By Thomas Frith and Ibraheem Dulmeer, LEASE Legal Advisers
This article was first published in Park Home & Holiday Caravan Magazine.
Have you bought something that turned out not to be what you wanted? We all know how horrible that feels. How can you make sure you get the right home for your needs and avoid potential pitfalls?
Understanding the ownership of a park home
Park homes are a unique form of home ownership. The park home owner owns the park home but not the ground it is located on and, it is not physically attached to the ground.
There are many different types of licensed sites on which mobile homes can be located. This can lead to some confusion and, at times, problems for home owners, as different laws apply to different types of sites.
The park site owner must have planning permission and a site licence from the local authority. This site licence will state whether the site is a holiday site or fully residential. In some instances the licence may allow both permanent and holiday homes.
Many unwitting purchasers have bought homes as a permanent abode only to find out later that they can only live in it for a limited period of the year. For example, it may state on the agreement that one can only live in it for ten or eleven months of the year.
Any occupation which does not follow the licence conditions is a breach of contract and the repercussions can be serious. The local authority has the authority to take enforcement action against the site owner. Alternatively the site owner can seek to recover the pitch, if a home owner is occupying the site as their main residence, instead of as a holiday home.
If you find yourself in this situation it may be possible for the site owner to apply for retrospective planning consent, but there is no guarantee that the application will be successful. Moreover, you may wish to seek specific legal advice. LEASE only advises on the law governing permanent park homes, not holiday home sites.
There is an another potential pitfall for the buyer. Holiday homes are not protected by park homes legislation such as The Caravan Sites Act 1968, The Mobile Homes Act 1983 and The Mobile Homes Act 2013. Therefore such occupiers do not have the same rights or recourse to the law as those on permanent residential sites. Most importantly, the occupier does not have the same security of tenure.
The different types of mobile home sites
There are permanent residential sites, where you can reside throughout the year and there are also holiday homes on sites with different licensing arrangements that do not allow permanent occupation. This may be expressed in the site licence as for holiday use or may specify certain times of the year when no mobile home may be stationed on the land, or occupied.
If you want to purchase a fully residential park home, it is important to ensure that the site is a “protected site”, which is a permanent residential site. However, bear in mind that there are also some sites with both types of residence and thus you should look closely at the pitch agreement before purchase.
It is important to note that the difference isn’t in the build quality of the home. Many holiday homes are now built to residential standards (BS 3632).The key is making sure that the park you’re looking at has the correct licence and terms in the pitch agreement for the way you want to use your home.
What to look for
It’s vital to examine the site licence and pitch agreement carefully. The site licence should be displayed in some conspicuous place. This is normally the noticeboard on the site and the park’s site office. The local authority must keep a register of site licences and the register must be open to the public at all reasonable times.
Under the Mobile Homes Act 1983, you must enter into a Written Statement setting out the specific terms of your agreement to live in a park home on the park home site. If you buy your home from the park site owner, this Statement must be given to you 28 days before you sign the agreement, or if there is no such agreement, at least 28 days before occupation. Certain terms will be implied in the agreement by the Mobile Homes Act (1983), that is, some terms will apply whether or not they are written into the Statement [give an example]. Finally the Written Statement has express terms, agreed between the park owner and resident. These terms can include: pitch fee increases (sometimes referred to as ground rent); an occupier’s duty to keep his home in a sound state of repair; and the site owner’s duty to keep the communal parts in a clean and tidy condition.
If you are buying a new park home directly from the site owner you have the power to negotiate express terms, which may include utility charges such as gas, water and electricity.
Using a solicitor
Although using professionals such as solicitors and surveyors is not compulsory for park home transactions, both the Government and LEASE recommend that (as with any property transaction) it is always advisable for buyers and sellers to seek their own specialist independent advice before deciding whether or not to proceed. This can highlight any potential problems at an early stage as well as providing peace of mind to both sides.
Surveying the park home
For second-hand homes you may wish to get a survey report from a specialist park home surveyor. They will check the inside, outside and underneath the park home; provide details on any potential problems and issues and how to resolve them. The results of any survey of the mobile home, base or pitch which the seller carries out must be provided by the seller if this was completed within 12 months of the sale.
There are some important changes to the selling or gifting of a park home on a permanent residential site, under the Mobile Homes Act 2013. As a park home owner, you can now sell your home on the open market without having the new home buyer approved by the site operator if you have owned your park home after 26 May 2013. If you owned your park home prior to 26 May 2013, there is limited site owner involvement. The Mobile Homes Act (1983) provides that the park site owner is entitled to receive a commission on the sale of a park home at a rate not exceeding 10 per cent of the sale price. The buyer must retain 10 per cent of the purchase price to pay the park site owner.
3 ESSENTIAL POINTERS
- If you want the park to be your permanent home you should look for a full residential licence – don’t assume that a 12 month holiday licence is the same, it may not be.
- Check the site licence, written agreement, and park rules carefully before signing. Consulting a solicitor to check them for you is strongly advisable.
- If you are buying a second-hand home, a survey may be beneficial.
This guide is not meant to describe or give a full interpretation of the law. Nor does it cover every case. If you are in any doubt about your rights and duties then seek specific advice. For preliminary advice on buying or selling permanent residential park homes, contact the Park Homes Advice team at LEASE on 020 7832 2525 or write to us.