- Mobile & Manufactured Home: Special Title Rules
Law Frees Mobile Homes of Title Hassles
By: Raymond J. Bowie, Esq.
Mobile homes have for a long time been like the Rodney Dangerfield of Florida real estate: They just get no respect. Mobile homes have suffered from an image problem caused by Florida laws that treat them like motor vehicles, with ownership evidenced by a “certificate of title”. However, a new law now allows mobile home owners to trade in their home’s certificates of title for a deeded real estate interest – which promises to confer a new respect on mobile and manufactured housing.
Florida law defined both mobile homes and manufactured homes as motor vehicles and required a certificate of title as evidence of ownership, just as is required for an automobile. To transfer title, the seller would have to locate the certificate of title, sign it over to the buyer, who would then take the old certificate to the local county tax collector’s office to have a new certificate of title issued showing the new owner’s name. This was required even though the mobile home owner also owned, by deeded title, the land on which the mobile home was affixed.
This treatment of mobile home titles appears to hark back to older days when mobile homes were nothing more than trailers with hitches and wheels. But times have changed. Few mobile homes these days are built with wheels and hitches. Florida statutes define a “mobile home” as a structure built on an integral chassis with built-in mechanical systems, designed to be used as a dwelling when permanently connected to utilities. A “manufactured home” is a mobile home manufactured after 1976 under certain Federal standards in an offsite facility for assembly on a building site.
By whatever name they are called, mobile homes have become a major and growing segment of Florida’s housing stock. In 2001, approximately 560,000 mobile homes were registered by the state, a number growing by greater than 10,000 more units per year. Currently, it is estimated that 1 out of every 3 new homes in Florida is a mobile home, their popularity marked not just by their relative affordability but also by their ease of construction and quality in some cases surpassing traditional “stick-built” construction. Things have definitely changed from the old perception of “trailers.”
What had, unfortunately, not charged until this year were the antiquated Florida statutes that continued to require motor vehicle title certificates for mobile or manufactured housing units even after they were attached to the land every bit as permanently as any site-built house. To transfer title, a mobile home owner would need to execute both a deed to convey the underlying real estate and also sign over his certificate(s) of title to convey the home itself.
Once recorded in the local county’s official records, the ownership of the real estate evidenced by the deed becomes a matter of public record, and it does not matter if the deed itself is later lost or destroyed. As regards the ownership of the mobile home, however, the certificate of title is not recorded anywhere, and possession of the paper itself is the only evidence of the owner’s title.
As a result, problems have frequently arisen when mobile home owners misplaced their original title certificates or sometimes failed even to receive a title certificate when buying a mobile home from a private seller. With doublewide or triplewide mobile homes or modular manufactured homes, owners would sometimes also forget that each component unit has its own separate title certificate, and the transfer of title would require signing over all three, four or more certificates. And on occasion, sellers and buyers of mobile homes would mistakenly utilize other legal instruments, such as deeds or bills of sale, believing them sufficient to convey the title when they are not. Replacing a missing or lost certificate of title requires a laborious and time-consuming process through the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DMV). Frequently, the sale, financing and insurance of mobile homes has been jeopardizedFinancing mobile homes has created even more problems. To get a mortgage loan financing a mobile home along with real estate, the owner must give the lender both a mortgage on the underlying land and deliver to the lender physical possession of the mobile home’s certificate of title, on which the lender notes it has a lien. When the loan is paid off, the lender is required to return the title certificate stamped with a lien release. But in these days when mortgage lenders trade loans like children trade marbles, it has not been uncommon for the lender to lose the original title, or for no one to recall which lender originally held it. And within the past year, mortgage financing for mobile home purchases began to dry up after Freddie Mac declined to purchase mortgages covering mobile homes in states like Florida that titled them like motor vehicles.
It may, in fact, have been the declining availability of mobile home mortgage financing that pushed the Florida legislature to pass a new law for titling mobile homes.Under the new law (HB 1431, adding Florida Statute 319.261), a process is created for mobile home owners to “retire” their certificates of title and thereafter hold title to their mobile homes as part of the underlying real estate. If the process is following, the certificate of title is abolished – and the owner can then sell, deed or mortgage the mobile home as part of the real property to which it is affixed. In order to take advantage of the new law, the owner of the mobile home must also own the real estate to which his mobile home is permanently affixed, which by law includes condominium and cooperative forms of ownership as well as any recorded lease extending 30 or more years. Hence, owners of mobile homes in typical rental mobile home parks with shorter term leases are excluded.
To retire a certificate of title, the new statutory process requires a qualifying mobile home owner to record in the local county public records the original certificate (or certificates) of title for the mobile home and a sworn affidavit attesting that the mobile home is permanently affixed to real property owned by the same owner, described by its legal description. After the owner receives the recorded instruments back from the court clerk, the owner must then also file an application with DMV to retire the certificate of title on their records. An attorney knowledgeable of this process should best be engaged to handle the affidavit and recording.
Mobile home owners whose certificates are currently held by mortgage lenders will not, unfortunately, be able to avail themselves of the new law until such time as their lenders return their certificate and release their liens. In all likelihood, these certificates will only be retired as the existing loans are paid off either by refinance or sale of the property.
Mobile home owners should not confuse this new titling process with the existing procedure available for them to have their mobile homes taxed as real property, upon applying for an “RP” sticker at the local county property appraiser’s office. Prior to the new titling law being passed, obtaining an “RP” (“Real Property”) sticker was the only way a mobile home owner could confirm that his home was permanently affixed to the underlying real estate, for purposes of having the home assessed and taxed as real property, qualifying for the homestead exemption, and securing title insurance covering the value of the home. Obtaining an “RP” sticker from the local property appraiser remains a benefit for mobile home owners who cannot currently avail themselves of the new law. But for those owners who do retire their title certificates, there is no further need to have an “RP” sticker on a mobile home.Once the owner’s certificate of title is retired under the new statutory process, the owner can sell, mortgage or dispose of his mobile or manufactured home the same way as does the owner of any site-built home. The advantages provided by this are so great that mobile home owners possessing their title certificates should proceed with this as soon as possible rather than wait until such time as they need to sell or mortgage their property. At long last, mobile and manufactured home owners need no longer share Rodney Dangerfield’s lament.