Mobile Home Ownership
Many have the American dream of owning their own home. For many Iowans, particularly those with low to moderate incomes, purchasing a mobile home can quickly become a nightmare.
Iowa law does not treat a mobile home like a home at all. In fact, Iowa law treats a mobile home more like a vehicle. The mobile home should be registered, like a car. It has a "VIN" number. The title to the mobile home even looks like a car title. There is a place on the title for a "security interest" to be recorded if your purchase of the home was financed by a bank or the mobile home owner. But, like with a house, mobile home owners do have to pay the property taxes.
Buying a Mobile Home
You can buy a mobile home from someone "on contract" or by getting a loan and paying the bank/lender back. In both cases, the title to the mobile home should be recorded in the buyer's (your) name, with a security interest noted on the title to the home by the contract seller/lender. Once the home is paid off, then the security interest needs to be canceled by the person or lender that had it noted on the title. You should then get the title to the home given to you "free and clear."
While you are buying a mobile home, you are responsible for the repairs to the home if something breaks. You are responsible to pay the lot rent to the mobile home park owner. You are responsible to pay the yearly taxes on the home, and if you bought the home and the taxes weren't already caught up, you may be stuck paying those too.
Getting or Losing a Place to "Park" a Mobile Home
Leasing Space: Many mobile home parks have written leases for the lot space where the mobile home sits. The mobile home park owner (lot landlord) is supposed to offer you the opportunity to sign a written lease for the mobile home space before you move the home onto the lot. As part of the lease, the lot landlord can ask you to pay a deposit of not more than an amount equal to 2 month's lot rent. But, your lease can be terminated. For example, the lease can be terminated for nonpayment of the lot rent, just like in a rental home. Under Iowa law, the mobile home owner is given just 3 days written notice to pay past due lot rent for the current month. If the rent is not paid a court may issue a court order evicting you from the lot space.
Eviction: If a judge orders an eviction, you then only have 72 hours in which to remove the mobile home from the park or to remove your possessions. After this time, you can't even go back into your home without the park owner saying it is alright.
It is not uncommon that many mobile homes aren't "mobile" at all. Many simply can't be moved due to their age and condition. Even if the home can be moved, this is very expensive and can easily cost thousands of dollars.
The Ending of the Lease Can Mean Loss of the Home: Even if a mobile home owner has done nothing wrong, such as failing to pay the lot rent as mentioned above, the lease can just be ended by the lot landlord for no reason. If you have a lease for a specific term, such as a year, the lot landlord does not have to renew your lease at the end of the term. The lot landlord would need to give you a 60-day written notice of not renewing the lease, depending upon what the lease says about renewal. If the lease is to turn into a month-to-month agreement after the first year, then the lot landlord can give a 60-day notice at any time after the first term of the lease is over. Again, Iowa law does not make the landlord have any reason at all for ending the lot rental agreement. As long as the landlord is not making you move on the basis of issues like your race, color, sex, religion, creed, national origin, disability; or familial status (because you have children), the lease can be ended. This often means the loss of the home for the home owner and the landlord getting title to the mobile home due to abandonment.
Know the Issues a Mobile Home Owner May Face
Before entering into a contract to purchase a mobile home and rent the lot that it is going to be sitting on, be sure to have a good understanding of both the risks and benefits of this aspect of the American dream of home ownership.
Helping low-income Iowans who have legal problems with the basic need of housing is a priority for Iowa Legal Aid. To apply for assistance or if you have questions, contact Iowa Legal Aid at 1-800-532-1275 (se habla español).