Do you have problems with your new home? Are you frustrated by a lack of response from the dealer of manufacturer? Are you too intimidated to file a normal complaint with HUD – believing it would be too complicated and probably would not make a difference anyway?
I felt that way too. The problems we had led me to believe that my home had to have been built by a hung-over crew on Monday morning or by one in a hurry to get out early on a Friday afternoon. Some where easy fixed – reversing the bathroom doorknob so that I could lock people OUT of the bathroom. Others were major – the living room window that would not close because the installers rested the sill on the sloped bottom of the opening rather than attaching it to the straight top of the opening.
The main problem that inspired me to seek outside help was in my kitchen. The cabinets were so out of square that it looked like someone had grabbed them at each end and twisted. The space for the refrigerator measured 36″, as shown on the plans. However, when we purchased a full size side-by-side with icemaker, it would not slide into the opening. We even removed all trim molding, the end panel of the cabinet and tried sanding down the framing.
Since we had the plumber scheduled to connect our water, install a water conditioner and icemaker, we placed the refrigerator in another location and went shopping for a pantry cabinet to fill the spot. The largest ready-made we could fit was a 30″ unit. I built 6″ shelves between the wall cabinet and the pantry, the gap at the base unit was a different story. All I was asking for was to have that small section re-framed with a 12″ cabinet door and patch in a piece of countertop. The countertop did not even have to match since I will be installing ceramic tile this year.
I discussed my complaints with the manufacturer’s service scheduler. His standard response to my complaints was, “Look, Lady, it’s a mobile home, what do you expect?” On one of the work orders he specifically stated that the technician was not to do any work on my cabinets. He told me that it was my fault, purchasing a refrigerator that was too large for the opening.
Step 1 – Put it in Writing
The dealer is supposed to do a final walkthrough inspection (a checklist is even provided in the manual). The punch list generated will be your first document regarding needed corrections. If your dealer is like mine and just hands over the paperwork with instructions, “just call and we’ll get right on it”, do your own inspection, date it, send it to them and keep a copy for yourself. Your first point of contact will be your dealer. They are supposed to contact the manufacturer to make arrangements for repairs.
Our first major problem involved our water piping. We had the water and sewer stubbed up to match the utility plan provided by the manufacturer. Sewer was right, water was wrong. The dealer faxed the drawing and the plumber’s $106 bill for additional time and materials to make the connection – 10 days later we got a company check.
Step 2 – UNDERSTAND Your Owner’s Manual
This will give you the complete information regarding your home’s warranty, dealer’s duties and set-up requirements. Keep in mind that if YOU hire an independent installer and it is not done correctly it may void portions of the warranty. If the dealer makes the installation arrangements, the manufacturer can (and usually will) encourage the dealer to make it right. It is in a dealer’s best interest to protect their “authorized dealer” status.
At this time it is up to each state to determine set-up standards for manufactured housing units. Nebraska is one that does not specifically regulate set-up. However, dealers are licensed by the motor vehicle department. The HUD inspector will forward inspection notes to the DMV regarding installation deficiencies. A dealer will lose his license to sell manufactured homes if he habitually performs sub-standard installations.
In July of 2000 we placed our home on a level 2 acre alfalfa field. We repeatedly asked what kind of footings we needed to provide. The dealer responded that it was only necessary to provide the utility hook-ups on a level lot. Winter 2000 in Nebraska was a tough one, plenty of snow and sustained cold which resulted in severe frost heave. The piers shifted, causing the roof line to sag, siding to buckle, interior molding to pop, walls to separate from the ceiling, fire stop collar to fall down from the furnace flue – just to name a few problems.
Absent state regulated set-up, the manufacturer’s installation instructions in the manual become the standard the dealer needs to follow. It took me a while to fully understand the charts and tables pertaining to the number and spacing of piers in relation to footing requirements. I purchased the HUD installation manual (no longer in print) from this web site, it proved to be very helpful. I was able to use what I learned about proper structural support to prove that the home was not set-up as specified by the manufacturer.
Step 3 – Be Reasonable
The old saying about catching more flies with sugar applies to achieving a satisfactory resolution. I proved that many of my problems were a direct result of improper installation by the dealer, however, had I insisted that the solution was to move my home, construct footings and reinstall the home, it would have gone to court, delayed remedial repairs and cost everyone lots of money. My written request stated this option and offered a compromise.
The dealer re-leveled the home, put additional piers under the sagging axle area and installed footings to the frost line under the piers at each end of the home. This cost the dealer less than $500 vs. the $6,000 or more for the solution I could have pressed for. Once the home was stabilized, the manufacturer was able to come in and complete their work.
Step 4 – Follow Procedure
Keep copies of all communications with the dealer and the manufacturer. Any phone conversations need to be documented, a follow-up letter would be best. If you do not want to send a letter, at least make notes to include the subject, date, time, person’s name and your understanding of the outcome. A good place to keep such notes would be in your owner’s manual – you won’t risk losing your record if it is all together.
When you receive HUD’s complaint form don’t panic when you see the small area for making your list. Use that space to write “See Attached Documentation”. My list of complaints was seven pages long. It was in outline form and sited the appropriate code or owner’s manual reference to back it up.