I'll Buy That
Consumer Education Series

Home Sweet Mobile Home

If you're searching for a low-cost alternative to traditional housing, you might be tempted to buy mobile home. Or you might find the idea of portability attractive‹perhaps you would like to stay flexible and carry your home along wherever you go.

If so, you may be in for a big surprise. It is true that mobile homes are a far cry from yesterday's cramped "tin Cans." These days, mobile homes offer amenities like cathedral ceilings, yards, modern appliances, and excellent energy efficiency. It is also true that mobile homes can cost a lot less than their traditional tract housing counterparts.

On the other hand, mobile homes are usually far less portable than their name implies. And living in a mobile home park may limit you in ways that conflict with- your lifestyle. As with any large purchase, you'll want to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages carefully before making a decision.

Buying and Selling a Mobile Home

About 23,000 Maryland families today live in mobile homes. People usually choose a mobile home because it costs less to buy and is easier to maintain than a traditional house. For example, a modern two bedroom mobile home with two bathrooms will cost about $38,000. According to an industry spokesman, it would cost you at least 25% more to buy a comparable townhouse. Besides the purchase price, however, there are other costs associated with owning a mobile home. These include monthly rent for a plot in a mobile home park (anywhere from $125 to more than $300 a month), county excise taxes (10-17%), transportation and shipping fees from the factory, and public utility hookup charges. And don't forget: monthly rental fees tend to increase every year in a mobile home park, just as they do with other forms of rental housing.

It is important to include all these costs in your budget before rushing out with your checkbook to buy a mobile home. Otherwise, you could wind up paying much more than you expected. While many mobile home owners are satisfied with their purchases, others are beginning to add up all the costs and ask whether they have really saved much money.

In buying and selling your mobile home, you should be aware of your rights. For example, you have the right to buy your mobile home and any installation equipment from any merchant you choose, unless the mobile home park is renting you a newly constructed lot not previously rented. In that instance, the park can require you to purchase a particular home from a particular person.

If you decide to sell your home, the park owner cannot prevent you from doing so. If your home will be kept in the park after you sell it, the park owner has the right to inspect your home for resale and approve or disapprove the buyer. But the park owner cannot arbitrarily disapprove the buyer or discriminate against the buyer because of race, sex, or national origin.

Are Mobile Homes Really Mobile?

Moving your mobile home might not be as easy as it sounds. First of all, there are very few vacancies in Maryland mobile home parks, so it is practically impossible to move from park to park. Generally, you will have to sell your mobile home at its present location and buy a new home elsewhere in order to move.

A problem may develop, however, if your mobile home does not pass a resale inspection. Remember, park owners have the right to approve your mobile home for resale and to approve any potential buyer. However, a park owner may only charge you a fee of up to $60 for a resale inspection once within a 12-month period. Because many mobile park owners also sell new mobile homes, they may lack the incentive to approve your home for resale. However, a park owner may not arbitrarily withhold approval.

If you cannot sell your home because it is not approved, you have only two options: try to have the home moved elsewhere, or stay where you are and forget about moving. Moving your home elsewhere is very difficult because vacancies in other parks are so scarce. According to the Baltimore County Mobile Homeowners Council, some residents have had to sell their mobile homes to park owners for less than market value because they were not approved for resale and there were no vacancies elsewhere.

In similar situations, some park owners have been known to profit in two ways: First, by buying your old mobile home for below-market price and selling it (usually out of state) at a profit. Second, by removing that home, selling a new mobile home to a new resident, making money on the sale, and charging higher rent.

Park Management Can Make or Break Mobile Home Living

Most mobile home owners are happy in their parks, but some have had bad experiences. Pearl Sasser, former president of the Baltimore County Mobile Home Owners' Council and an advocate for mobile home park living, has received many complaints about the way some mobile home parks are managed. For example, some of these complaints involve park owners who have tried to evict tenants without proper warning; changed park rules without notice; or refused to give leases to existing residents.

There are some rules governing what a park owner may and may not do. Generally, an owner may not require you to pay for any permanent improvements‹such as sidewalk repair‹which would become the property of the park owner. He or she may not require you to purchase any service or product, such as gas or oil, from any specific supplier, except for safety reasons. And the park owner cannot prohibit you from altering or improving the interior of your mobile home, as long as your changes comply with applicable codes and laws.

