It is fairly common in litigation or disputes involving mobile home tenancies for title to a home to change hands, whether pursuant to a “warehouse lien” authorized by statute after an unlawful detainer (evictions) judgment is obtained against a defaulting tenant, or by reason of a settlement between the parties or a surrender of a home to the park by heirs of a deceased tenant. A park should always ensure that title is properly transferred from a current or former owner to the park pursuant to all applicable laws (e.g., Department of Housing and Community Development requirements in California). Failing to do so runs the risk of problems occurring later. For example, if the park places a new tenant in the newly purchased home, thinking that the park owns the unit but later finds out that it does not have title to the unit significant legal issues can arise. For example, would the park have authority or standing to evict without title? In a scenario where a home has not been transferred properly the park can ordinarily obtain good title by way of an Abandonment Petition (in California at least) if the home is unoccupied. However, by placing a tenant in a recently purchased home, the park could be denied this avenue of transferring title and may have to pay to relocate the new resident. In addition, there is no guarantee that the tenant will cooperate. At the very least a tenant will be very unhappy. Following through and making sure that the park has proper title can save this and other unforeseen headaches. Indeed, as just noted, an eviction might be impaired without proper title documents.
Mobile home residents are often unaware (or uncaring) of the legal problems they can cause a park owner by selling their mobile home without notifying or getting the approval of the park (as most parks require). Such individuals are also likely to fail to transfer title properly. When the new owner defaults on payment of the rent, the failure to transfer title properly can cause an eviction nightmare for the park. One example is having an individual, whose identity is wholly unknown to the park, insert himself or herself as a defendant in an unlawful detainer or (eviction) case even after the case is essentially completed and lockout is scheduled. This individual can claim that he or she is the owner of the mobile home (though not on title) and that park management knew or should have known that he or she was living there and that he or she should have been served with the notice to pay rent or quit. This happens notwithstanding that all legal documents were served on the unit itself, some addressed to “all occupants.” If a judge allows this new “stranger” into the eviction lawsuit, further legal fees will be expended to resolve the situation.
Many parks have recreational vehicles (and other “motor vehicles” including boats and dune buggies) in addition to mobile homes, either as residences, for short term stays, or for long term storage. Parks should require and obtain all title and registration information before such vehicles are allowed to stay in the park. Some of these vehicles, for one reason or another, will be abandoned in the park. The law usually does not allow the park to simply discard these vehicles when they are thought to be abandoned. Obtaining court authority or other legal authority to discard or sell abandoned vehicles usually requires pieces of information about them such as the make, model, vehicle identification number and registered owner that are not readily apparent by physical inspection. Getting this kind of information up front can save all sorts of time and expense down the line, including trips to the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain information. The sooner the park can rid itself of abandoned vehicles, the sooner the park can get back to the business of renting that space in exchange for rent.
The above situations illustrate just a few of the benefits of paying attention to the issue of title and registration. Park owners may not want to be in the business of concerning themselves with title to personal property within the park, but paying attention to title issues can save the park considerable time (and legal fees) in the future.
Bill Dahlin is a partner with the Southern California law firm of Hart King and a leader in the firm’s Manufactured Housing Industry Practice Group. He can be reached at (714) 432-8700, (714) 619-7084 (direct dial) or firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice for any reader.