Trailer owners decry rent hikes

David Briggs
Steeper rents and tigher rules are hitting trailer owners in Dillon Beach this summer.  

Large rent hikes and changes to policy are threatening to upend life for the owners of 25 permanent trailers at the Dillon Beach Resort, which sold in May. 

Last month, residents received notices of rent increases that will go into effect by July 1 as part of new agreements that include a host of other changes that are difficult for some to stomach, such as caps on pets, guests and the number of days a trailer can be occupied each month.

“The stress is eating all of us up,” Cotati resident Joanne Jaeger, who has owned a beachside trailer at the resort for the last 10 years, said. “Some of us are younger, and our hearts are stronger, but this is extremely stressful for everyone.” 

Some trailer owners have been there for nearly five decades, and say the immediate changes are threatening their ability to stay. 

Ms. Jaeger said her rent is going up 23 percent, from $650 to $800. For those trailers abutting the street, rent is going up from $575 to $725. 

Previously, Ms. Jaeger was allowed to spend up to 28 days a month in her trailer; now, she will only be able to spend 20 days.

There are new limits of just one dog per trailer, and Ms. Jaeger said the new owners appear to be lowering the number of people allowed on leases, with all others requiring permission to stay. 

Five of the renters have already left, and everyone else is on the fence, Ms. Jaeger said.

She estimated that less than a dozen owners are even able to pull their trailers out due to damage from salt air over time. And those who relinquish their trailers to the new owners face losing the investments they’ve spent on upkeep. For example, Ms. Jaeger recently put in a new deck for $4,000—money lost should she decide to leave. 

Last week, Ms. Jaeger negotiated an agreement with the property owners, though she has yet to sign it. Under the deal, if she agrees to surrender her trailer by Oct. 1, she can keep her current rent rate until that time.  

She said she was told that, going forward, her trailer would be used either for employee housing or as a short-term rental. 

But the new owner, San Anselmo resident and restaurateur Mike Goebel, said the plan for any vacated trailers was still undecided. In an email to the Light, he defended the rent hikes.

“The property is burdened by severe deferred maintenance and needs significant repairs and upgrades throughout the trailer park,” he said. “The rent increase is to help with the cost of these improvements, and is in line with previous rent increases in the past.” 

Ms. Jaeger said that during her time at the park, there has been only one rent increase of $50. 

Mr. Goebel and two partners purchased the 55-acre property in May; the property was listed for $7 million, though Mr. Goebel would not disclose the final sale price. 

The resort was owned by the Lawson family, who owns nearby Lawson’s Landing campground, from the late 19th century until 2001, when Fred and Nancy Cline bought it for $2.7 million. 

In a statement posted on the general store’s door back in February, the Clines, who own a winery in southern Sonoma, expressed support for the new owners. 

According to California civil code, landlords can raise rents more than 10 percent for tenants on month-to-month agreements—which the trailer owners have—as long as they give at least 60 days’ notice.     

In response to the concern about the rising rents, Mr. Goebel emphasized that no one was being forced to leave. “We welcome all tenants and hope the existing tenants stay and continue to enjoy Dillon Beach,” he wrote. 

Mr. Goebel said necessary repairs range from cosmetic improvements to code upgrades. The restaurant and store are currently closed for rehabilitation, though he estimated that both will reopen this summer. 

The changes are cold comfort for some.

“We all help each other here,” Jack Ramey, who owns both a house in Dillon Beach and a trailer, said from Ms. Jaeger’s residence last weekend. “We knock on each other’s trailers in the morning to say hello, we help each other with repairs—we’re a real community. I know there’s a bottom line to consider, but they don’t seem to care about us.” 

Ms. Jaeger, who grew up Sacramento, has been coming to the beach all her life. “Everyone comes here to heal,” she said. “Fighting cancer, overcoming grief—we all come here and look out our windows at the ocean, and it helps us.”