City refuses to provide legal status


#1

I’m looking at a park in the Columbus Ohio area and it is in a commercial zone, not the “Manufactured Housing” zone that the city has established for parks. The park is older than the zoning standards and the assumption is that it’s been grandfathered in. I contacted the city zoning department to get clarification on whether the park was legal non-conforming or illegal. However, the best I’ve been able to get from them is someone telling me “we do not comment on the legal status of a property. What I can tell you is that it is in a commercial zone and that it is OTHER THAN CONFORMING and that AT BEST it would be non-conforming.” (caps are emphasizing the words they very specifically emphasized). Is this common for cities to refuse to give a formal legal status if it’s outside a zone that permits mobile home parks? The current owner (who’s owned it about 15 years) says he’s never had any issues and everything else he’s told me has proven itself, so I think he’s honest. I’m considering bailing on this deal if the city can’t give me something in writing saying it’s not illegal, but wanted to get the community’s thoughts.


#2

Can you confirm when it was built? If not go on google earth and time lapse property. It won’t tell you the exact year, but you’ll certainly know when it wasn’t there. Research when the current zoning was put in place. If it was there before it should be legal non-conforming. There are exceptions but that will at least give you some insight.

Also, ask the seller if he is currently financing the park or has in the past. If so ask if he’d be willing to share a copy of the appraisal, which should have a section on zoning. It is very rare that a bank will lend on something that is operating illegally. If the city isn’t easy to work with, those things would at least make me feel comfortable enough to proceed and spend 3rd party dollars on a deal that is otherwise attractive.


#3

It sounds like you’re not talking to the right person at the City. Whenever you make your site visit schedule a meeting with the Director or Manager of Zoning (or equivalent). There are state laws very clear on legal but non-conforming and the city must have a position on how it handles those properties. If yours is one of them they should be able to supply something in writing that confirms this - and in many cases the Zoning Ordinances themselves describe it.

If your efforts to get clarification are fruitless (or they say something like you cannot move homes freely in and out of the property) it’s time to contact a muni attorney with grandfathering experience to speak with the city attorney to get this clarified. Most people with experience on this matter get it resolved quickly, but if the city is stubborn and becomes a court matter (e.g. $$$) you should consider how that may impact your contractual arrangement and how to best proceed.

Keep us posted.


#4

Thank you for the input and advice. Here’s my update and I’ll post details here in case anyone else is in this situation in Ohio in the future. Again, this information applies IN OHIO, so don’t take this for any other location. But in Ohio, the real authority on mobile home parks is the Ohio Mobile Home Commission (http://www.omhc.ohio.gov/). I own another park in Ohio and the commission does the annual inspections, but I didn’t realize they basically are also the last word on legality of a park in Ohio. If the OMHC recognizes the park as a legal park, it’s legal. There was a court case that went to the Ohio supreme court a couple years ago where a city was trying to tell a park owner that since the park was non-conforming, they could no longer bring homes in. Essentially the supreme court decided that as long as the park remains in use as a park and doesn’t cease operations, then the owner has the right to continue to operate it and do what needs to be done to operate it successfully (including bringing in new homes). The authority of the OMHC to have jurisdiction in such matters was also established. So, in Ohio, as long as a park has not ceased operation AND is recognized as a park by the OMHC, it is fully legal, despite any zoning that may have been imposed after the park was in operation. All this info came from the Executive Inspector/Investigator of the OMHC, who was very helpful.


#5

Awesome update, thank you for sharing.