A special case: Mobile Homes in Louisiana.
by Fred A. Pharis, J.D.
In light of the large number of complaints made to my office and clients with bad manufactured homes I've represented, the question must be asked - what is wrong with the mobile home (manufactured home) industry? Complaints range from setup problems (usually the seller's responsibility) to failure to promptly and effectively handle the after-sale warranty repairs (often the responsibility of the manufacturer). Based on information I have gained in the course of representing people in this relatively hot area of the law, it must be concluded that high-pressure sales tactics combined with poorly trained workmen on the installation and warranty end, plus the unwillingness of the industry to police itself, results in large numbers of unsatisfied customers. The only other conclusion is that greedy manufacturers and sellers push poorly-built products on to unwitting customers with slick advertisement campaigns. They then count on consumers ignorance of the law and an attitude of unresponsiveness to silence the complaints after the mobile home is sold, financed for lengthy terms, and thrown on to a house site. Manufacturers often slip arbitration agreements into sales documents that severely limit consumers rights and cause extreme inconveniences in having the case tried properly. Read Alert! Read this before you buy a manufactured (mobile) home or sign an arbitration clause. Then, manufacturers will tell a consumer that after one year, it's "your baby" and they don't even have to attempt repair!
Fortunately, you have much more recourse than manufacturers or sellers are willing to admit. See "What to do When You Buy a Lemon" for general principles about how to assert your rights. However, special rules apply, as seen below, so read carefully.
Mobile home defects complaints must be handled a little differently than a lemon law claim in Louisiana. The Louisiana Legislature passed a law in 1986 requiring that, in a "lemon" case involving mobile homes, the Uniform Standards Code for Mobile Homes and Manufactured Housing must be considered. Through this act, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has regulated the manufacturing of mobile homes and developed minimum manufacturing standards. After bouncing state jurisdiction from the State Fire Marshall's office to HUD and back, in Louisiana, the Louisiana Manufactured Housing Commission now handles consumer complaints and will investigate and cite the manufacturer, seller, and/or installer, which may lead to an additional repair. For their number, see our Lists of Numbers.
Although you are not required to call the Louisiana Manufactured Housing Commission, it is advisable to. They may cite the violation of the code shown by the defect, and this could be helpful later. Fortunately, the manufacturer has the obligation to prove that its home meets minimum standards at trial, and the courts recognize these are "minimum standards" and a home built substantially to those standards can still be defective.
Special problems in repair.
As you probably know by now, you must give notice of defects to the dealer, and, directly or indirectly, to the manufacturer. The problem I've seen time and again is that the sellers leave it up to the manufacturers in many cases to do the repairs directly. The manufacturers crews often come from out of state, are ill-prepared to do the work, and often don't have time to correct all the problems you wrote down or phoned in.
Sometimes, the problems may be caused by stress on delivery, and therefore may be subject to an insurance claim you can make with the delivery person. However, this is sometimes difficult to prove.
Always remember to use your resources, in this case, the fire marshal's inspection, documentation of repairs, and letters of complaint.
When you hire a lawyer.
Prior to early 2001, the courts of appeal in Louisiana had been applying the New Home Warranty Act in mobile home cases. Most of these case originated in the Third Circuit of Appeal. However, in an extraordinary move, the Third Circuit, in the spring of 2001, reversed its application, and instead applied general redhibition (lemon law) principles to mobile homes. Other circuits that mainly had been a sideshow to this misapplication of the law have not responded, but the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to reverse the Court of Appeal and therefore it is safe to say the New Home Warranty application to mobile home defect cases has been overruled.
In this writer's opinion, the New Home Warranty Act was intended to govern the construction and sale of site-built houses. The Act does not provide for a rescission or "undoing" of the sale, but merely for repair upon certified mail notice to the "builder", or manufacturer. However, it does provide for attorney's fees as do the laws protecting consumers in other situation. The problem is the requirement of certified mail notice and one more (!) attempt at repair if the manufacture wants to try.