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AGO 1971 No. 17 - June 09, 1971
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- PLATS AND SUBDIVISIONS ‑- LEASING OF LAND FOR MOBILE HOMES

(1) The provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW, relating to plats and subdivisions, are applicable to mobile home parks where the ownership of an entire parcel remains in the developer or operator of the park, but the parcel is divided into five or more lots or sites for the purpose of renting the same to mobile home owners on a month-to-month basis.

(2) The provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW, relating to plats and subdivisions, are also applicable where a developer or operator retains ownership of an entire parcel of land, but divides the same into five or more lots or sites for the purpose of renting the same on a nightly or weekly basis to the owners of campers, trailers, and such other mobile recreational and camping vehicles.

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                                                                    June 9, 1971

Honorable S. Brooke Taylor
Prosecuting Attorney
Clallam County
Lincoln Building, Suite 205
Port Angeles, Washington 98362

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1971 No. 17

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested the opinion of this office on two questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Do the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW apply to mobile home parks where the ownership of an entire parcel remains in the developer or operator of the park, but the parcel is divided into five or more lots or sites for the purpose of renting the same to mobile home owners on a month-to-month basis?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) Do the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW apply where a developer or operator retains ownership of an entire parcel of land, but divides the same into five or more lots or sites for the purpose of renting the same on a nightly or weekly basis to owners of campers, trailers, and other such mobile recreational and camping vehicles?

            We answer both questions in the affirmative for the reasons set forth below.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Chapter 58.17 RCW codifies the provisions of chapter 271, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., commonly referred to as the platting, subdivision and dedication of land act of 1969.  By its terms chapter 58.17 RCW applies to every subdivision of land within the state of Washington.  (RCW 58.17.030.)

            The answer to your questions depends upon the definition of the term "subdivision."  That term is defined by RCW 58.17.020 (1), as follows:

            "'Subdivision' is the division of land into five or more lots, tracts, parcels, sites or divisions for the purpose of sale or lease and shall include all resubdivision of land."

            In simple terms, your questions raise the issue of whether or not the term "lease" as found in RCW 58.17.020 would include the daily, weekly or monthly rental of a lot or site to a mobile home or recreational vehicle owner.

            Before proceeding further it will be helpful to keep in mind certain rules of statutory construction which must be used to guide our interpretation of the statute involved.  Without attempting to provide an exhaustive list of all rules of construction which might apply, we will set out those rules which we think most pertinent.

            It is fundamental that the objective of all statutory construction is to ascertain and to give effect to the legislative intent, which is to be derived from the statute as a whole, and not from single or isolated sentences or paragraphs, or solitary words.  Anderson v. City of Seattle, 78 W.D.2d 193 [[78 Wn.2d 201]], 471 P.2d 87 (1970);State ex rel. Tarver v. Smith, 78 W.D.2d 141 [[78 Wn.2d 152]], 470 P.2d 172 (1970).  A statute must  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] be construed not strictly according to its letter, but according to its intent as gathered from all parts of the act.  Alderwood Water Dist. v. Pope & Talbot, 62 Wn.2d 319, 382 P.2d 639 (1963); and it is the duty of the court to adopt a construction that is reasonable and in furtherance of the obvious and manifest purpose of the legislation.  Wilson v. Lund, 74 Wn.2d 945, 447 P.2d 718 (1968).

            In arriving at the legislative meaning of the word "lease" we must proceed with the rule in mind that the words of a statute, unless otherwise defined therein, must be given their usual, customary and ordinary meaning.  State ex rel. Beam v. Civil Service Commission of City of Spokane, 77 W.D.2d 964 [[77 Wn.2d 951]], 468 P.2d 998 (1970); Rena-Ware Distributors, Inc. v. State, 77 W.D.2d 521 [[77 Wn.2d 514]], 463 P.2d 622 (1970).

            Lastly, the rule of reason upholding the obvious purpose that the legislature was attempting to achieve by enacting any statute overrides all technical rules of construction.  State v. Coffey, 77 W.D.2d 639 [[77 Wn.2d 630]], 465 P.2d 665 (1970).

            In determining the intent of the legislature in enacting chapter 58.17 RCW, and in particular in defining "subdivision" as found in RCW 58.17.020, we must look then to the recitation of the purpose of the legislature in enacting the chapter.  That purpose is found in RCW 58.17.010, which provides as follows:

            "The purpose of this chapter is to regulate the subdivision of land and to promote the public health, safety and general welfare in accordance with standards established by the state to prevent the overcrowding of land; to lessen congestion in the streets and highways; to provide for adequate light and air; to facilitate adequate provision for water, sewerage, parks and recreation areas, sites for schools and schoolgrounds and other public requirements; to provide for proper ingress and egress; and to require uniform monumenting of land subdivisions and conveyancing by accurate legal description."

