AGO 1980 No. 23 - Nov 25 1980
HOMESTEADS ‑- MOBILE HOMES ‑- PROPERTY ‑- CLAIMING MOBILE HOME AS HOMESTEAD PROPERTY
A mobile home used or intended for use as a residence may be claimed as homestead property for the purposes of chapter 6.12 RCW so long as the claimant has a sufficient interest in the land upon which the mobile home is located to allow him to maintain the home on the property.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
November 25, 1980
Honorable Ray Moore
State Senator, 36th District
1720 Bigelow North
Seattle, Washington 98109
Cite as: AGO 1980 No. 23
By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion concerning the "status of mobile homes as to the right of homesteading." We paraphrase your question as follows:
May a mobile home be claimed as a homestead under the provisions, and for the purposes, of chapter 6.12 RCW?
For the reasons indicated below we answer your question in the affirmative as there qualified.
Article XIX, § 1, of the Washington Constitution provides that:
"The legislature shall protect by law from forced sale a certain portion of the homestead and other property of all heads of families."
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
Pursuant to this constitutional mandate the 1895 legislature enacted what is now codified in chapter 6.12 RCW.1/ The general purpose of this law is to "protect the homesteader and his dependents in the enjoyment of a domicile." In re Poli's Estate, 27 Wn.2d 670, 674, 179 P.2d 704 (1947).
In construing this law the Washington Supreme Court has consistently applied the following two significant principles: First, the law is not intended to protect the rights of creditors but, rather, it is in derogation of those rights and, absent fraud, should be construed to protect the homestead claimant. Webster v. Rodrick, 64 Wn.2d 814, 816, 394 P.2d 689 (1964); First National Bank of Everett v. Tiffany, 40 Wn.2d 193, 242 P.2d 169 (1952). And second, "homestead statutes are favored in the law and should be liberally construed." Bank of Anacortes v. Cook, 10 Wn.App. 391, 395, 517 P.2d 633 (1974) (citingLien v. Hoffman, 49 Wn.2d 642, 306 P.2d 240 (1957).
Bearing these principles in mind we now turn to the specific provisions of chapter 6.12 RCW, supra. First to be noted is RCW 6.12.010 which defines the property in which a homestead may be claimed as follows:
"The homestead consists ofthe dwelling house, in which the claimant resides, with appurtenant buildings, and the land on which the same are situated, and by which the same are surrounded, or land without improvements purchased with the intention of building a house and residing thereon, selected at any time before sale, as in this chapter provided." (Emphasis supplied.)
RCW 6.12.050 then limits the value of the homestead claim to $20,000 and, in addition, reiterates that the homestead must be used, or be intended for use, as the claimant's home‑-as follows:
"Homesteads may be selected and claimed in lands and tenements with the improvements [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] thereon, as defined in RCW 6.12.010, regardless of area but not exceeding in net value, of both the lands and improvements, the sum of twenty-thousand dollars. Thepremises thus included in the homestead must be actually intended or used as a home for the claimant, and shall not be devoted exclusively to any other purpose." (Emphasis supplied.)
For the purposes of your question we will therefore assume that the homestead claimant resides in or intends to reside in his mobile home. Assuming further that the claimant complies with the procedures set out in chapter 6.12 RCW for declaring and filing his homestead claim the crucial inquiry is whether a mobile home falls within the language of RCW 6.12.010,supra, defining the homestead as a dwelling house and the land upon which it is situated.
Before addressing that issue, however, the general legal status of mobile homes must be briefly noted. Under both Washington statutes and case law, the treatment of mobile homes varies according to the particular factual and legal circumstances involved. See,Cooper's Mobile Homes, Inc. v. Simmons, 94 Wn.2d 321, 323-27, ___P.2d___, (1980). For example, if a mobile home is attached to real property in such a manner that is substantially loses its identity as a mobile unit it is then treated as "real property" for certain tax purposes. RCW 84.04.090. Similarly, the court has characterized a mobile home as a legitimate family dwelling unit or building, not an illegal "immobilized vehicle," for zoning purposes. See,State v. Work, 75 Wn.2d 204, 449 P.2d 806 (1969). But nevertheless, a mobile home resting on land not owned in fee by the homeowner is neither "real property" nor "household goods" so as to require the joinder of both spouses prior to disposition under the state's community property statutes. Cooper's Mobile Homes v. Simmons, supra.
