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2700-percent rent hike for OC condo complex

January 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A 2,700-percent rent hike for the land some Orange County condominiums are located on is forcing some longtime owners out of their homes.

People at the complex own their homes, but they still have to pay rent on the land that the structures sit on.

Roma Ernst, her daughter and grandson look at the 85-year-old's latest bill.

"I'm stressed. As you can tell talking about it, I get myself all upset. I don't know what's going to happen," said Roma Ernst.

Since Ernst bought her condo in the Shady Hollow complex 15 years ago, she has paid $44 per month to rent the land it sits on. In December her monthly payment blew up to nearly $1,200 a month.

"There's no way I can come up, and live too, and eat and have gas and lights and water," said Ernst, a widow.

Ernst's unit is among 150 in the Santa Ana community that faces a 2,700-percent hike.

In the 1970s an agreement was reached between the homebuyers, the homebuilder and the landowner, the Rohr Family Trust, to lease the land for $44 per month for 30 years. When the agreement ended in 2005, homeowners received notice their rate would soon skyrocket.

Residents filed a lawsuit. After a seven-year court battle, reality has hit. It's not just a monthly increase. Ernst must also pay more than $75, in back rent going back to 2006, jeopardizing not only her home but that of her daughters, who had to move in with her last year after she lost her job due to a disability.

Her daughter also lived in the same complex.

"I couldn't sell my house. All my equity was in my house. Couldn't sell it. Just had to let it go," said Ernst's daughter, Christine Lammers.

Ernst says she can only afford to pay up to $600 per month in land rent and hopes to renegotiate with the landowners. So far she has not heard back.

"I'm taking it one day at a time," said Ernst.