Who is Responsible for Drywall Cracks?

If you have been installing or selling manufactured homes for any length of time, you have likely had to deal with problems with the drywall in the home. We all have seen manufactured homes with loose wall panels, cracked ceilings, popped nails, broken mud joints and the like. No doubt you have been told by the manufacturer’s service department that they are not responsible for drywall, leaving it for you to repair. Maybe the manufacturer had you sign a written agreement that absolved them from the responsibility for drywall problems. Maybe you were told that drywall cracks are not covered by the warranty. Often, transportation is blamed as opposed to the manufacturing process.

But should installers and retailers assume the responsibility for drywall problems? Well, let me give you my take on the issue.

Obviously, improper site grading or a poorly constructed foundation can lead to issues with the drywall. And any problems that are the result of improper installation should be the responsibility of the installer.

But if the installation is correct, the manufacturer should get involved. And the first thing the manufacturer should do is to  determine if the drywall failure is strictly cosmetic or if it represents a code related issue. Without getting too deep into the details, here are a few code requirements that depend on proper drywall application.

In many manufactured homes (especially single section homes), the drywall on the ceiling is called upon to help the home safely  distribute the wind loads. Also, the ceiling board provides fire protection in terms of meeting prescribed flame spread limitations. It also provides both a thermal and vapor barrier. These are all code related requirements.

Structural failure of a ceiling panel

What about the drywall on the walls of the home? On the sidewalls, the wall board is often called upon to add rigidity and strength. Often the end walls and certain interior partition walls are designed as shear walls. These shear walls use the drywall panels to prevent the wall framing from racking, which allows them to transfer wind forces into the floor system of the home. Just like the ceiling, the drywall on the walls also meet flame spread requirements and keep the conditioned air inside the home where is belongs. These issues are much more than cosmetic.

So what is a cosmetic issue as opposed to a structural, code related issue? A hairline crack in the joint compound at a panel seam is unsightly, but generally not a structural issue. However an irregular shaped crack above a door or window, panels that have pulled loose from the roof trusses or wall studs, or any fracture in the actual paper covering of the drywall would indicate a potential failure to meet the code, and should be forwarded to the manufacturer.

This crack could indicates the wall panel may be damaged.

By now you are likely thinking, what about transportation? The Manufactured Home Construction & Safety Standard has already addressed this issue:

3280.903   General requirements for designing the structure to withstand transportation shock and vibration.

(a) The cumulative effect of highway transportation shock and vibration upon a manufactured home structure may result in incremental degradation of its designed performance in terms of providing a safe, healthy and durable dwelling. Therefore, the manufactured home shall be designed, in terms its structural, plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, to fully withstand such transportation forces during its intended life. (See §§3280.303(c) and 3280.305(a)).

So, if the drywall cannot survive being trucked from the factory to the job site, maybe the home was incapable of withstanding these transportation forces. The manufacturer should want to look into this to be sure that they are meeting the code. Bottom line, the next time you receive a new home and the drywall is broken, cracked or loose, be sure to document the condition and forward it to the manufacturer. And don’t be so quick to accept responsibility for problems that might not be yours!

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!