First Missouri and Now Ohio -- States Affirm Grandfather Protection of Mobile Home Parks

From a recent issue of MHI’s newsletter comes the following from Ohio:Zoning Victory in Ohio Last week the Ohio Supreme Court delivered a huge victory for affordable housing by striking down as unconstitutional a zoning law designed to eliminate manufactured housing from Lodi, Ohio.   If a nonconforming use in the City of Lodi is discontinued for six months, the zoning code considers the use abandoned. The law went farther with manufactured housing and stated, “In the case of nonconforming mobile homes, their absence or removal from the lot shall constitute discontinuance from the time of absence or removal.” Several land-lease communities in Lodi had been established before the adoption of the city’s zoning code, and became nonconforming as a result of the code’s adoption. If a lot went vacant for more than six months, the city went so far as refusing to reconnect utilities when a new tenant wanted to rent the lot. Two community operators sued claiming the city had unconstitutionally deprived them of property rights to those particular lots.  The Ohio Manufactured Housing Association (OMHA) supported the community owners and filed an Amicus Brief with the Supreme Court. In the end, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the owners and OMHA and struck down that portion of Lodi’s zoning law. The Court said the law, “… impermissibly deprives the owner of the park the right to continue the use of its entire property in a manner that was lawful prior to the establishment of the zoning ordinance.” 


Hey Frank, What is your experience regarding new local ordinances that change the setbacks from the road so far that it effectively makes the mobile home lot useless. I have run into this recently. I have some lots that are small to begin with and need 50 or 60 feet long homes. The county is now making the setbacks from the road so far back, that even a 50 foot mobile home gets into the setback area. They are effectively making the lot unable to be used if I need to replace homes. Thanks for your input!

Me too!  In our case, the county changed the setbacks specifically for MHP’s to 20’ while leaving them at 10’ for SFR.

Under grandfathering (also known as “legal non-conforming status”) any ordinance enacted after the date of construction of the mobile home park does not have any relevance and is void regarding that park. Read the Ohio case and you’ll see what the law says about such an attempt by the city to shut down a park – it’s completely illegal. Both Missouri and Ohio now have case law on this. In the other states, you will occasionally have an ignorant inspector make the claim that you can’t use a vacant lot because of a new ordinance. In those cases you may have to hire a municipal lawyer to get this wrong thinking corrected by the city attorney, which then filters down to the inspector. We have to do that about once a year (but we have 160 parks so that’s really not that frequent). Most larger cities are very familiar with grandfathering laws and you have little problem there. It’s more of a mid-size and smaller city issue where the personnel is not as bright or as well trained.

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Thanks for the response. How do you go about finding the correct lawyer? Do you use local lawyers or have one that you use nationally? How much in legal fees do you typically spend?

You have to use a municipal lawyer, which is a very specialized sector of law – essentially a lawyer who only sues cities. Most large firms have one, but many firms have none. And they have to be licensed for that state. The best ones are those that have already sued and won against that city in the past. Of course, these cases never actually go to trial – it is all just a bluff. But they won’t believe the bluff unless you hire a municipal lawyer and not just some family lawyer.

Thanks for being willing to share your knowledge frank

This is great news, I am dealing with a similar issue in a small city. I have a conference call scheduled between my municipal lawyer and city hall. I was just informed today that none other than the mayor himself will be present. Awesome.
Great news!

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Does this grandfathering law apply to DNR rules over septic and water wells?

Grandfathering does not apply to anything considered “health and safety”. You probably remember the huge nightclub fire in the northeast years ago in which they shut down a bunch of clubs that were grandfathered but did not meet current fire and safety regulations. Society views health and safety as a higher priority than property rights, so when a city or county or state administrator feels that something presents a danger they can normally take action and ignore grandfathering. However, there are limitations on this ability (such as the simple fact that it is a sudden issue of health and safety) and you should always consult with a municipal lawyer if you feel they have exceeded their authority.