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Caveat for Texas Real Estate Attorneys: Mobile Home v. Modular Home

As a real estate and development attorney in east Texas, I have represented Texas property or homeowners associations (HOAs) on quite a number of occasions. My legal services for my homeowner association clients have ranged from preparation of corporate documents and restrictive covenants, to mediating disputes, to overseeing annual meetings, to filing and collecting assessment liens, to litigation to enforce deed restrictions. As any lawyer who has represented HOAs knows, few things engender as much conflict and heated debate as interpretations of restrictive covenants among the members of the HOA. A recent case illustrates this situation.

In Jennings v. Bindseil, the Texas Court of Appeals in Austin considered just such a dispute. The neighborhood in question, in rural Comal County, Texas, had restrictive covenants in place. One of the restrictions prohibited mobile homes. The Defendant, Jennings, purchased a modular home, which was delivered in sections and assembled on Jennings property. The other members of the HOA cried foul, claiming that a modular home is the same thing as a mobile home, and sued Jennings for the removal of the structure.

The Court considers that modular and mobile housing (the term “mobile”, as the Court notes, has been replaced by the term “manufactured” housing) are governed by different codes, differ as to their foundation requirements (modular houses must be placed on a permanent foundation) and in titles (titles are issued for mobile homes but not for modular housing). Because the case had been decided in the trial court on a motion for summary judgment (in other words, there had been no evidentiary hearing as to the details of the Defendant’s house), the Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment against the Defendant and sent the case back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing.

905690_caravan.jpg This case illustrates what happens when older deed restrictions (drafted and filed before modular housing became widely available) come up against more recent technology. The truth is, mobile or manufactured housing is different from modular housing in many ways. However, while there is high end modular housing that is quite tasteful, some modular houses look not much nicer than manufactured or mobile homes, and are sometimes made of the cheapest of materials. If the other owners in this subdivision had spent substantial amounts of money on site-built homes, and the Defendant’s home was of the cheap variety, it is understandable why they would be upset. The lesson for HOAs and their attorneys is clear: review your deed restrictions or restrictive covenants periodically, and update them to keep up with changing technologies.