Who Really Owns the Tires & Axles?

I recently was called on to inspect a manufactured home installation located along the eastern shore of Virginia. While reviewing the mountain of documents provided to the homeowner from the retailer, one document in particular caught my eye. A one-page, single sentence document that simply stated:

“The tires and axles are property of (the name and address of the retailer) and will be removed after delivery”

Really? Are the tires and axles the property of the dealer?  Or do the belong to the purchaser? Is it okay for the dealer to just take them?

 

For me, the answer is pretty clear, although you might need some convincing. Let me share my thoughts and you can draw your own conclusions.

First look at the Manufactured Home Construction & Safety Standards (HUD Code) and see what is says about the tires and axles. We all know that a manufactured home by definition must be “transportable” and “built on a permanent chassis” (24 CFR 3280.2)  CLICK HERE to access the HUD Code.

While you are checking out the HUD Code, look at Subpart J “Transportation”. The general requirements at 24 CFR 3280.903(a) clearly state that the home must be designed to withstand the stresses of transportation for “its intended life”.

So, the HUD code requires a transportable home, not just to the initial location, but to future locations as well. But wait, there is more!

Look at 24 CFR 3280.902(a) that defines the term chassis.

“Chassis” means the entire transportation system comprising the following subsystems: drawbar and coupling mechanism, frame, running gear assembly and lights.  This same section tells us that the running gear assembly is a subsystem consisting of springs, axles, bearings, wheels, hubs, tires and brakes and their related hardware.

By now, I hope you can agree that the tires and axles are required by the building code, the Manufactured Home Construction & Safety Standards. Can a retailer write a statement into the sales contract and take them?

Look at retailer responsibilities that are outlined in the Manufactured Housing Procedural & Enforcement Regulations (24 CFR 3282.252). It states that a distributor or retailer is prohibited selling, leasing or offering for sale or lease a new manufactured home if he knows that it does not conform to any sections of the HUD Code. That would include the code sections that I referenced above. CLICK HERE to see these Regulations.

Ok…but what about having the homeowner sign an agreement, allowing you to remove the tires and axles? Let me make one final point. If you take a look at the federal law which is the basis for this entire program, there is one short section called “Prohibition of Waiver of Rights”. It states; “The rights afforded manufactured home purchasers…may not be waived and any provision of a contract or agreement entered into…to the contrary shall be void”. CLICK HERE and scroll to page 5657

So, what does all of this mean? To me it is simple. The tires and axles of a manufactured home are required by the code, and the purchaser has right to a manufactured home that meets all applicable aspects of the code. Any contracts to the contrary are void under the federal law.

Now I am not a lawyer, and as is the case with all of my posts, I am only sharing my opinions. I hope you find this information helpful in order to make informed decisions, and take steps to avoid any potential liability.

Your comments are invited!

 

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Using a Manufactured Home as a Sales Office

The longer I work in the manufactured housing industry, the more I run up against too many misunderstandings that place installers, retailers and homeowners in jeopardy. So, starting with this post, and over the next several weeks, we will attempt to look at some of these issues in hopes of providing some clarification.

So let’s start with this one:

Can we use a manufactured home as a sales office?

We all know that many retailers use a manufactured home, installed on their sales lot,  as their office. Often retailers use these homes to complete sales transactions and perform the day to day operations of their business. Maybe they made some modifications to appease the local building code official, such as replacing the front door with an out-swing door, sometimes adding a ramp, maybe hanging an exit sign, or modifying the bathrooms.  But does that really transform a manufactured home into a commercial structure?

Four years ago, HUD issued a memo on this topic and they were very clear from their prospective. The memo reminds us that a manufactured home by definition is designed to be used as a dwelling and to be used by a single family. And when you think about it, aren’t manufactured homes governed by the Department of HOUSING & Urban Development?

Click Here for the HUD Memo on proper use of Manufactured Housing

That seems pretty straight forward. But that is only one-half of the discussion.

Since a manufactured home is pre-empt from state and local building codes only when it is to be used for residential purposes, you could say that the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards (HUD Code) only pre-empts or replaces the state or locally adopted Residential Code.  The HUD code does NOT pre-empt the building code for commercial buildings. And certainly, a sales center/office is classified as a commercial building.  

Chapter 3 of the International Building Code, titled “Use and Occupancy Classification” describes various building uses and assigns a specific classification. Some contend that a structure used as a sales center would fall under the “Business Group” as it meets the definition of a professional services office. Others could argue that a manufactured home sales center should be addressed in the “Mercantile Group” as it is used as a “Sales Room”. Ultimately, your building code official would make the final determination. But regardless of the classification, a structure designed for the entry of the public to conduct business, (such as a home sales center) is definitely not classified as a single-family dwelling under any building code. Click on the link below to view “Use & Occupancy Classifications”. 

International Building Code, Chapter 3

So, what does this mean? It means a building intended to be used for commercial purposes, must be designed as outlined by the Building Code, not the Residential Code. The differences are significant; exit door sizes with panic style hardware, accessible bathrooms with grab bars and wheel chair accessible sinks and fixtures within reach, fire sprinklers, electrical and plumbing designs, floor and roof load demands, to name a few (while many states do not require fire sprinklers for residential occupancy, most do for commercial use).

Likewise, please don’t suggest to a potential customer that they can use a manufactured home for anything other than a dwelling. That would be misleading, and could easily get you into hot water.

Now, this is not to say that a manufacturer could not design and construct a commercial building. In fact, the commercial modular building industry is well-established, and is fully capable of designing and constructing buildings that comply with all of the code requirements for this particular building classification. Those manufacturers operate in coordination with state and/or local code enforcement and third-party inspection and design agencies that are approved for constructing commercial modular buildings.  

Bottom line, a manufactured home may only be used as a dwelling, and not for commercial purposes.  

While I have a list of a few more sensitive topics to raise over the next several weeks, feel free to send me a message if there is a particular issue that you think we should explore.  markconte3@yahoo.com

As always, feel free to comment on this or any other posts!