From these various legal treatments of mobile homes there emerges the principle that legal questions concerning mobile homes must be answered in light of the particular statutes and factual situations involved in each controversy. Here, for purposes of the homestead law, we conclude that a mobile home used as a dwelling house is within the ambit of homestead property under both the decisions of our [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] Supreme Court and the language and policy of chapter 6.12 RCW.
Pursuant to RCW 6.12.010 and 6.12.050, supra, the homestead property must be used, or be intended to be used, as a residence of the claimant and it must be a "dwelling house." Decisions construing these provisions of the law establish that it is the use or potential use of property as a residence and not the character of the property itself which triggers the law's application. For example, a "portable bungalow" resting upon leased land and an apartment unit within a building owned by the claimant have both been held to be homestead property. See,State ex rel. Van Doren v. Superior Court, 179 Wash. 241, 37 P.2d 215 (1934) (apartment);Downey v. Wilber, 117 Wash. 660, 202 Pac. 256 (1921) (portable bungalow). These decisions indicate, therefore, that as long as a claimant uses, or intends to use, his mobile home as his residence it qualifies as a "dwelling house" under RCW 6.12.010,supra. Therefore, at least in the case of a mobile home resting upon land owned by the homestead claimant that mobile home is clearly included within the language of the statute.
In addition, however, we believe that even a mobile home resting upon leased premises may be claimed as a homestead. InDowney v. Wilbur,supra, the court addressed the issue of whether the owners of a portable bungalow resting on leased land were entitled to protection under the homestead law and said:
". . .
"The evidence adduced at the trial, while somewhat meager, shows with sufficient clearness that the building levied upon is a dwelling house in which the respondents reside, that the house is their individual property, and that is is erected on and attached to land which they hold under lease. Based upon the fact that the dwelling house is upon leased land, the appellant contends that there can be no homestead right therein. We cannot agree with this contention. The statute, it is true, defines a homestead as the 'dwelling house in which the claimant resides and the land [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] upon which the same is situated,' and in defining the property from which a homestead may be selected uses the terms 'his property' and 'her property' in referring to the property of claimant, yet it does not necessarily follow that the interest of the claimant in the property must be title in fee. Such a construction, we think, would be contrary to the purpose and spirit of the statute. Its purpose is not to give or confirm title in the claimant, but is to prevent a forced sale of the home; in other words, to secure the claimant and his family in the possession of his home. Seemingly, therefore,if a claimant has a sufficient interest in real property to entitle him to maintain a home thereon, he has such an interest as will entitle him to protection under the homestead statute.
". . ." (Emphasis supplied.)
This reasoning, in our opinion, clearly extends to mobile homes located on leased premises for, as we have earlier concluded, a mobile home is a "dwelling house" under RCW 6.12.010 if it is used, or intended for use, as a residence. Thus, under theDowney reasoning, if the claimant has a sufficient interest in the land upon which the mobile home rests to entitle him to maintain it there the premises may be claimed as a homestead.
Our conclusion that a mobile home may be claimed as homestead property also accords with the principle noted above that the homestead law should be liberally construed to protect the claimant's enjoyment of his domicile.
There is, however, an important qualification regarding the homestead right which is found in RCW 6.12.100 that should be noted. Generally, RCW 6.12.090 protects homestead property from attachment, execution, or forced sale by creditors of the homestead claimant. But under RCW 6.12.100 even such homestead property remains subject to the claims of certain judgment creditors as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 6]]
"The homestead is subject to execution or forced sale in satisfaction of judgments obtained:
"(1) On debts secured by mechanic's, laborer's, materialmen's or vendor's liens upon the premises.
"(2) On debts secured by mortgages on the premises executed and acknowledged by the husband and wife or by any unmarried claimant."
Thus, under this provision the homestead law would not protect against claims on debts "secured by mechanic's, laborer's, materialmen's or vendor's liens upon the premises," or debts secured by a mortgage on the mobile home. This exception to the law's protection, however, applies alike to all forms of homestead property and not only to mobile homes.
It is therefore our opinion that a mobile home used or intended for use as a residence may be claimed as homestead property for the purposes of chapter 6.12 RCW,supra. Furthermore, a claimant need only have a sufficient interest in the land upon which the mobile home is located to allow him to maintain the home on the property‑-and not a fee interest in the land‑-in order to claim the protection of the homestead law. But finally, like all other homestead property, a mobile home remains subject to claims based upon debts secured by a mortgage on the home or by mechanic's, laborer's, materialmen's, or vendor's liens on the premises.
We trust the foregoing has been of some assistance.
Very truly yours,
CLIFFORD D. FOSTER
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See, chapter 64, Laws of 1895, as amended.