COLUMN: Mobile home owners have issues adding on to their homes

Jun 12, 2008

Treasure Coast Palm–June 12, 2008

By Geoff Oldfather

Fred Fitch and his neighbors are a perfect example of the conflict between old and new.

Many of their homes are old.

Some of the manufactured homes in the Ridgeway Mobile Home Community in Hobe Sound go back 30 years. Some residents are still trying to make repairs from the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. Others just want to add on with carports or room additions.

But their old homes have to meet new building codes.

“Our biggest complaint is that every time one of us wants to do something with our property they tell us we have to have the property surveyed and that costs $400,” Fitch said.

Residents also often must pay an engineer to certify that work done over the years — often without a county building permit — is up to code.

That can cost thousands of dollars, Fitch said.

“My neighbor wanted to build a carport. By the time she finishes with the survey and the engineer and the permits and everything else it’s going to cost more than $1,500,” Fitch said. “And the home is maybe worth $3,000.”

Martin County building department director Larry Massing says it’s a problem his department deals with every day.

“The main problem with the mobile home parks is that a lot of stuff was built without permits over the years,” Massing said.

“It’s grandfathered in. I mean, if it’s existing we’re not going to make them comply but it’s almost never up to code and whatever new elements they’re going to put in, those encroachments are going to have an impact,” Massing said.

An example would be the someone who built a carport years ago and used a combination of wood and aluminum and small bolts to hold the vertical support beams to the cement floor. None of the materials or work meet the strict building codes universally adopted after Hurricane Andrew devastated the Homestead area in August 1992.

“And now they want to enclose it, but they’re wanting to do that to a structure that isn’t up to code in the first place” so while the carport can stay, the homeowner won’t be given a permit to do any more work unless it’s rebuilt to code, Massing said.

And even if the homeowner has the original survey that came with the home, it’s no good if even minor additions or changes were made — and Massing said there are often lots of changes.

“The old survey doesn’t tell us where things are in relation to property lines and setbacks and easements and that kind of thing,” Massing said.

As if all those things weren’t enough, there’s another issue.

Title insurance.

If someone wants to sell their home or refinance, title companies are doing more research than before and if they find work that was done without a permit, they won’t write a policy. That means the sale or refinancing stops dead in its tracks.

I sympathize with Fitch and his neighbors and anyone else caught in this bureaucratic maze.

But the codes are there for a reason and will save lives and property when we get the next big storm.

That’s little consolation, however, for Fitch. Or his neighbors.

“It’s just about made it impossible for us to do anything,” Fitch said.

Martin County columnist Geoff Oldfather can be reached at (772) 221-4217 or


For questions about permits and requirements call (772) 288-5916.