Mobile Home Living in Fort Wayne: Get Grounded on the Rules, Rights, and Regulations

by | May 8, 2024 | Affordable Housing, Community Engagement, Fort Wayne Media Collaborative, Renters | 0 comments

Roiann Smolinski of Fort Wayne lived in a mobile home with her family about 40 years ago, and remembers it well. 

“We had a small court, maybe only 30 homes, in a convenient location close to work. The court got plowed out early from snow. We had three bedrooms and two baths, and a nice sized kitchen. It served our purpose for living, until we bought a house six years later. My dad lived in the same court, so that was a bonus.” Smolinski also noted a few drawbacks, such as no access to covered or reserved parking spaces.

Smolinski paid $135 for the home plus $190 for lot rent per month, which included landscaping and snow plowing but not utilities. 

Despite the arctic chills that visit Fort Wayne each winter, their mobile home stayed cozy. “We didn’t have any trouble with heating or cooling. We had heat tape on the pipes. They never froze up. And this was during the early 80s, with lots of snow and freezing temps.” 

Her father stayed in the mobile home park until four years ago, when he went to an assisted living facility. His recent challenges had been annual lot rent increases, plus getting service done on his older (1969) mobile home and dealing with the floor softening in some areas. His mobile home still ‘weathered’ the weather, though. In wintertime, “he had the heat tape for his pipes and left the water drip. He had newer windows installed, as that helped with drafts.”

Although her father has sold his mobile home, Smolinski is still connected to local mobile home residents. “I have friends in mobile home parks, and they certainly are not what they used to be, but there are also some nicer communities here.”

Rental Costs, Leases, and Limitations

According to, mobile homes for rent in the Fort Wayne area ranged from $900 to $1,400 per month in April 2024. However, the lot rents, which are an additional separate charge, increase the amount that renters pay anywhere from $285 to $725 per month, though most range between $350 and $500. As both types of rent climb, the opportunity to save money by living in a mobile home decreases.

The experience of renting or buying a mobile home differs from other real estate.In a recent interview, attorney Andrew Thomas of Indiana Legal Services shared information about mobile homes in Indiana, starting with what it’s like for renters. 

For those who rent a mobile home and its corresponding lot, “you do fall under landlord-tenant statutes.” The mobile home landlord must provide basics like hot and cold running water and electricity in accordance with the law. Rental leases for mobile homes look similar to residential leases for apartments or houses. A separate lot lease agreement must be made with the mobile home park, and it could explain what services they provide, such as snow removal, landscaping, and garbage pickup, in exchange for that monthly rental fee.

Like most Hoosier renters, mobile home renters tend to lay their eyes on a lease only when it’s time to move into the property, and don’t have much power to change it. Thomas said, “Bargaining power between a landlord and a tenant is uneven by nature. It’s especially true, though, if you’re low-income and your options are limited. In legal terms, it’s called Adhesion Contract. One side has all the bargaining power.” He emphasized that the court will hold a renter to the terms of whatever lease that renter has signed. “It is a contract and they are bound to it.”

Thomas elaborated on what rights renters have, and don’t have, in Indiana. “We warn folks that for instance, we’re one of about six states that there’s no good mechanism for a tenant to withhold their rent or put their rent in escrow if there’s a problem with the landlord, like if the furnace goes off or there’s a cracked window.” Instead, Indiana law states that the tenant has to put a repair request in writing, and, if the landlord doesn’t respond, bring the action to court. In situations in which a major repair is needed, renters can ask the court for an emergency possessory order. The landlord may be summoned to a hearing three business days after the emergency possessory order is filed, and the court could order them to make the major repair.

This is a heavy lift for renters with jobs and other responsibilities. Most don’t have the time, energy, money, and resources to go to court every time a landlord won’t respond to a repair request. Unfortunately, given the lack of affordable housing, landlords can get away with neglecting their properties and charging more for rent.

“Rent has been reported to be increasing, outpacing any type of inflation, not just in mobile homes but any kind of rental property, not just in Fort Wayne but across the nation. There is definitely an affordability crisis for renters, especially on the low-income end.” In the US, no full-time worker at a minimum-wage job can rent a modest apartment. 

In addition, Indiana has no rent control or statute that limits rent increases. As a landlord, “you’re free to double the rent, with proper notice.” While the owner might blame the rent increase on having to pay higher interest rates and property taxes, this still burdens renters whose income hasn’t increased enough to accommodate the higher costs. 

“While Fort Wayne is often considered more affordable, our wages are also usually lower. What we see with our clients is that often folks who are on SSDI payments or retirement, if the landlord raises the rent, and you’re on a fixed income, what do you do? There are houses being built, but not usually for low-income folks. There’s just simply not enough homes that people can afford to get into. A mobile home is often the option that a person has, and it can look appealing because it offers that idea of ownership, but the catch is significant in that you do not own the land underneath. The lease you have for the lot is just like a residential lease,” and therefore subject to rent hikes. This creates an obstacle for mobile home owners aiming to stabilize their housing expenses.

