There are many reasons that a mobile home can be abandoned. Maybe the resident lost their job and had to move to a new location and gave up on trying to sell the home. Perhaps the resident died and the estate did not do anything with the home (if the heirs could even be found). And – most commonly – the resident could not pay their rent and, which faced with eviction, simply ran off. So how do you deal with abandoned homes? There’s a simple methodology.
What’s the story?
The starting point on any abandoned home is trying to get the story from the seller or, if it just happened, the park manager or neighbors. Find out if there is 1) any idea of what happened to the resident to make them leave 2) if there’s a HUD seal on the back and what the number is 3) the size of the home 4) the condition of the home (but do NOT enter it at this point) 5) who is shown as the owner on the rent roll and/or lease 6) who is shown as the owner in the tax rolls 7) if the property taxes are current and 8) if it is shown as being part of the personal property that was conveyed by the seller at closing. Basically, gather all the important details.
Is there a publicly available title to look at?
If the home has a HUD number, then get on your computer and see if you can find the title on-line. If not, then call the state body that governs mobile home titles and see if they can guide you to the source. If you can find the title, print a copy of it off your computer or take a smart phone photo of it, and note who is shown as the owner and if there is a bank lien.
Is this home supposed to be yours?
If the mobile home was conveyed to you at closing, and the name on the title does not match the seller’s, then you already know you have a title problem. You can’t convey a home that is not in your name. But if you have a document showing that the seller sold you the home, then you need to proceed to the “get a title” part of this article.
Possessory Lien Notice if there’s a lender
If there is a lien on the title, then your next step is to send the listed lender a Possessory Lien Notice. This notice gives the lender typically ten days to remove the home or to start paying lot rent. All past amounts owed are forgiven and only the amount going forward is possible to collect. And this obligation becomes a mechanic’s lien on the part of the lender, so they can never remove the home without paying you in full. Often, the receipt of the Possessory Lien Notice will trigger the lender to call you and sell you the home.
Abandoned property auction if there’s not a lender
If there’s no lender on the title, then that means that you’re dealing with a home that can be sold through an abandoned property auction. It is best to take this step by hiring an attorney, as the damages can be severe if you take over property that is not officially yours. The basic steps are a certified letter to the last known owner (typically the person on the lease) followed by an ad in the paper and an auction day and time in which the high bidder gets the home. Typically, it has been our experience that nobody shows up and you get the home for $1. However, sometimes you don’t even want it at that price.
Options at the auction if you don’t want the home
You can always invite anyone to the auction (it’s public notice) and that includes somebody else in the park that wants to do “Lonnie Deals” or to be a rental landlord. There are many reasons why you might not want to buy the home at auction. These would include 1) not wanting to do home renovations 2) worried that the home will be hard to sell or rent due its age or size 3) not having a license to sell homes and 4) not wanting to have your manager have to get involved in showing and selling/renting mobile homes.
Getting a title
This is the most unpleasant part of the entire process. In most states, the sale of a mobile home must include a title (if not immediately then at some point). But the entire system to get a title to a mobile home is fully broken in most states. It’s an exercise in frustration. Although the abandoned property auction is supposed to yield a new title from your state, actually receiving it is a challenge. If you didn’t take the home through auction, but through original Bill of Sale, then you still have to get a title. Better get a hold of your state’s MHA and get the ground rules. And an easier path is to simply try to contact the name on the title and see if they will sign the form to transfer the title to you.
When you find a vacant lot in your mobile home park, there are many more steps than you would expect. But you must follow these steps or risk costly litigation. The good news is that you can completely resolve any vacant homes if you only understand the steps to do so.