From time to time, I receive questions from my manufactured home community (MHC) owner-operators regarding the situation of a death of an owner of a manufactured home (home) within an MHC. While landlords must handle situations on a case-by-case basis, below is certain general information as it relates to this topic. Please note that this information applies only to homes owned by, and home sites leased by, one person—the deceased owner-resident. If the deceased individual had a joint tenant, the remaining tenant’s lease remains in effect.
Generally, the best way to handle the home of a deceased resident is to be proactive and take the below steps as soon as possible after the resident’s passing. Doing so will avoid unnecessary delays and ensure the highest probability that the resident’s heirs will be responsive, thereby avoiding the need for court intervention. In undertaking these steps, landlords must keep in mind the following statutory principle:
If a tenant who was sole owner of a mobile home dies during the term of a rental agreement then that person’s heirs at law or the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, or the landlord, shall have the right to cancel the tenant’s lease by giving sixty days’ written notice to the person’s heirs at law or the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, or to the landlord, whichever is appropriate, and the heirs at law or the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, shall have the same rights, privileges and liabilities of the original tenant, provided that such heirs at law and personal representative of the estate shall not have the right to occupy or otherwise use the home or mobile home space as a tenant unless approved by the landlord as a tenant.
Iowa Code § 562B.10(7)(a) (emphasis added).
Generally, the landlord should first terminate the lease in accordance with Iowa Code § 562B.10(7)(a), by giving 60 days’ written notice to the heirs of the decedent, or the personal representative of the decedent’s estate if there is an open probate matter for the decedent. You will likely have to do some investigation to find the heirs and should seek legal counsel as needed. If and when the heirs/personal representative can be located, the termination notice should be properly served upon them. (See below further information when the heirs/personal representative cannot be located.)
Particularly with a lienholder, and as otherwise prudent, the landlord can and should also send out a second notice—a notice to the heirs/personal representative, and any lienholder, notifying them of the costs for which they are statutorily liable under Iowa Code § 562B.27(2)(a), which include rent and utilities due and owing as of that date, such costs incurred ninety days prior to such landlord’s notice, and such costs going forward. After such notice, costs for which liability is incurred shall then become the responsibility of the deceased resident’s heirs (which is already the case under the above quoted section) and, more importantly, the lienholder. Moreover, by providing this notice, the home cannot be removed from the home site without a signed written agreement from the landlord showing clearance for removal, and that all debts are paid in full, or an agreement reached with the deceased resident’s heirs and lienholder, pursuant to Iowa Code § 562B.27(2)(a).
If an agreement cannot be reached between the landlord and the heirs/personal representative (and any lienholder), then after 60 days has passed from the service of the termination notice, the landlord should properly serve a three day notice to quit on the heirs/personal representative, and thereafter, file an eviction/FED action as the landlord normally would, with the estate of the resident and the person’s located heirs at law or personal representative being named as defendants in the action, pursuant to Iowa Code § 562B.10(7)(a) and upon advice of counsel. As is normally required, the landlord must provide notice of the eviction/FED action to any lienholder and the county treasurer.
After obtaining the eviction/FED order, the landlord can and should utilize the 60-day delayed vacation procedure under Iowa Code § 648.22A, as the landlord normally would, and thereafter dispose of the home, through sale or retention, pursuant to the procedures set forth in Iowa Code § 648.22A and incorporated sections.
Conversely, if the landlord cannot, despite due diligence, locate the sole owner-resident’s heirs at law or personal representative, then the landlord should wait 30 days for the home to be considered abandoned, and then bring an action for abandonment as provided in section 555B.3 and upon advice of counsel. See Iowa Code § 562B.10(7)(b). Within such action, the landlord shall name as defendants the estate of the resident and all unknown heirs at law of the resident; shall provide notice to any lienholder, as well as the county treasurer if a tax lien exists; and shall seek permission from the court to serve the action by publication pursuant to Iowa Code § 562B.10(7)(a). The landlord may thereafter dispose of the home, through sale or retention, pursuant to the order obtained from the court in the abandoned home action.