Mobile Home Buyers Beware

The serious undertaking of becoming a homeowner becomes more complicated when purchasing a mobile home in Indiana. Special care is needed to avoid pitfalls that could lead to eviction, repossession, and being forced to abandon the property. 

They are not classified like other types of dwellings. While mobile homes are used as homes, they are registered with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Owners obtain mobile home titles through the BMV, just as Hoosier drivers obtain titles for their vehicles. 

A common issue that Indiana Legal Services runs across is that some mobile homes don’t have proper or “clean” titles. Andrew Thomas has seen in his work that people often think they have title to the mobile home, or they buy the home with the understanding that they’ll get the title, but this doesn’t always happen. 

“Check with local BMV or the county recorder’s office to ask what you need to do to make sure you’ve properly recorded the title,” Thomas advised. “It can be very hard to prove your ownership of the home at all if you don’t have the proper documents showing the title to the mobile home.” This holds true especially for mobile homes with more than one owner.

“You might have difficulty later on if you try to sell it or really do anything with that property. People forget to check if they have a have a clean title.”

Potential buyers should also be wary of mobile home financing. Some purchasing options, Thomas noted, are “rent-to-own types of schemes.” These deals state that if one party makes payments for a specific amount of time, that they will earn the option to buy a mobile home or gain possession of it. 

These contracts tend to favor the seller. “There’s a high probability that the renter will not make it to the end of the contract and become the owner of the land. If you miss a payment at any point before then, you may get into default, you may not be able to get ownership.” This could leave the renter in danger of foreclosure or eviction, depending on the contract’s terms. “You could put a lot of money in, but potentially lose out.”

Designating responsibility for who handles what repairs can get muddied with this type of arrangement, too. The person renting to own isn’t the owner yet, but the landlord may not follow up with repairs on the property because the tenant isn’t a typical renter, either. 

The Indiana Supreme Court tackled a case about a rent-to-own contract in which the landlord refused to honor their responsibilities. The landlord deceived potential homebuyers into a legal agreement that didn’t actually allow them to purchase the property and refused to repair the mobile home into habitable condition before they were scheduled to move in. To guard against deceptive tactics like these, and to avoid being asked to waive one’s rights when making a deal, legal counsel is recommended for all real estate transactions. 

Eviction Dangers for Mobile Home Owners and Renters

Owning a mobile home doesn’t necessarily protect someone from eviction. Renters and owners alike can face eviction from the landlord of the land beneath their homes. 

A “land landlord” can file for eviction starting the next day or within ten days if a mobile home owner pays the lot rent late. At that point, the landlord does not have to accept a late payment. However, if they do accept the payment, a new agreement is created, and this can stop the eviction. In Allen County, residents have to wait 21 days for an initial conference and then a couple weeks after that for the eviction trial.

Mobile home evictions differ from others in that the landlord can file for eviction and place a lein on the tenant’s personal property, with some exceptions such as their medication. This allows the landlord to hold the mobile home and everything in it hostage until they receive payment, and this type of lein applies whether or not the occupants own the mobile home. (By contrast, if a renter is evicted from an apartment or house, their landlord is required by law to give the renter access to their possessions.) 

In Allen County, delinquent mobile home renters are usually given seven days to vacate. This leaves low-income renters without a place to live, and sometimes they lose their belongings. A successful search for a new and affordable rental is unlikely, especially after an eviction. 

‘“There’s nowhere to go,” is unfortunately a common refrain from clients when they’re told to leave or they’re facing eviction,” Thomas added. One exception is subsidized housing, which operates under different rules.

Mobile Homes Aren’t Really Mobile

Shirley Rork of Just Neighbors Interfaith Homeless Network, in conjuction with their Eviction Intervention Program Manager, offered some insight into mobile home evictions. “Most often, the issue is that the tenant either owns or is renting to own the mobile home. If they own the home, then they must move it off of the property with seven days of the eviction. The landlord must enforce the eviction from seven days after winning the eviction or before 30 days. Most often, the landlords stick with the seven days.”

Just Neighbors acts as an advocate for families in crisis and works to prevent homelessness in the Fort Wayne community. Their employees can mediate between tenants and landlords, and many landlords are willing to be flexible in order to keep the tenants housed. She said, “Most often, the mobile home parks we have worked with have been willing to work with the tenant. There are only two parks that have consistently been hard to work with.”

