Lack of Enforced Deed Restrictions

(sylva nc Jackson)

Visitor Question: A double wide mobile home was put on property that wasn't supposed to be there. It's been there for fifteen years and owned by two different families. Is this restriction still valid?

Editors Reply: We assume that when you say it wasn't supposed to be there, you are referring to a deed restriction prohibiting mobile homes.

In most states and within the wording of most deed restrictions, it does not matter whether there has been a mobile home on the lot, in violation of a deed restriction, for 5 years, 15 years, or 50 years.

You notice we had to hedge our answer a bit, because some states do have a limitation on the length during which a deed restriction is in effect.

Also the wording of the deed restriction itself may provide some wiggle room.

For example, if this is part of a subdivision or other development having a master deed, then there is probably a procedure in place for the modification of the restriction. Unanimous consent of all property owners might be required, unanimous consent of all living heirs of the person who first wrote the deed restriction might be required, or on the other end of the spectrum, a homeowner's association board might be able to override the restriction with a simple majority vote.

So your first little research project is to see if you can get access to the exact document where the deed restriction was imposed. That might be easy, if you are in a development where every lot has the same restriction and where the deed restrictions are provided readily upon purchasing of a home.

Or it might be difficult if the deed restriction pertains to a single parcel of land, and the restriction is not printed on the deed that is part of the records of the county in which you are located.

In order of steps to determine the legality or lack of legality of this double-wide mobile home, you would need to:

1. Determine if you yourself can easily access the exact wording of the deed restriction. Look not only for the restriction against mobile homes, but also for any process that is described allowing modification of the restriction.

2. If you cannot easily access the restriction, visit your county court house to see if they can help you find it. Make sure you have the address of the mobile home in question when you go.

3. Then armed with this information, or lack of it, consult an attorney licensed to practice in your state. If you have an attorney for a neighbor, they may be willing and able to do this work for you without any fee, since he or she would be interested also. Take any information you have been able to gather yourself to the attorney.

If you want, you could just go straight to an attorney, whose office can do all this work. We suggested doing a little of your own legwork just to try to save a few dollars on legal fees. Your own research often results in the attorney doing a better job too, as often residents are willing to spend the time necessary to uncover relevant facts.

This will tell you whether there is anything to be done about the situation. It's likely that the fact that two different households have lived in the location is irrelevant to the legality of the situation.

However, there are unlikely deed restriction situations uncovered every day, since in most states people can literally write anything they want into the restriction.

Conceivably you also might mean that the double wide mobile home is prohibited by the zoning ordinance. Zoning ordinances are municipal or county laws and as such are enforced by municipal or county employees. If you find that the prohibition stems from zoning rather than a deed restriction, no attorney should be necessary either to find information or to insist firmly on the enforcement of the law. You simply work with the relevant local government.

This should get you started on determining how and whether a restriction on mobile homes can be enforced.

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