I am in the process of moving out of a mobile home park. My mobile home is coming with me. At the insistence of my landlord, I had constructed a carport and porch next to my mobile home. When my landlord found out I'm planning to leave, he told me to remove the carport and porch. Doing so seems wasteful, since both structures are in good condition and could be used by the next person who rents my space. Once taken down, the building material will be of no use or value to me. Another reason I do not want to remove the porch and carport is that it will cost me money, since I will have to hire a crew to demolish everything and take the material to the dump. Can my landlord make me remove the deck and patio? After all, doesn’t the landlord own everything except my mobile home?
The answer to this type of question will hopefully be found in your lease agreement or the mobile home park’s “rules and regulations” or “statement of policy.” State law may also provide some clarification. Given the variation in quality and detail of mobile home park lease agreements and park rules and regulations, though, it is possible a clear answer to your question does not exist.
As a first step, in cases where there is a question about the responsibilities of the tenant or landlord, reviewing your lease is a good idea. While a detailed lease agreement may include a provision that dictates which party is responsible for removing improvements such as carports and porches, it is possible your lease is vague or silent on the issue. In any case, as you review the lease agreement, look for provisions that state the responsibilities the tenant has at the time the lease terminates.
After reviewing the lease, it is a good idea to review the mobile home park rules and regulations (and related documents such as the statement of policy and prospectus). The landlord is probably required to provide a copy of the rules to the tenant at the time the tenant moves into the park. Often the documents are attached as an exhibit or appendix to the lease agreement. If you do not have copies of these documents, be sure to get a copy (and find out if any amendments have been made since you signed the lease). While the lease agreement you sign applies to you and the landlord, the rules and regulations apply to the landlord and all of the tenants equally.
Review the rules and regulations for provisions relating to the construction of tenant improvements. If there is a requirement that tenants must make certain improvements to their spaces, hopefully there is a related provision that clarifies who is responsible for the improvements when the lease terminates. Make sure that what your landlord is asking you to do is consistent with what the rules and regulations require.
In some states, there are laws making it unlawful to require an existing tenant to construct permanent improvements if the improvements were not required at the time the tenant entered the lease. If a landlord requires an existing tenant to build a carport and porch (or other improvement), there may be an argument that the tenant should not have to remove the carport and porch when the lease terminates, since the landlord had no right to require the improvements in the first place.
Additionally, some states, such as Arizona, have laws that allow landlords to declare permanent improvements to be the property of the landlord. If such law exists, and the landlord has made such a declaration in its statement of policy (or like document), a tenant may be able to argue the improvements are the landlord’s responsibility. And then some states, such as Washington, have laws declaring that improvements made by the tenant remain the property of the tenant.
Some states also require landlords to notify prospective tenants in advance whether any tenant improvements will be required as a condition of tenancy. For example, in Florida, larger mobile home parks must provide prospective tenants a “prospectus” before entering an enforceable lease agreement. The prospectus must describe a tenant’s obligation in regard to constructing improvements. If advance notice is required, and a tenant did not receive it, the tenant may have a bargaining chip to use when negotiating with the landlord.
Whether any of the above laws or arguments apply in your case will depend on the laws of your state and the facts of your case. Talking to an attorney to help determine what your rights and obligations are is a good idea. Getting into a legal fight, though, with your landlord may be a bad idea, since removal of the improvement will likely cost less than a lawsuit. However, if after reviewing the lease agreement and other relevant documents, you remain uncertain about whose responsibility the carport and porch are, contact an attorney.
As a final note, another thing to look for as you review the lease agreement and park rules and regulations are provisions discussing dispute resolution. If there is a process spelled out for resolving disputes with your landlord, you might want to (and may even be required to, if you want to file a lawsuit) engage your landlord in that process to see whether you can resolve the dispute informally. Perhaps a mutually beneficial settlement can be negotiated that minimizes the impact on everyone. For example, if the landlord simply wants your porch and carport gone because he thinks they are ugly, maybe he'll be willing to assist financially with the removal.