Creating Workable Protections for Manufactured Home Owners: Evictions, Foreclosures and the Homestead
This article originally appeared in the Gonzaga Law Review in 2014. As noted by the authors, the article discusses a problem that has yet to be fixed, so it remains relevant. It is reprinted here with permission.
For many, the financial burdens of owning a traditional, site-built home are overly burdensome. Many individuals who earn substantially lower income than the average site-built home owner1 have instead turned to manufactured housing2 in pursuit of homeownership. In Washington, the Department of Revenue estimates that there are 1,400 manufactured housing communities in which 62,745 manufactured homes are placed.3
Since about the middle of the last century, manufactured housing has become a source of quality housing for low-income residents of Washington. In recognition of this, when adopting certain amendments to the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act4 (MHLTA) in 2008, the Washington Legislature articulated in its findings of intent:
Manufactured/mobile home communities provide a significant source of homeownership opportunities for Washington residents .... Many tenants who reside in manufactured/mobile home communities are low-income households and senior citizens and are, therefore, those residents most in need of reasonable security in the siting of their manufactured/mobile homes because of the adverse impacts on the health, safety, and welfare of tenants forced to move ....5
Along with federal statutes, Washington’s MHLTA has evolved to protect manufactured home owners from unscrupulous park owners, predatory lending, and other problems unique to manufactured housing.
Despite these protections, there remains a significant gap in Washington law with respect to post-eviction remedies available to individuals who own a manufactured home but rent the land upon which the home is sited (hereinafter referred to as a “manufactured home owner”).6 As this article argues, while manufactured home owners facing eviction are explicitly protected by Washington’s “Homestead Act”7 from forced sales of their homes, many manufactured home owners are, in practice, unaware of the Homestead Act’s protections or how to enforce them. The result is often that when manufactured home owners are evicted from manufactured housing communities, they lose their home along with any accrued equity.
This article further argues that a more appropriately balanced eviction process for manufactured home owners should be modeled on the foreclosure process of site-built homes in the mortgage loan context. Such a system would recognize the significant equity that many manufactured home owners have at stake in their homes, while at the same time respecting the need of manufactured housing community owners to maintain their housing communities as businesses and each individual lot as a profitable investment. The appendix to this article includes the text of a bill that could be enacted based on this article’s proposed legislative framework.
Part I of this article details the history of manufactured housing in the United States, current laws in Washington protecting manufactured home owners, and Washington’s Homestead Act. Part II reviews the academic literature that discusses manufactured housing evictions. Part III focuses more closely on Washington’s Homestead Act protections for manufactured home owners facing eviction, and how manufactured home owners are often unable to fully enforce their rights under the Homestead Act. Part IV examines how other states have attempted to make their eviction proceedings for manufactured home owners more equitable. Finally, Part V examines the interests of manufactured home owners, manufactured housing community owners, and society at large as well as offers a proposal for a new legislative framework that more equitability and predictably balances these interests.
Part I - History
A. Manufactured Housing: Background
Manufactured homes have substantially evolved from their earliest predecessors: travel trailers, often homemade, that could be hitched to the back of a car8 and were intended as temporary housing.9 Despite their widespread use in post-Depression years as primary residences, manufactured homes were at that time largely viewed as “recreational housing,” and were highly mobile.10 By 1950, however, 90 percent of all such trailers were used as primary, permanent residences, and they were becoming increasingly difficult to move.11
Congress eventually recognized this change in use of manufactured homes and the danger posed by a non-
standardized, unregulated industry that was becoming increasingly important to the housing needs of the nation. In response, it brought manufactured housing under federal regulation by what was then known as the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974.12 This Act directed the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to develop federal construction and safety standards for manufactured homes that would preempt state and political subdivision standards.13 The Act, as originally written, was intended to “reduce the number of personal injuries and deaths and the amount of insurance costs and property damage resulting from mobile home accidents and to improve the quality and durability of mobile homes.”14
Following this mandate, HUD established its manufactured housing code in 1976,15 now commonly referred to as the “HUD Code.” Just six years later, in response to the change in character, safety standards, and quality of this type of housing after the implementation of the HUD Code, Congress amended the 1974 Act to substitute the term “manufactured home” for “mobile home” wherever it appeared.16 Thereafter, it has become a point of definition that the term “manufactured home” can only refer to homes that have been built to HUD Code standards.17
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