Some Laws Regarding Manufactured Homes
Identifying Whether the Home is "Mobile" or "Modular" is Just the First Step in Understanding What the Law Requires.
homes present unique challenges in a variety of legal contexts such as
transfers of ownership, treatment under restrictive covenants, zoning,
and disposal. This article will highlight some of the general
rules in each of these areas
First, it is important to understand a couple of definitions related to
manufactured homes. Manufactured homes can either be mobile homes
or modular homes.
"Mobile homes" are what people traditionally call
trailers. To identify them with legal specificity, a mobile home
is any housing constructed and labeled to indicate compliance with the
HUD-administered National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974.
Each home constructed to this standard must have a HUD data plate
permanently attached near the main electrical panel. This can be
critical to finding the serial number that identifies the home, but
often this “permanent” data plate is missing. In that case, the
serial number can be located by crawling under the home and viewing the
front cross-member where it must be stamped into the metal.
"Modular homes" are what people usually think of as homes
assembled in sections that, when completed, result in a home that looks
like a traditional stick-built home; technically, they are defined as
homes constructed and labeled indicating compliance with the North Carolina State Building Code, Volume VII—Residential.
The key factor in identifying whether a home is modular is
whether a building permit was issued prior to its installation.
For this article, I will be using the terms “mobile home”
for HUD homes, and “modular homes” for manufactured homes assembled
under a traditional building permit.
Transferring Ownership of Mobile Homes
The critical factor in transferring ownership of a mobile
home is whether the home is titled as a vehicle or as real estate.
If the home is brand new, it will have a certificate of origin for the
initial transfer. The home can be sold as a motor vehicle in which
case the Division of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) will issue a certificate of
title to the new owner and the home will remain titled just like a
car. Alternatively, the home can immediately be permanently
affixed to real estate and become part of the real estate. This
act is accomplished by completing and filing in the Register of Deeds a
document titled, “Declaration of Intent to Affix Manufactured Home to
Real Property.” Note that a current owner can cancel a DMV title
at any time and convert the mobile home to real estate.
For subsequent sales, the current owner may very well be
aware of whether the home is characterized as a vehicle or as real
estate. In the case of the former, the owner will most likely
produce the DMV title; in the case of the latter, the owner will produce
the previously recorded Declaration of Intent converting the mobile home to real estate.
If the home has a DMV title, that title is signed over just
like in the sale of a car. If the mobile home has been converted
to real estate, the home is conveyed with the deed that transfers the
However, there are also many times when a mobile home is
titled through DMV as a vehicle, but the owner does not have the title
or even realize that it is titled as a vehicle. The misconception
is compounded by the fact that the county is already taxing the mobile
home as real estate even though it is still personal property.
Title searching, and inquiring of DMV, can frequently clarify the
ownership status. Depending on the results, there are a host of
actions that may be necessary to properly convey the mobile home.
These can range from simply filing a Declaration of Intent, to
requesting a replacement title, to creating a new title by applying to
DMV and posting a bond for the appraised value of the home. The
action will be specific to each situation.
Manufactured Homes Under Restrictive Covenants
Many neighborhoods with restrictive covenants have rules
banning manufactured homes. The rules are often not clearly
written and lead to disputes between the owners’ association and an
owner wishing to place either a mobile home or a modular home. The
clearest way to resolve these disputes is to have well-drafted rules --
either from the outset or by amending current restrictions with clear
Defining manufactured homes using the definitions
adopted in this article goes a long way to eliminating disputes because
there is no argument over whether a home is “manufactured” or is a
“trailer.” Instead, the determination turns simply on whether the
home is HUD-labeled or received a building permit. Those are
objective facts that cannot be disputed. If HUD-labeled homes are
banned, one merely needs to check to see if the home in question has a
HUD label to decide if it will be allowed or not.
Without clear definitions, the courts have provided a
number of factors to consider in light of ambiguous restrictions.
In the leading case, the covenants banned “structures of a temporary
character [and] trailers.” One lot owner in the subdivision began
to install a modular home under the definitions of this article and
several neighbors sued claiming it was a “trailer.” The court
analyzed whether the home at issue: (1) had to comply with the building
code, (2) was attached to a permanent foundation, (3) could be easily
moved in the future, (4) had a DMV title, and (5) was delivered intact
or assembled. The court ruled the modular home was not a trailer
under the covenants before it.
Mobile homes get treated differently than other dwellings under zoning codes.
In the City of Asheville, in general, mobile homes are
permitted only through a special application procedure to amend the
zoning map of Asheville. The available areas are those that meet
all of the following criteria: (1) the area already contains mobile
homes comprising at least twenty percent of the housing in the area, (2)
the area exceeds five acres, and (3) the area has vacant land for the
installation of new mobile homes. In addition, there are numerous
design and appearance requirements for each home installed.
In Buncombe County, mobile homes are more generally
allowed. Individual mobile homes are permitted by right in the
R-LD (low density), the R-3, the EMP (employment), and the OU (open use)
Disposal of old or abandoned mobile homes often presents a
challenge to property owners. Buncombe County has a program to
assist in this process by paying for the disposal provided certain
conditions are met as follows: (1) the owner must have clear ownership
of the mobile home and the land where it is located, (2) the applicant
is not applying for a mobile home park, (3) the owner will not sell or
develop the property for twelve months after removal, and (4) the owner
will maintain the property following removal
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