LANDLORD AND TENANT ‑- REAL ESTATE ‑- SALE ‑- MOBILE HOMES ‑- ADVERTISING SALE OF MOBILE HOMES
Under RCW 59.20.070(1) a mobile home landlord may not prohibit or restrict a tenant from advertising that his or her mobile home is for sale by such normal means as posting a sign either on the mobile home itself or on the leased or rented premises.
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December 14, 1984
Honorable Ray Moore
State Senator, 36th District
1722 Bigelow North
Seattle, Washington 98109
Cite as: AGO 1984 No. 30
By recent letter, clarifying a request you submitted to us earlier, you asked for our opinion on the following question:
"In view of RCW 59.20.070(1) can a mobile home landlord prohibit or restrict a tenant from advertising that his or her mobile home is for sale by such normal means as posting a sign either on the mobile home itself or on the leased or rented premises?"
We answer your question in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.
Chapter 59.20 RCW contains the provisions of chapter 279, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess., as amended, the Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act. RCW 59.20.070, codifying § 7 of that Act as last amended by § 2, chapter 58, Laws of 1984, enumerates certain prohibited acts by mobile home park landlords. Your question involves the first of those prohibitions which reads as follows:
"A landlord shall not:
"(1) Deny any tenant the right to sell such tenant's mobile home within a park or require the removal of the [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] mobile home from the park because of the sale thereof. . . ."
This statute does not, itself, grant to a mobile home park tenant the right to sell his or her mobile home1/ without removing it from the park. The statute does, however, implicitly recognize the existence of such a right, presumably as a common law aspect of property ownership; and then, in turn, it prohibits the landlord from, in essence, interfering with the exercise of the right by the tenant. The issue presented by your request is whether, for purposes of the statute, the right which is thus protected encompasses a right to advertise ". . . by such normal means as posting a sign on the mobile home itself or on the leased or rented premises."
For indeed, without much question, it may logically be reasoned that a mobile home park landlord isnot denying a tenant the right ". . . to sell his or her mobile home within the park . . ." by merely prohibiting the posting of such "for sale" signs. The tenant may still sell the mobile home, in place, using other means of advertising such as, most commonly, the placement of a classified ad in the newspaper. But by the same token, it seems equally clear to us that a mobile home park rule barring the placement of ordinary "for sale" signs on the mobile home or adjacent, leased, premises would constitute an interference with the tenant's free exercise of the right of sale.
In addition we also note that RCW 59.20.070 is a remedial statute which should, as a consequence, be construed liberally to effect its purpose. Accord,Southeastern Washington Building and Construction Trades Council v. Labor and Industries, 91 Wn.2d 41, 586 P.2d 486 (1978); and see also,Securities and Exchange Commission v. Starmont, 31 F.Supp. 264 (1940) in which the court defined a "remedial enactment" as one which seeks to provide a remedy for some ill or mischief." Here, the mischief which prompted the enactment of subsection (1) of the statute was, we would assume, a tendency on the part of some mobile home park owners to pressure their tenants to remove their homes from the park before selling them to someone else.
We further find the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court inLinmark Associates, Inc. v. Township of Willingboro, 431 [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] U.S. 85, 52 L.Ed.2d 155, 97 S.Ct. 1614 (1977) to be persuasive. In that recent case the court held that a certain town ordinance prohibiting the posting of "for sale" signs on homes within the township violated the First Amendment rights of homeowners and their sales agents. The Court reasoned that even though the seller had other alternative means available to sell the home the use of a "for sale" sign was a particularly significant, and common, method of advertising, saying, at page 93:
". . . Although in theory sellers remain free to employ a number of different alternatives, in practice realty is not marketed through leaflets, sound trucks, demonstrations, or the like. The options to which sellers realistically are relegated‑-primarily newspaper advertising and listing with real estate agents‑-involve more cost and less autonomy than 'For Sale' signs; . . . are less likely to reach persons not deliberately seeking sales information, . . . and may be less effective media for communicating the message that is conveyed by a 'For Sale' sign in front of the house to be sold, . . ."
While theLinmark case did not specifically involve the sale of mobile homes within a mobile home park, the Supreme Court's reasoning in that case seems clearly germaine‑-even though, we also note, a divided New York state court later declined to follow it in a case specifically involving mobile home parks. See,Miller v. Valley Forge Village, 43 N.Y.2d 626, 374 N.E.2d 118 (1978). Having read both cases, however, we think the U.S. Supreme Court's decision inLinmark, supra, is better reasoned and we have little difficulty in extending that reasoning to a modern-day mobile home park in which most of the homes within the park, once situated, generally remain there in much the same manner as other types of houses normally remain on their building sites.
Moreover, in any event, the particular point we derive from theLinmark case is simply that the right to sell a residence, including a mobile home, should be deemed to carry with it the right to utilize customary methods of advertising. That being the case, a park policy against such a normal means of advertising as the posting of an ordinary "for sale" sign on the mobile home or on adjacent, leased, premises would constitute an interference with an attribute of the tenant's right (acknowledged by RCW 59.20.070(1), supra) to sell which we believe a court, reading the statute in the light of its purpose, would strike down as an action prohibited by [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] the statute. We therefore answer your question, as above stated, in the negative.
We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/Your question, we assume, involves a tenant who owns the mobile home in which he or she resides and leases, or rents, the lot within the park upon which it is situated.