What Do You Mean My Home Isn’t Legal?

Posted by on Sep 30, 2016 in Real Estate | 0 comments


Home may be where the heart is, but good luck convincing the authorities of that if your home is illegal. Your heart or finances may lead you to hang your hat in any number of atypical dwellings, but the truth is, it takes more than love to make a house a legal residence. Here’s a summary of the legal status for a few of the most popular forms of alternative housing.

Mobile and manufactured homes

The granddaddy of alternative housing, the modern mobile home (or trailer home) developed after World War II as a response to a newly mobile workforce looking for cheap housing in the midst of a population boom. Although trailer homes are almost never actually mobile, their popularity has endured.

Since 1976, all new mobile homes have been legally referred to as manufactured homes and have been factory-built to HUD Title 6 construction standards, which require manufactured homes to be at least 320 square feet with a permanent chassis to assure the transportability of the home.

A HUD-coded home must display a Certification Label and Data Plate. The red Certification Label (sometimes called the HUD Label) will be located at the back of each transportable section of the home. The Data Plate will be located inside, on or near the main electrical breaker box.

In addition to HUD standards, manufactured homes can be subject to local codes. For example, in Orange County, California, manufactured home installations must receive health department approval, and are subject to many of the same electrical and plumbing inspections as new home constructions.


RV is short for “recreational vehicle,” not “motorhome,” a fact that is overlooked by many who dream of retiring and trading a mortgage for a life on the road.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has drawn attention to the issue this year with a proposed revision of the exemption for recreational vehicles from HUD’s Manufactured Housing Procedural and Enforcement Regulations.

For many, living in an RV year-round is the ultimate in freedom. The rule change is supported by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), which stated that industry stakeholders agree “RVs should be built in accordance with National Fire Protection Association and American National Standards Institute RV standards, not HUD manufactured home standards… the key distinction continues to be that manufactured homes are designed and built for permanent residency, while RVs are designed and built to be used by families as a recreational, camping, or seasonal accommodation.”

The rule change is really about vehicle classifications and construction standards, but it begs the question: If the federal government and the manufacturers agree that RVs are temporary dwellings, what does that mean for the many people happily living year-round in RV campgrounds?

The answer: It doesn’t mean much at all. The RV lifestyle falls in a legal gray area that is unaffected by the change. The RV itself has never qualified as a legal primary residence, but the legality of actually living in one continues to depend on local codes governing RV parks and campgrounds.

In California, for example, laws governing rents in RV parks say that you are automatically defined as an RV park resident after nine continuous months of tenancy, thereby implying that you can legally live in a permanently parked RV year-round.

The nomadic lifestyle of mobile RV living is more complicated, as you are defined as a camper, not a resident. So on the one hand, you must regularly relocate, as most localities impose time limits on camping (two weeks is a common limit for staying in a single campsite).

On the other, you must establish residency in one state in order to vote, pay taxes, obtain a driver’s license, and register your RV, and often to become part of a healthcare provider network.

Residency rules vary by state, and which state you choose can have serious implications — from income tax rates to how many months of the year you can travel and the quality of healthcare you’ll receive.

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