Unfortunately, sometimes unpaid lot rent can pile up and lead to a slew of evictions. “We had one mobile home park that was not following up on unpaid rent, hired new staff, then dozens of evictions happened within about two months. One tenant owed over $20,000, but most were $12,000 to $15,000.” The consequences of unpaid lot rent can be severe. “We have had tenants sign over the title to their mobile home and the landlord agree to not seek damages.”

In most cases, paying rent on time ensures that the renter can remain on the land or in a home. However, mobile home owners who stay current on their lot rent can become vulnerable to eviction if “land landlords” order them to move off their land in accordance with the lot lease. 

Andrew Thomas explained, “People are surprised when they receive a 30-day notice and they have to leave even though they’ve paid the rent, they’ve lived there for years, they own the mobile home. The landlord can still make them leave in a month.” The law assumes that the homeowner renting the lot has willingly signed a lease for that land, and that 30 days is sufficient time for giving notice. One exception to this rule is that “land landlords” have to provide more notice when they choose to sell their property. 

“The name ‘mobile home’ is a misnomer. They often aren’t. In ten years of practice, I’ve never had a client who successfully moved their mobile home in time. It costs thousands of dollars and could be more than what the mobile home is worth at that point. In some cases, depending on the age and condition of the mobile home, it might not be movable at all.

“Mobile home owners need to be careful and make sure you know what you own and what you don’t, and what your lease says, and what your rights are in that mobile home park. If you are renting the land from the lot and you’re asked to leave, you may end up losing that possession, that mobile home, because you have nowhere to take it, you can’t move it. It often becomes abandoned.”

Shirley Rork said, “The times we have worked with tenants to get the mobile home moved, the cost was $4,800. And none of the times was the mover able to move within the seven days. Only once have I seen a tenant get the mobile home moved, and that was mostly due to finding them financial assistance and mediating with the landlord to give the tenant extra days due to the mover not being able to move it within the time frame the landlord had given the tenant. I had to provide documentation from the mover showing it was paid and the date to move it before they would officially say okay. Which makes it difficult to get funding when it’s not a guarantee that the funding will save the tenant’s home.”

In these cases, usually the mobile homes have to be abandoned, and if the “land landlord” follows the legal requirements, they can assume possession. After a 30-day period passes and the mobile home owner has left the home behind, the landowner can rent it out to another tenant. 

When a mobile home park goes up for sale, this can be cause for fear, because the residents won’t know what to expect and what it will cost them. However, the sale of a mobile home park can also be a reason for hope if its residents can pool resources to buy it. Recently the Guardian, in conjunction with the Lever, reported on how mobile home owners can form cooperatives to purchase the land beneath their homes. In their reporting, they featured the ROC USA organization, which helps resident-owned community groups for in-sale communities come together and purchase their neighborhoods. Forming a cooperative to purchase and manage the land can lead to cost-effective outcomes for mobile home owners and housing stability for the community. Adopting the nonprofit model for a cooperative allows those running it to apply for grant funding, which helps them maintain the property without asking the residents to pay for major expenses such as replacing sewer lines. This allows mobile home owners to stabilize their costs and secure the land beneath their homes. 

Right now, mobile home residents in Fort Wayne’s Vance Village Mobile Home Park have the unique opportunity to purchase their mobile home park. In addition, an RV Resort near Fort Wayne is also for sale.  

Fort Wayne Zoning and Rules 

Within Fort Wayne city limits, mobile homes can only be placed within mobile home parks. Therefore, owning the lot below a mobile home isn’t an option in Fort Wayne proper. However, they may be allowed on agriculturally-zoned properties. The Department of Planning Services can provide specific information about how properties are zoned. 

Prosperity Indiana’s February 2024 policy news explained that bipartisan legislation covering habitability standards and affordable housing in Indiana had failed for the third straight year and asked for Governor Holcomb to appoint a Commission on Housing Affordability and Stability. Unfortunately, rental protections for Hoosiers seem to be a long way off at this point.

Mobile home living can be an economical approach to renting or owning a home in northeast Indiana, but it helps to be informed about the legal quirks. Knowing how mobile homes and both residential and lot leases are viewed under the law is an important step to securing an affordable and stable home. Those who consider renting or buying a mobile home in Allen County can find support through legal aid or other legal services from ILS, the Volunteer Lawyer Program, and the Allen County Bar Association

Local mobile home park owners and landlords also have access to legal assistance that includes training seminars. Rork noted, “To my knowledge, Perry Law Offices represent the majority of the mobile home parks in Allen County. Ray (Perry) and Logan (Gilbert) are both wonderful attorneys that have always tried to advocate to keep the family housed whenever that is an option.”


  • Gabi Lorino

    Gabi Lorino is a writer, editor, and organizer of people and words. Her feature articles and short stories have been published in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, and books. She has self-published one book, A Magical Time Called Later, in addition to a journal series, and has edited short story anthologies.