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AGO 1980 No. 4 - January 18, 1980
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

PROPERTY ‑- TAXATION ‑- REAL PROPERTY ‑- MOBILE HOMES ‑- IMPROVEMENTS ‑-OMITTED ASSESSMENT OF MOBILE HOMES AFFIXED TO REAL PROPERTY 

Where (but only where) a mobile home is permanently affixed to a tract or realty so as to constitute an improvement, and the bona fide purchaser, encumbrancer or contract buyer has acquired an interest in the real estate upon which it is located prior to the time the mobile home is assessed, the proviso to the second sentence of RCW 84.40.080 will apply so as to prevent an omitted property assessment. 

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

                                                                 January 18, 1980 

Honorable Curtis Ludwig
Prosecuting Attorney
Benton County
P.O. Box 510
Prosser, Washington 99350

Cite as:  AGO 1980 No. 4 

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested the opinion of this office concerning the application of RCW 84.40.080 to omitted property assessments of mobile homes.  We paraphrase your question as follows: 

            Is a mobile home an improvement to real property within the meaning of RCW 84.40.080 so that, if the factual circumstances specified in the statute are present, an omitted property assessment of a mobile home not previously listed and assessed by the county assessor would be prohibited? 

            We answer your question as set forth in our analysis. 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS 

            RCW 84.40.080, which authorizes omitted property to be listed and assessed for property tax purposes, reads, in pertinent part, as follows: 

            "The assessor, upon his own motion, or upon the application of any taxpayer, shall enter in the detail and assessment list of the current year any property shown to have been omitted from the assessment list of any preceding year, at the valuation of that year, or if not then valued, at such valuation as the assessor shall determine from the preceding year, and such valuation shall be stated in a separate line from the valuation of the current year.  Where improvements have not been valued and assessed as a part of the real estate upon which the same may be located, as evidenced by the assessment rolls, they may be separately valued and assessed as omitted property under this section:  PROVIDED, That no such assessment shall be made in any case where a bona fide purchaser, encumbrancer, or contract buyer has acquired any interest in said property prior to the time such improvements are assessed. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied) 

            As a preliminary matter, it should be noted that a proviso in a specific statutory clause, such as the second sentence above quoted, applies only to that clause in the absence of a clear legislative intent to the contrary.  State ex rel. Morrison v. Seattle, 6 Wn.App. 181, 492 P.2d 1078 (1971).  The proviso here in question is appended to, and was enacted as part of, the second sentence of RCW 84.40.080 dealing, specifically, with improvements that have not been valued and assessed as a part of the real estate.1/   Therefore, that proviso applies only to qualify the statutory sentence dealing with omitted property assessments of improvements as distinguished from other types of property. 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Essentially, your question is whether the proviso has application to mobile homes.  The answer depends upon whether a mobile home is an "improvement" within the meaning of the previous sentence of RCW 84.40.080, supra.  If so, and the other factual requirements therein are present, then clearly the effect of the proviso to that sentence would be to bar omitted property assessments of such mobile homes under the circumstances specified.

            The term "improvements" has been held by our court to mean: 

            ". . . improvements of the realty; that is to say, such things as are placed thereon by the way of betterments which are of a permanent nature and which add to the value of the property as real property.  This would include buildings and structures of every kind, . . ."2/   (Emphasis supplied) 

            In a prior opinion of this office we stated that ". . . those mobile homes which are permanently affixed in location upon land owned or leased by the owner will be subject to taxation as real property, and all other mobile homes will be subject to taxation as personal property . . ."  See AGO 1972 No. 13 (copy enclosed) at page 4.  And, more specifically, we said in another opinion that a mobile home permanently affixed thereby "becomes real property and subject to ad valorem taxationthe same as any other structure attached to the land."  AGO 1971 No. 3 (copy enclosed) at page 4 (emphasis supplied). 

            Permanent affixation of a mobile home to the real property on which it is located carries with it, for purposes of taxation, legal consequences which are not new in the state of Washington.  As early as 1957, when mobile homes were still subject to an excise tax as "house trailers," an exemption therefrom applied where permanent affixation had occurred.  See § 8, chapter 269, Laws of 1957 (RCW 82.50.180(5)).  A subsequent amendment3/ provided that mobile homes, once permanently affixed, were to be entered on the real property tax rolls for purposes of ad valorem  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] taxation.  Then, with the enactment of chapter 299, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., all mobile homes became subject to the property tax rather than the excise tax and, as stated in AGO 1972 No. 13,supra, those which were permanently affixed were to be taxed as real property while other mobile homes were to be taxed as personal property.  And finally, even more recently, permanently affixed mobile homes have qualified as residences for purposes of the senior citizens' real property tax exemption, RCW 84.36.383(2), and as realty for purposes of the one percent real estate excise tax.  See, chapter 266, Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess. 

            Thus, both on the basis of the above‑noted judicial definition of an improvement,Forman v. Columbia Theater Co., supra, and of the foregoing legislative enactments declaring that permanently affixed mobile homes are to be treated (for ad valorem taxation purposes) in the same manner as realty generally, we conclude as follows:  The second sentence of RCW 84.40.080 and its proviso do apply to such mobile homes in the same fashion as they would with regard to any other structure attached to the land.  On the other hand, where permanent affixation is absent, the mobile home will not have lost its character as personalty and, therefore, would not constitute an "improvement."  Accordingly, where (but only where) the mobile home is permanently affixed so as to constitute an improvement, and a bona fide purchaser, encumbrancer or contract buyer has acquired an interest in the real estate upon which it is located prior to the time the mobile home is assessed, the proviso to the second sentence of RCW 84.40.080 will apply so as to prevent an omitted property assessment. 

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance. 

Very truly yours,
SLADE GORTON
Attorney General 

LARRY R. SCHREITER
Assistant Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   *** 

1/Chapter 8, Laws of 1951, 1st Ex. Sess., amended, chapter 8, Laws of 1973, 2nd Ex. Sess. 

2/Forman v. Columbia Theater Co., 20 Wn.2d 685, 692, 148 P.2d 951 (1944), (emphasis supplied), quoting Siegloch v. Iroquois Mining Co., 106 Wash. 632, 181 Pac. 51 (1919). 

3/Sec. 56, chapter 149, Laws of 1967, 1st Ex. Sess.

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