Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 314

When Decks Become Rooms

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Mobile homes begat decks and decks begat rooms. These frequent additions can create complications – but is there any issue for park owners? In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we’re going to explore the issue of those “bonus rooms” that often pop up in most mobile home parks.

Episode 314: When Decks Become Rooms Transcript

When mobile homes come off the factory line, they look like rectangles, they look like shoe boxes. Now, RVs sometimes have pop outs, things that slide out from the RV base unit to give you a little extra room. But mobile homes don't have anything like that, at least they don't until they get to the Mobile Home Park. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. We're gonna talk about that little thing that you see a lot in Mobile Home Parks, which is basically that add-on room that most mobile homes have that are built around the deck.

So what happens there? Well, you have the mobile home and then you have the deck because most people like to have stairs that go up to a deck, which they then open the door from the deck. So it gives them room to put down their groceries and open the door without being knocked off the ledge there. And so when they have that deck, at some point, they start hanging out out there. It becomes more of an outdoor entertainment room. And then, as time goes on, as it occasionally rains and they like sitting outdoors, they'll put a roof over it, kind of a lean-to roof that covers the deck so they can sit out there in their furniture even when it's raining and enjoy the fresh air and the scenery.

And then at some point as winter approaches, they decide to put walls on that deck because that way when the cold winds blow, they can still hang out out there and talk amongst each other and look out on nature. And then at some point, after they get those walls on and the roof on, they realize, "You know what? All I'd have to do to really enjoy this much more would be to put some kind of window, heat air unit in this and then I can be out here year round," and then what you end up then is a room. So that's kind of the evolution of how those rooms come to be attached to the typical single-wide mobile home in most Mobile Home Parks. And the problem is that when they do all of these many things, most of that is not really ratified under the ordinance of most cities, nor is that really what HUD intended when those homes were built.

So it begs the question, is that a problem? Because in any given Mobile Home Park, you're going to see a fairly large percentage of these add-on rooms. They're fairly abundant down every street. Is that gonna cause you any kind of issue when you're buying the Mobile Home Park knowing that these rooms probably should not be there? Well, here's some thoughts on that. The first is you rent the land as the Mobile Home Park owner. You don't really control the homes that sit on that land. When you bought the Mobile Home Park, to begin with, you don't go back and retrofit and decide, "Well, I don't know if this home should be here or this home shouldn't," you work with what you have. And many times those rooms on those mobile homes, well they come with the territory. They were built long ago, you don't even know when, and they've just always been there. And when you buy the Mobile Home Park, well the rooms are already there. And if you really look at how the ordinance reads for most Mobile Home Parks, while you rent the land, the city is the judge over what can go on those lots. If I was to bring in a mobile home today and it does not have a HUD seal because it was built before the HUD program, so prior to 1976, the city would not allow me to turn on the electricity or connect the water in the sewer because nationwide, most cities will not allow a mobile home to come in and be on a site and be lived in if it does not have the HUD seal.

So who really truly controls the homes for the most part is the city itself. The park owner is a parking lot. We rent the parking spaces for people to park the mobile homes. But just like the parking lot out at the airport where you park your car, who's responsible to make sure that that car has all of its regular permits and licenses? Well, that's the traffic department, whatever bureau in the state or the county or the city that controls automobiles, not you as the parking lot owner. And here we have the same issue. Our role is not to really police mobile homes, that falls more under the city hall's guidelines. We're just there to provide parking spaces for people who wanna park on our parking space. So it's questionable whether we really have any input in that to begin with. And if the city suddenly decides to complain about those additions of those extra rooms that sometimes appear in Mobile Home Parks, you really need to press that back on the city. Because if the city says to you, "Well, I don't know. I don't think this should be on here." Well, then why did you let it be on there? Because you control that, you govern those homes.

