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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Original Author: Hemsley, Sid
Date of Material: 02/14/2006

Mobile homes
Zoning--Laws and regulations--Tennessee

Pre-Existing Nonconforming Use Law Applied to Residential Mobile Homes

Reviewed Date: 07/29/2021
MTAS was asked whether a mobile home used as rental property comes within the protection of Tennessee's pre-existing non-conforming use law.

February 14, 2006

Dear Sir:

You have the following question:

Does a mobile home used as rental property come within the protection of Tennessee 's pre-existing non-conforming use law contained in Tennessee Code Annotated , '13-7-208?

The answer to your question is not certain. The only cases on the application of that statute to mobile homes are unreported, and those cases involve mobile homes in mobile home parks or courts. Surprisingly, as far as I can determine there are no other cases on the question of whether Tennessee Code Annotated, '13-7-208 applies to residential rental property of any kind.
In Clouse v. Cook , 1988 WL 34834 (Tenn), the City of Franklin annexed a mobile home court in 1969. At the time of the annexation, the city had an ordinance that permitted nonconforming uses to continue for 25 years. In 1985, the owners of the mobile home court sought to demolish and replace two of the 70 units in the court. The city argued that the mobile home court was not entitled to replace the units because the court was not an " industrial, commercial, or other business establishment," and for that reason was not protected by Tennessee Code Annotated, '13-7B208.

The Tennessee Supreme Court rejected the city's claim, reasoning that:

Plaintiffs rent 70 units on a weekly basis in an area designated as a trailer court or trailer park. No rational person would have referred to the units that plaintiffs demolished as " single family residences," or "r esidences," of any character. This record is silent with respect to the number of units that are occupied by transients, or longer term tenants, but the units in the Battlefield Trailer court were referred to by the building inspector, and others as " mobile homes," and in the majority opinion of the Court of Appeals as " mobile homes or house trailers." The very nature of a trailer court or trailer park containing house trailers and mobile homes give rise to the assumption of transient occupancy as distinguished from residential occupancy....The bottom line is that the " occupants" of the units are more realistically classified as customers of a trailer court operation than occupants of " residences." Defendants admit, and it is beyond question, that plaintiffs are engaged in a " business" in the operation of a trailer park....[At 3.]

What the Court then said is instructive with respect to whether the trailer court would have been protected under Tennessee Code Annotated, '13-7-208 if the trailers had been residences: " If the 'use'was residential at the date of annexation, the city could have and should have, under its ordinances, terminated the operation immediately." [At 4.]

The reason is connected with the date that Tennessee Code Annotated, '13-7-208 was effective. In that connection, in the Court's own words, the " Defendants assert that in the event the Court holds that plaintiff's use is business or commercial, that T.C.A. section 13-7-208 is unavailable to plaintiffs because that legislative act was not in effect until 1973, subsequent to the annexation of plaintiff 's property." [At 4] The defendant cited Rives v. City of Clarksville , 618 S.W.2d 502 (Tenn.App.1981) in support of that assertion.

It is said in Rives v. City of Clarksville , 618 S.W.2d 5023 (Tenn.Ct. App. 1981), that before the protection of Tennessee Code Annotated , section 13-7-208 can be claimed, two requirements must be met: (1) There must be zoning where there previously was none, or there must be a change in zoning restrictions; and (2) There must be permissive operation of a business prior to the change. Rives also declared that amortization of preexisting nonconforming uses are not unconstitutional.

But in Clouse the Court pointed to the fact that in Rives, " Rive' s salvage yard was an illegal use prior to the effective date of T.C.A. '13-7-208." [At 4] That statute became effective in 1973, the annexation had occurred in 1964, and in 1967 ordinances were passed zoning part of the property residential and part commercial, " and from that date forward all of his property was non-conforming use." [At 4] The city's nonconforming use ordinance gave Rives two years to abate and remove his junkyard from the residential portions and five years to do the same as to the commercial portion. Both periods had expired and " Rive's entire salvage yard operation was illegal when T.C.A. '13-7-208 became effective. He could not therefore meet the requirements of the statute that there be a permissive operation of a business. " [At 4] In Clouse , continued the Court the plaintiffs had 25 years from 1969 or 1972 to abate and remove the trailer court under the Franklin ordinance, and thus met the prerequisites for the application of T.C.A. '13-7-208.

The trailer court got its permit to reconstruct the units in question.

In Parker v. Hamblen County Planning Commission , the city adopted zoning regulations in 1990, at which time the plaintiff had in place in an area zoned R-1 a mobile home park. In 1993 he placed an additional single-wide trailer on an existing mobile home park (He also attempted to place a mobile home on an adjoining piece of property, but that attempt does not appear to bear on your question). Article 4 of the city 's zoning ordinance said with regard to preexisting nonconforming uses that:

After the adoption of this zoning resolution and map, any new construction must be in conformance with this code. Existing structures will be allowed to remain as nonconforming uses except any new additions to nonconforming properties must be done in accordance with this code.

Under the zoning ordinance permitted uses in an R-1 area included " single family houses, duplexes, customary home occupations, day care centers and schools." Uses not permitted in R-1 areas included all uses not allowed.
Without any reference to Tennessee Code Annotated, '13-7-208, the Court simply declared that while the plaintiff was entitled to operate his existing mobile home park as an nonconforming use, he could not add a mobile home to it, reasoning that:

The only structure allowed within zone R-1 are single-family houses [court's emphasis] and duplexes. A trailer, be it single- wide or double wide, is not a house. [Court' s emphasis]....[At 3]

Similarly, in Bedford County v. Bialik , 2002 WL 3103983 (Tenn.Ct.App.), Bedford County adopted a zoning resolution in 1998. Prior to the adoption of that resolution, Bialik placed on the property mobile home units. He subsequently attempted to place four additional mobile homes on the same property. Bedford County sought to prevent only the additional mobile homes on the property. Bialik claimed a vested interest in the use of the property under Tennessee Code Annotated, '13-7-208.

Bialik got nowhere with his argument because he could not show that the evidence at trial preponderated against the trial court 's finding that the placement of the four trailers violated the zoning ordinance. The reason, said the Court, was because the record did not include a transcript or statement of the evidence.

That is all there is in Tennessee on the application of Tennessee Code Annotated, '13- 7-208 to mobile homes. Part of the problem with applying that statute and these cases to your question is that we are not certain of the facts underlying the question.


Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant


Main Document(s):
file Pre-Existing Nonconforming Use Law Applied to Residential Mobile Homes.public.doc