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April 26, 2000

Get a permit from Labor & Industries before altering your manufactured/mobile home or RV

TUMWATER - L&I reviews and inspects about 7,000-8,000 alterations to manufactured homes in Washington each year. But one of the biggest problems L&I inspectors encounter is manufactured/mobile home owners who don't get a permit and advice from L&I before altering their home, then have a disastrous fire and find their insurance won't cover it, or they discover they can't sell or rent their home to anyone else because it's been altered without L&I approval.

For example:

  • The owner of an older mobile home in Bonney Lake added a hot tub, an attached shed and a wood stove to his home without getting an alteration permit or inspection from the Department of Labor & Industries. He so overloaded the electrical system that it caught fire. The fire burned so hot and fast that all the windows in the house burst and everything in the home melted within a short time.

    Fortunately, no one was home at the time -- or the story would have been one of a tragic loss of life rather than just a tragic loss of property. The mobile home wasn't insured, but even if it had been, the insurance company probably wouldn't have paid for the loss because the alterations were not inspected and approved by L&I as required by law.
  • In Snohomish County, a manufactured home owner bought a wood stove. The salesperson suggested she could skip the required alteration permit from L&I, as the installation contractor he'd recommended "knew what he was doing." She ignored this advice, and when the work was done, the L&I inspector discovered numerous safety violations.

    The most serious was the connector pipe was not installed properly and would have allowed smoke to escape into the home. Some parts were also missing from the stove, allowing the stove to take oxygen from the interior of the home - a serious safety hazard. Thanks to the homeowner's good judgment, these problems were corrected before they endangered her family.
  • Earlier this year in Sekiu, on the Olympic Peninsula, a double-wide mobile home was raised into the air and made into a second story. The owner removed the steel frame supporting the floor system and modified it for a stairwell and the kitchen area was made into a master bedroom -- all without approval from L&I. The result is the home no longer can be legally bought or sold.
  • Many times manufactured/mobile home sales are delayed when homeowners replace the existing siding with vinyl and throw away the federal tags attached the old siding that are always affixed to homes manufactured after 1976. It is not legal to remove these tags, so when the manufactured home owners try to sell or rent out the unit, they find that they can't do it.

"This seems to be one of the current biggest problems I see," said Rich Metcalfe, L&I inspector of factory-assembled structures in Snohomish County. "If mobile home owners would just contact L&I for approval to do this type of structural alteration, it would save them and their buyers a lot of time and grief."

L&I has statewide responsibility for approving plans and inspecting both new and altered manufactured/mobile homes and recreational vehicles for safety. And we would like to remind contractors and manufactured housing/mobile home owners of a few things they need to know concerning alterations to these kinds of structures.

  • In Washington State, it is unlawful to offer for rent, lease, or sale any manufactured housing/ mobile home or recreational vehicle that has been altered without first obtaining a permit, having an inspection performed and getting an insignia of approval from the Department of Labor & Industries (RCW 43.22.360(1)).

That means any change to the original manufactured or mobile home requires an alteration permit from L&I.

Some examples of alterations include:

  • Heat pump/air conditioning installations
  • Wood/pellet/gas stove or furnace installations
  • Changing from electric to gas appliances
  • Electrical or plumbing changes
  • Structural changes or additions (doesn't apply to recreational vehicles)
  • Before making any alterations, whoever is actually doing the work needs to contact the nearest L&I field office Factory Assembled Structures section to obtain an alteration permit and find out more.
  • In Washington any contractor who performs alteration work must be registered with L&I. Being registered means they are bonded and insured, which helps protect the consumer. Contractors can register at any local L&I office. Information about this is available on the Internet at /contractors/.
  • Homeowners can find out whether a contractor is registered by calling 1-800-647-0982 or by looking them up on the Internet at /contractors/contractor.asp
  • Homeowners should also remember that making alterations to their manufactured home without getting an alteration permit from L&I might affect their ability to collect on an insurance claim on their policy.
  • Manufactured/mobile home buyers should always make sure the home hasn't been altered before paying cash or buying on owner contract so that they don't end up with a home they can't sell or rent.

L&I works to assure the health and safety of Washington State citizens who work and live in factory-built housing and commercial structures.

For answers to questions about manufactured/mobile home alterations, click on the following link to see FAQs about Factory Assembled Structures. Or go to the Factory Assembled Structures web site.

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