Jennifer Orszag never thought it’d be a problem not having her mobile home in her own name — until she learned it might cause her rent to triple.
She inherited the 20-by-52-foot double-wide 20 years ago when her grandmother died. She lived happily for the next two decades at the Sea Aria Mobile Home Estates in Huntington Beach, but never re-registered it.
“I just took over paying space rent, and that was it,” she said.Then, a county housing official told the low-income divorced mom she could lose her $900-a-month in Section 8 rent subsidies if the home wasn’t in her name.
But she was worried how much it would cost her. State registration fees for her home hadn’t been paid since 1998, the year before her grandmother’s death.
As luck would have it, there’s a state amnesty program for people like Orszag. She was able to re-register her home in her own name and waive 17 years of unpaid fees and penalties. It cost her $172, and $1,336 in back-payments vanished like the mist before the morning sun.
“I realized, hey, this is a lot more reasonable than I thought,” Orszag said. “It’s cheaper than my car registration.”
Orszag is one of almost 2,000 Californians who now have title to their mobile homes, thanks to a little known state law that waives back taxes and fees for an estimated 158,000 undocumented trailers in the state, about 66,000 of them in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
While mobile homes are supposed to be registered annually the way we register our cars and trucks, a third of the state’s 500,000 mobile homes haven’t been re-registered after a change in ownership — often because owners don’t know about the registration requirement or believed a bill of sale was sufficient to prove ownership.
“A lot of customers pay cash for a mobile home, (and) they get of bill of sale and think it’s registered,” said Natasha Stanford, lead analyst for the state’s mobile home tax waiver program. “They don’t even realize it has to be registered with the state. It could have passed through five different owners (without being re-registered).”
RUNNING OUT OF TIME
Unregistered mobile homes cost the state at a minimum of $5 million a year.
But owners face potential costs, too.
They can’t legally sell their units or leave it to a loved one. They can’t get financing. They can’t get permits for upgrades like a new roof, deck or awning. And they can’t get fire or flood insurance.
Meanwhile, about $30 to $100 in back taxes and fees continue to accrue each year they go unpaid.
Under the state’s “Register Your Mobile Home California” program, however, owners now can register their homes and wipe out all unpaid taxes, fees and penalties accumulated prior to 2016.
The unpaid taxes and fees forgiven thus far have ranged from a few hundred dollars to as much as $31,000, state figures show. The biggest amount forgiven in Southern California was $22,000 for a Los Angeles County mobile home.
The average for most owners is $500 to $600.
While that might seem like a modest amount, it’s a big deal to some owners, many of them poor or elderly — or both.
Even so, the program has had few takers.
As of April 22, 1,956 mobile home owners received tax and fee waivers since the program began in January 2017. A little over 400 others have applied for the waiver and are awaiting results.
And time is running out. On Dec. 31, the waiver itself will vanish.
The three-year program expires at the end of the year.
There are two types of mobile home taxes. Owners of homes built before July 1980 pay annual registration fees to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Owners of homes built after July 1980 — about 15% of the total — pay property taxes to the county based on its assessed value.
All mobile homes, regardless of age, must be registered with the state housing department.
The California Legislature passed the tax amnesty law in 2016 to get as many mobile homes as possible back on the tax rolls.
The program is open to owners of previously registered mobile homes who have never had title transferred into their own name.
The state forgives all past due taxes and fees accrued before Jan. 1, 2016 — or before the date the home was acquired, if later.
Subsequent taxes and fees, plus a processing charge, must be paid.
“The program was created to clear that slate and (help owners) obtain that title and registration,” Stanford said.
To date, the state has waived nearly $1.6 million.
“Now we’re able to clean up our records and … going forward, they’re going to pay those fees,” she said.
Beverly Nemanich’s mobile home was a steal.
The previous owner couldn’t live alone anymore, so her family sold the 1970 Golden West double-wide to Nemanich in 1997 for $4,000.
“It was the best deal I ever got,” the retired restaurant hostess, bar owner and sheet metal contractor said. “She left everything behind. All her china.”
The seller’s brother gave Nemanich a bill of sale, and she thought that was all she needed to prove she owned the two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit at the El Rancho Verde Mobile Home Park in Harbor City.
Nemanich, 71, installed new wiring, new siding, fire-retardant insulation, new plumbing, hardwood floors and converted it from all-electric to gas.
“I kept it up. I didn’t let nothing go,” Nemanich said. “It’s in excellent shape.”Recently, however, Nemanich decided to move back to Florida to be closer to her daughter. A buyer offered her $65,000 cash.But when the buyer realized Nemanich didn’t have the title in her own name, the deal fell through.“You can’t sell that. You don’t even own it,” the buyer’s agent said. “You owe a lot of money (in registration fees) on it.”
It’s not as if Nemanich hadn’t tried to get the home re-registered before the sale fell through. Nemanich said she had tried for six years, but kept getting put on hold or got disconnected.
“I called, and I called,” Nemanich said. “I would be on hold 30 minutes.”When she finally would get through to an attendant, Nemanich was told she owed about $1,500 in unpaid registration fees and penalties.She gave up.But after she lost the sale, Nemanich decided, “I had to do this.”Then, she learned about the registration amnesty program and finally got the title transferred into her name in April 2018. In two days, the title came in the mail.It was an ordeal that cost her $982, but $1,000 in back fees got waived, she said.“It’s all clean now,” Nemanich said. “I guess I’m lucky I got it through because there’s a lot of people in this park, they’re in the same situation I was in.”
Orszag and her mother moved into her grandmother’s mobile home when she was in junior high.
After her grandmother died, her mother moved out, leaving the 1979 Calypso to Orszag.
“It was in my grandmother’s name until last year,” said Orszag, a copy machine repair technician and office manager for a small dealership in Fountain Valley. “ … It never changed. Nobody did any paperwork to make it happen.”
Then in May last year, during an annual review, a housing authority official realized she owned the mobile home, but didn’t have it in her own name.
“They said, ‘If you don’t get the house in your name, you’re going to lose your Section 8.’ They thought I was paying rent to my grandmother, and she’s dead,” she recalled.She had seen a flier for the Register Your Mobilehome California program at the park management office, but was skeptical about the cost of the program at first.But it was a no brainer after she realized she could get most of her unpaid fees waived.
Orszag had to provide death certificates for her grandmother and mother (who died 13 years ago), her own birth certificate and fill out a form.“It was relatively easy. I just followed the steps online. I sent the check, and all the information that they required, and I got (the title) in 30 days.”With a title in hand, she was able to fix the roof and repaint her home a pretty shade of pink.
Just being a homeowner, to own something tangible, made Orszag feel good.
“It’s mine. It’s in my name,” Orszag said. “I’m the sole owner of this broken-down house. I own the roof over my head.”
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