            It is obvious from the language above quoted that the legislature intended to deal broadly and generally with the problems presented by division of land which results in an  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] increased population residing in any area, whether permanent or transient, and which increases, or in any way affects, a broad range of general governmental services which must be provided in order to maintain the public health, safety and welfare.  Land is no less overcrowded, for example, if the residents of a mobile home park which has been inappropriately subdivided into small lots or sites, without adequate consideration for light and air, or adequate provision for water or sewerage facilities, reside thereon as month-to-month tenants under an oral lease, rather than as tenants from year-to-year under an express written contract.  Likewise, a camper park which has been subdivided and laid out without proper engineering consideration for ingress and egress, and results in congestion on the streets and highways adjacent thereto, is not less in the public interest because its lots or sites are rented on a nightly or weekly basis rather than for a longer term under a formal written lease.

            In determining the scope of the word "lease," and thus the application of the act itself to these circumstances, we must consider the term in its ordinary and everyday sense.  The word "lease" is defined in Webster's Third New International Dictionary as:

            "a contract by which one conveys lands, tenements, or hereditaments for life, for a term of years,or at will or for any less interest than that of the lessor, usually for a specified rent or compensation; . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Similar broad definitions are found in the expressions of the courts.  The word "lease" has been variously defined as "any agreement which gives rise to the relationship of landlord and tenant."  Smith v. Royal Ins. Co., 111 F.2d 667 (9th Cir. 1940); and "any grant of permissive use."  The People v. City of Chicago, 349 Ill. 304, 182 N.E. 419 (1932).

            The Washington courts also define the word "lease" broadly.  InBarnett v. Lincoln, 162 Wash. 613, 299 Pac. (1931), the court said:

            ". . . If exclusive possession or control of the premises, or a portion thereof, is  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] granted, even though the use is restricted by reservations, the instrument will be considered to be a lease and not a license. . . ."  (162 Wash. pp. 617-618.)

            It is true that in many cases the rental of space to the operators of recreational vehicles on a nightly or weekly basis is, in fact, consummated orally, and without the formalities of a written document.  This would not alter the relationship of the parties as lessor and lessee, however.  Accord, such cases asWatkins v. Balch, 41 Wash. 310, 83 Pac. 321 (1906); andArmstrong v. Burkett, 104 Wash. 476, 177 Pac. 333 (1918), in which the court held that all agreements for the rental of property, although not meeting the requirements for a writing contained in chapter 59.04 RCW relating to year-to-year tenancies, are nontheless valid as leases from month-to-month or day-to-day in accordance with the understanding of the parties.

            A further basis for the conclusion we reach herein is to be found in the language of RCW 58.17.040, which provides for exclusions from the operation of the chapter.  That section provides as follows:

            "The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to:

            "(1) Cemeteries and other burial plots while used for that purpose;

            "(2) Divisions of land into lots or tracts where the smallest lot is twenty acres or more and not containing a dedication of a public right-of-way;

            "(3) Divisions of land into lots or tracts none of which are smaller than five acres and not containing a dedication unless the governing authority of the city, town or county in which the land is situated shall have by ordinance provided otherwise.

            "(4) Divisions made by testamentary provisions, the laws of descent, or upon court order."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]            Where express exceptions are made from the operation of a particular statute the legal presumption arises that the legislature did not intend to save other cases or situations from the operation of the act.  The rule applied in such cases is that an exception in a statute amounts to an affirmation of the application of its provisions to all other cases not excepted and excludes all other exceptions, or the enlargement of exceptions expressly made.  Spokane v. The State, 198 Wash. 682, 89 P.2d 826 (1939); Exchange Nat. Bank v. United States, 147 Wash. 176, 265 Pac. 722; aff'd. 279 U.S. 80, 73 L.Ed. 621, 49 S.Ct. 321 (1928).

            With the above rule in mind, we must conclude that the legislature intended to exclude from the operation of chapter 58.17 RCW only those divisions of land expressly enumerated in RCW 58.17.040, and intended not to exclude the two situations which we are here considering.  For us, or for a court, to construe other exceptions into the statute would be to legislate judicially.  Spokane v. State,supra.

            Therefore, in summary, it is our opinion that the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW apply fully where a parcel of land is divided into five or more lots or sites for the purpose of either renting such lots or sites to mobile home owners on a month-to-month basis, or to the owners of campers, trailers, or other mobile recreational vehicles on a daily or weekly basis.  Accord, our earlier opinion on essentially this same issue which was written to your predecessor on March 30, 1970, a copy of which you will find enclosed herewith.  Regardless of the absence of a writing, or other technical formalities in any given case, it is our best judgment that the intent of the legislature, in using the term "lease" in RCW 58.17.020 (1),supra, was to include all periodic rentals, for whatever period, within the scope of that term as used in the act.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


MALACHY R. MURPHY
Assistant Attorney General

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