Understanding And Dealing With The New Georgia Statutes Prohibiting The Regulation Of Manufactured Homes Based On Age

BY

FRANK E. JENKINS, III

JENKINS, OLSON & BOWEN, P.C.
fjenkins@ga-lawyers.pro

15 South Public Square                                                  24 Drayton Street, Suite 1000
Cartersville, Georgia  30120                                           Savannah, Georgia  31401

(770) 387-1373

Many counties adopted zoning regulations to protect against the influx of older and less suitable manufactured homes; typically, these restrictions were incorporated into a zoning ordinance.   Often these regulations imposed an age limit on a manufactured home that could be relocated within a county.  Counties frequently drew the line at 10 years, some as few as five years; any manufactured home older than the established age limit could not be moved into the county or relocated within the county.  Of course, existing manufactured homes, not relocated, were not affected by these ordinances.

But this year, the General Assembly reacted to the industry’s lobbying effort to protect older manufactured homes from erstwhile prohibited relocation in a county.  The new statutes, found at O.C.G.A. § 8-2-70-170-171, expressly prohibit counties (and municipalities as well) from regulating the relocation of a manufactured home into the county or within the county based upon the age of the home.  After September 1, 2010, the effective date of the statutes, all county ordinance restrictions on manufactured homes based upon the age of the home will become unenforceable.  The age of a manufactured home may no longer be used as a limitation on its relocation within a county.

The purpose of the new statutes is to open the banks’ and other lenders’ doors to reasonable financing for older manufactured homes.  Apparently, financing for a pre-owned home was made more difficult because the lenders were aware that age limits prevented the use of manufactured homes in many counties.

But counties are not without recourse to protect against old, dilapidated manufactured homes which fail to meet reasonable health and safety standards as well as reasonable aesthetic standards.

The new statutes specifically authorize counties to establish health and safety standards and to adopt inspection and enforcement procedures to assure that manufactured homes which fail to meet minimum safety standards are not relocated anywhere within a county.  To assist local governments in developing health and safety standards, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia has developed a model ordinance for inspection of manufactured homes and permitting of pre-owned manufactured homes for relocation within a county.  That model ordinance may be found at www.accg.org where a link will connect the searcher to the model ordinance.  This ordinance deals only with the health and safety concerns for older manufactured homes.  The ordinance mandates inspection of pre-owned manufactured homes with specific health and safety standards that every pre-owned manufactured home must meet to be relocated within a county.  A permit for siting a manufactured home may only be issued if the health and safety standards are satisfied.  The model ordinance further provides that failure to comply with the inspection procedures and to meet the minimum health and safety standards subjects the owner to a fine – in all likelihood a good way to enforce the requirements of an ordinance.

A county may also regulate aesthetic standards for pre-owned manufactured homes.  The ACCG Model Ordinance regulates health and safety only, but nothing in the new statutes prevents a county from establishing minimum standards in its zoning ordinance that require minimum appearance standards for manufactured homes.  Some of those appearance standards which a county may adopt include:

  • minimum width of manufactured home;
  • shingled roofs;
  • exterior siding, e.g. wood, hardboard, vinyl, brick, etc.;
  • a curtain wall, perhaps requiring that the curtain wall be constructed of masonry or other substantial material; and
  • landings at doorways with proper safety railings as may be required by the International Building Code.

So long as the appearance standards are not based on age, they are not in violation of the new statutes and are enforceable.  Although meeting the standards may be more difficult for older manufactured homes, as long as appearance standards are enforced without reference to the age of a home, these aesthetic standards should be enforceable in regulating the relocation of pre-owned manufactured homes.  Enforcement of the standards would still be valid even if an older manufactured home could not feasibly or economically meet the minimum required health and safety or aesthetic standards.

Authorizing the relocation of manufactured homes in the county is important for providing low-cost housing for its residents, but the new statutes do not prevent a county from excluding manufactured homes from specific zoning districts.  Exclusion of manufactured homes from zoning districts was approved by the Georgia Supreme Court in King v. City of Bainbridge, 276 Ga. 484, 577 S.E.2d 772 (2003).  If the exclusion applies to all manufactured homes, or if the ban within any particular zoning district applies to all manufactured homes, it would not violate the new statutes, since it excludes homes without regard for their age.

It is certainly in the county’s interest to exclude unhealthy and dilapidated manufactured homes from relocation within the county.  Adoption of the model ordinance, promulgated by ACCG along with aesthetic standards, will serve well to assure that pre-owned manufactured homes meet minimum aesthetic standards and insure a safe and healthy home for a county’s residents.