Evictions

A park owner may terminate a month-to-month lease for any reason simply by giving you one month's notice. However, if you have a one-year lease, you cannot legally be evicted from a mobile home park without the approval of a court. Courts will usually approve an eviction only if you::

If a park owner wants to evict you, he or she must give you 30 days' advance notice in writing. This notice must state the specific reason for the eviction. You cannot legally be evicted because you:

Sometimes, a mobile home park is sold to a developer without the residents' knowledge or consent. If a park's owner decides to use the land as something other than a mobile home park, the owner may require residents to leave on six months' notice. That happened at the Sunrise Mobile Home Park in the Fullerton area of Baltimore County, which housed many senior citizens and handicapped residents. The owners of Sunrise sold the 145 lots, and the residents had to move. Most of them were unable to resell their homes, especially if they owned older models, and were forced to abandon them.

Protecting Park Residents' Rights

In the past, owners of mobile homes did not have the same legal protections as tenants of other housing. In 1984, however, the Maryland General Assembly strengthened the Mobile Home Parks Act to further define park residents' rights. Strict guidelines were set up for terminating leases, evictions, fees, rules, and resale policies.

For example, it is not widely known that every new resident in a park is entitled to a written one-year lease. That is true everywhere in Maryland. Furthermore, every resident who currently lives in a mobile home park may request a one-year written lease at any time. Regardless whether your lease is for one year or month-to-month, your overall costs, including monthly rent, should be the same.

When your first one-year lease expires, you have the right to receive continual one-year leases. The park owner cannot arbitrarily throw you out; he or she must renew your lease unless you have committed specific violations like nonpayment of rent The park owner cannot charge an inspection fee or any other charge in order for you to get your lease. If the owner refuses to renew your lease, he or she must put the reasons in writing.

Don't sign the lease until you get a written copy of the park rules and a written notice stating the availability and capacity of the utilities at the site and the fees for these services. Don't sign until you understand exactly what you will receive, what you will have to pay, and what rules you will have to obey while living in the park.

Where to go for Help

The Consumer Protection Division enforces the Maryland Mobile Home Parks Act al-d works with consumers who file complaints against mobile home park owners. If you have a complaint, try first to resolve it by contacting the park owner or manager yourself.

Your local Mobile Home Owners Association (if there is one), or the Maryland Mobile Home Owners Association may also be able to help. You can reach them at: Maryland Mobile Home Owners Association, Inc. P.O. Box 1455 Laurel, Maryland 20725 (301) 776-9831

If your complaint relates to health or safety, call your local health department.

If you still cannot resolve the complaint, get in touch with the Consumer Protection Division at the office nearest you.

 Mobile Home Tips

1. Choose Wisely: Many counties have strict zoning regulations about placing mobile homes on private land. You will have to live in a mobile home park if you reside in one of those counties. Examine the conditions at the park you want to move into, and talk to other residents about their experiences. It is a good idea to visit the park on different days, including weekends, and at different times. This will allow you to learn about the neighborhood in which your new home will be placed.

2. Examine The Rules: Be sure to read all the park rules before you sign a lease. Although the law prohibits enforcement of "unreasonable" park rules, some parks restrict pets, children, ball playing, car washing, and more. The park owner may set standards for the size, quality, appearance, and safety condition of mobile homes in the park. Whatever standards exist at the time you sign the rental agreement apply to that mobile home as long as you continue to live there or as long as the person buying your home lives there. Any subsequent buyers would be subject to new standards. All other rules can be changed in the middle of your occupancy, but only if the owner gives you 30 days' written notice in advance. Be sure to keep a copy of all the rules and the lease in a safe place. You may need to refer to them in case a dispute arises.

3. Ask About Fees: Upon moving to the park, you may be required to pay a security deposit of up to two months' rent. Your security deposit cannot be increased at a later date.

The park owner may also charge reasonable fees for installation or removal of a mobile home. The owner may also charge for utilities, but he or she is not allowed to make a profit on the utility fees. If your lease allows a late payment fee, the park owner can charge you an additional 5% of the rent, or $5.00, whichever is higher, if you fail to pay your rent within 5 days of the due date.

If you want a receipt for any fees you pay the park owner, you must ask for one. Always keep your receipts for all the fees, so you can prove how much you have paid and exactly what you paid for, should a dispute arise.

4. Select The Lot Carefully: Some parks appear cramped because the mobile homes are too large for the lots. If you are having a new home installed in a vacant space, be sure the lot is large enough Also, make sure it has adequate electrical service.

5. Contact The Health Department in the county where the park is located and speak to an inspector who has inspected the park. Ask about problems that the park may have had, such as lighting, sewage, drainage, access roads, and trash removal.

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