanimously voting for a rent cap for mobile home parks in the Tahoe Township.
In the long run, though, the 155 tenants -- many of whom are elderly and low-income -- may lose the battle.
Most believe they could be slapped with a 90-day notice that outlines an intent to raise rates, that would far exceed the $100 hike the property's new owner proposed to take effect April 1.
It could take that long for the rent-control ordinance to start.
Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle warned the commissioners that the extensive nature of drafting an ordinance would be time-consuming to gather, as would the market research necessary to assess comparable rental rates.
In an emotional appeal, some tenants came before the commissioners two months ago to ask for the rent cap to protect their affordable-housing haven at the end of Kahle Drive. After meeting with the park owners a few weeks ago, no middle ground was met.
"We left that meeting feeling like we were kicked in the gut," said Steve Ray, a Stateline Homeowners Association board member who's lived in the park since 1995.
The tenants think the proposed increases are an effort to drive them out, as new owner South Shores Tahoe LLC pursues a plan to redevelop the prime lakeside property.
The limited partnership -- which includes Robert Mecay of Incline Village -- bought the 17 acres more than a year ago for $12.6 million.
The owners have since bantered with the residents over rent increases, water fees and a new month-to-month lease that replaced the yearlong agreement.
Lew Feldman, the attorney representing the park owner, said he was disappointed in the commissioners' action.
"There's no question they plan to redevelop the park in a different form," he said, adding his client is evaluating water quality issues as it explores future plans. The property lies in a watershed area.
In the meantime, Feldman said the owners sought a 17 percent rent increase to offset expenses accrued in the acquisition.
"They're providing an opportunity to increase the rent beyond what was being proposed," he said.
Last spring, tenants were facing rents amounting to $697 a month.
Commissioner Don Miner recommended the tenants return to the bargaining table with the park owners to fend off a 90-day notice of a higher increase with an acceptable compromise.
The board plans to discuss a preliminary draft of an ordinance Dec. 19.
Doyle's staff has developed a working draft, but he declined to release the draft until it comes before the panel next month.
He also expressed concern the county would have the legal authority to enact such an ordinance. County Manager Dan Holler would serve on a rent-control board with the Douglas County controller and community development director.
The challenges didn't sway the board.
"Rent control goes against everything I believe in, and I wouldn't be surprised if the 90-day notification (of a rent increase) went out (today)," Commissioner Kelly Kite said. A 3 percent increase on the tenants' rents would have better matched inflationary rates, he said.