By Beth Lawrence
Jackson County residents who have mobile homes belonging to others sitting on their land may need to double check their tax bills after last year’s revaluation.
The Herald was contacted by a reader concerned about her mother’s tax bill. The property owner had allowed a friend and a relative to place their trailers on her property. The homes may or may have not been listed as personal property by their rightful owners and were added to the owner’s tax bill.
When contacted about the problem it was rectified, said Tabitha Ashe, tax administrator.
During the revaluation process mobile homes can create a tricky situation.
“We went in and we actually drew the mobile homes to the property,” she said. “But then we made sure to associate those with individuals that were being listed.”
For the reader’s property, the listing was an oversight, Ashe said.
Part of the revaluation involved a mobile home compliance review to find mobile home owners who had not listed the dwellings as property.
“Most of that was just an individual who owned a mobile home on their own property,” Ashe said. “Sometimes errors are brought to our attention, but we obviously will fix those. And that’s kind of what happened in this instance.”
The county is well within its right to take this approach if necessary
When revaluations and assessments are taking place, tax assessors who have no provenance on a mobile home are allowed to assess that home as part of the property on which it sits, according to the University of North Carolina School of Government.
“The rule is that property, whether it’s personal or real, should be listed in the name of the owner if you can determine the name of the owner,” said Chris McLaughlin, professor of law and government at UNCSOG. “Mobile homes are notoriously difficult to determine ownership.”
When the trailer is originally purchased a title is issued, but as the home changes hands, the title is often not updated. McLaughlin estimates that titles are not changed as much as 90 to 95 percent of the time.
“So, relying on those titles is usually not very helpful at all,” he said. “Which means oftentimes you’ve got to rely on where they’re physically located.”
If there is evidence to suggest the home belongs to someone other than the landowner, the person who owns the mobile home must be taxed.
A hurdle for Jackson County assessors was several mobile home parks where the park owner struggled to provide mobile home ownership information to the tax office, Ashe said.
More often the issue was property owners who did own the trailer but had never listed it.
If a trailer is wrongly assessed as part of the property owner’s tax bill, the landowner is required to contact the tax office and provide the name of the trailer’s owner if they do not want to be taxed for that mobile home.
“They would just need to let us know who owned the property,” Ashe said. “We would research it to make sure that they were listing it. If they hadn’t been listing it, we would create an account. And then we would remove it if it was on (the landowner’s) real property.”
Alternately they could pay the full amount owed and collect the mobile home owner’s share of the taxes.
If a mobile home owned by someone else is left behind on the landlord’s property, the home is considered abandoned. The property owner technically becomes the owner of the trailer.
“When I worked at Department of Revenue, we had a census in one of the counties,” Ashe said. “The statute seemed to say that landowner would become the rightful owner of that mobile home. In turn, you should be able to do what you want with that mobile home.”