So if you don't like that addition, well, then you need to reach out to that homeowner and say, "Hey, I don't like that addition. I want you to remove that addition," or, "I want you to remove those walls from that addition." But often they don't wanna do that. And they don't want to do that because frankly, with the stigma of most Mobile Home Parks, that code officer, he's afraid of your tenant, he's afraid to confront them and say, "Hey, I don't want you to keep this room, this add-on bonus room there. I want you to rip the walls off, take out that window air conditioner," because, frankly, they're afraid that that resident might smack him on the nose. So he doesn't really wanna get involved really in trying to police this thing. And that's why most of the time, cities look the other way on these add-on rooms. They're not even really sure if they are legal or not. I can't pass judgement on that either 'cause it would revolve around the city's own ordinances.

But beyond that, when it comes to really being the heavy and say, oh, well, if the city suddenly changes their mind and you can't have that room, oh, you gotta get it off, that's not really our business. We're a parking lot. It's the city's responsibility. If they want those rooms removed, they would need to go to the tenant and say, "Hey, you shouldn't have this thing. We really want you to get it off." Don't as a park owner get involved in that 'cause that really is not something that you are responsible for. And if the city doesn't care, if the city doesn't mind those add-on rooms and doesn't seek to enforce that, then the question is, should you really care?

Now, I've never seen a bank ever that objects to those add-on rooms. Never heard an appraiser say, "I can't give you the appraisal you were seeking on your Mobile Home Park because that mobile home over there has one of those add-on deck homemade rooms on it." So I don't think, in general, they're going to give you any problem. In fact, the fact that the tenant had the pride of ownership and the capital investment to add that room on probably ensures the home will be there for a longer length of tenancy. Not that mobile homes ever leave anyway, but certainly if you've got this extra bonus room that you've built, you're probably a little happier as a resident and it's impossible to move them, so it's just more likely that everyone will stay right where they are. And that's a positive from a park owner's perspective.

Also, don't forget that the way that you raise rents in Mobile Home Parks is offering greater value. And clearly, if people have now a larger living space and the ability to more appreciate the great out of doors in that land that you own, the more likely they are to stay regardless of rent increases and all the other problems that may come to their lives as far as employment or their family status or any other issues like that. So it makes the resident more likely to stay and be happy where they're staying. But there are some cases where those add-on rooms could be a problem. The first is if your Mobile Home Park has master metered electricity. If you have master metered electricity, then what can happen is that that window air conditioner that they put on that deck room, well, it might overload how much you've got as far as amperage to your master metered power system.

So there's one potential complication, but let's face it, master metered electrical parks are fairly much few and far between. And it's unlikely if you have a master metered park that that is going to be the straw that break the camel's back. Another issue might be if the fire marshal suddenly said, now wait a minute, I like 10 foot separation between structures. And while you did have 10 feet from the wall of that mobile home to the wall of that mobile home, I don't think you have it now between the wall of that mobile home and the edge of that add-on room. But at the end of the day, the big issue is that those still could be removed. Now, there's some things in life in a Mobile Home Park that you can't fix, that you can't change, you can't fix it if your lot isn't big enough to own a large enough home for it to be saleable. But in this case, you've got something here that can clearly be fixed because not that long ago, that additional room did not exist. You had the mobile home, you had the deck, no problem with that. Even the roof on the deck, probably no problem with that. The only time it got a little funky was when they put the walls on and popped in the window air conditioner.

But of course, the window air conditioner could come out, the walls could come down and everything would revert back to being fine. And typically in situations where the worst case scenario really isn't much of anything, in this case the loss of the ability to sit out on the porch and have cold air or the ability to sit out on their deck when the winter winds blow, that's really not a worst case scenario. The bottom line to it all is basically I wouldn't be too concerned when you have those add-on rooms on the deck of most mobile homes and most Mobile Home Parks, I don't really see the harm to it. Giving the customer what they like has always been the adage of a good business. And there's no reason to believe that going forward, the City Hall or anyone else is really going to take it on as a major issue, any complaints regarding those additional rooms. This is Frank Rolfe from Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.