OWN YOUR RV LOT
There are a variety of ways in which you can “own” your RV real estate. Many are identical to how you might “own”
a single family home. Several reflect the cleverness of the RV park developer working with legal counsel.
Reviewed below are common forms of ownership and some of
their characteristics, listed in approximate order of popularity.
only method we have yet to see is a “time share RV park” and you can imagine that will come one day in a highly sought after
resort location like the Florida Keys or Newport Beach. Have you seen one
Like a residential condo, the individual owner assumes responsibility for his pro-rata share of the
common property and improvements and receives a deed for his legally described “Lot”.
Established maintenance fees must be paid or the owned unit will be forfeited. The details of responsibility and
limits of ownership are carefully spelled out in the condo documents and should be read carefully and understood.
Condos become self governing when most of the Lots are sold. A small condo campground might be run as an all
volunteer affair, while large resort style condos are managed day to day by paid staff. Both are ultimately governed by an
elected Board of directors. Variations on the basic condo structure include, common ownership of all real estate, whereby
what is individually owned is a legal description of a location you may occupy
(air space). Another utilizes two deeds, one for the
subdivided (technically condo lot) lot and the second for an undivided interest in all common property. Condominiums differ some depending
upon the State in which they are located. Budget handling, maintenance projections and condo reserves can be treated
quite differently and receive different levels of governmental oversight depending on the State.
There is a trend for State regulations to get more and more into details of
condominium operation. Regulation is ever growing and has spawned a cottage
industry advising Boards, etc. where condos abound.
The lack of adequate cash reserves to meet maintenance and upkeep requirements is probably the biggest failing
found in condominiums. As directors are elected short term, long term replacement expenses, and unpleasant issues are
often not addressed. This can lead to large assessments that might have been avoided through timely
additions to reserves. The size
of the condominium probably impacts the operations and maintenance more than any other single factor. Large
campgrounds yield big budgets which makes possible smoother and more professional
operation. All volunteer
campgrounds often enjoy a strong bond between owners not found in campgrounds with hundreds and hundreds of
and numerous employees. Increasing State intrusion and regulations are not
making RV condominiums better.
Often used to refer to million dollar New York high rise apartments, co-op is also found in campgrounds! Unlike
a condo, in a co-op you do not own real estate, but rather a share of stock together with a (proprietary) lease for
occupancy. The campgrounds’ real estate is owned by the corporation that issues the
stock you own. This collective form of ownership is just like owning stock in GE, except for the
added lease which specifies your right to occupy a particular location or
"lot" during the time you own the stock.
In practice this structure is much easier for a park developer to put in place and it avoids much of the burdensome
permitting process and regulations that governments place on condominiums. The co-op is the preferred legal structure
when tenants have the opportunity to purchase and convert a rental RV park (mobile home too) to individual ownership.
Advantages include, a single large corporate loan to effect the purchase, that can continue with mixed rental and
ownership operations, and avoidance of strict regulations impossible to meet for older parks that would attempt
(going condo) subdivision. A change to co-op is not a change in form, like a subdivision (a condominium is
sort of a subdivision, too), but is
simply a change in ownership. Conceptually simple, a park is purchased by a corporation that just happens to have all it’s
shareholders participating on the land, from the owner that has been renting the
RV sites. Since the park was in legal operation, it’s park use permitted, it continues
operations unchanged as a co-op. Some times a co-op structure is the only way a private RV park can exist given
the local regulations. Suspect local government hostility toward RVs, when you find a newly constructed co-op RV park, because
most likely subdivision (new condo) for RV use is not permitted ! It can be
difficult in some locations to obtain financing for a co-op. While this may not
be a problem for you, consider your resale position and investigate your lending
market. A final note. Many co-ops have never been properly surveyed and
documented since expensive engineering requirements, like those for condos, are
not mandated. If you are co-op shopping, look at lot boundaries, etc, very
carefully. Even a simple survey may be a big problem if the co-op was never
surveyed (mapped) in the first place!
Fee simple means that you have a straight forward deed to a property without ties to any common
involvement other than that required by law, taxes, war, etc., for all
property in the County, Township, Parish, Town or City. You simply own the real estate, or real
property, without legal communal entanglement. The use of an RV on fee simple land, not a part of an RV park , will be a
matter of compliance with local zoning requirements and “deed restrictions”. Deed restrictions are found in documents
recorded by a prior owner that places limits on what can and can not be done with the property. These restrictions will
have an expiration date, and usually date from the time the land was last subdivided. “CCRs” and “restricted property” are but
two of a variety of terms used to describe recorded property use restrictions. There are other restrictions indirectly
affecting your use of property such as easements and mineral rights clauses. Familiarize yourself with the real estate
customs and norms in the area where you have interest in owning. The County
Courthouse is a good place to start !
Fee simple real estate for RVs will likely be found in two circumstances; where a subdivision was specifically
created that is permissive to RVs, and where zoning codes do not restrict RV use on the property. The RV friendly
subdivision is increasing in popularity as developers appeal to high end RVers wanting an RV home that will include a
port or other improvements that run from a simple porch to a five bedroom luxury home. Unrestricted property
where RVs can be used is normally found in more rural Counties that have not yet
succumbed to endless urban regulation.
Property of this type is disappearing fast as Counties are pushed by environmental groups, State agencies,
and ever expanding local bureaucrats, to restrict
and control uses of private property via Master Plans and total County zoning. I encourage great care when dealing with
these properties. We RVers are especially susceptible to unpleasant surprises as we are
prone to bring our real estate experience from one State to another, making incorrect assumptions
! Do your homework with great care.
Both the condo and co-op bring with them the inherent structure, the mechanism, for common
governance. When real estate is held “fee simple” a restriction may be recorded that requires the owner to participate in
an “association” of fellow property owners. This mandatory participation usually includes enforcement provisions and
requires monetary support of the “association”.
Associations are usually much more narrowly defined in purpose than condos and co-ops, limiting activities for
example, to security and street maintenance, rather than open ended lifestyle activities, etc. Associations are commonly
found in gated communities where restricted access makes street ownership necessary.
Monetary support for street
maintenance, street replacement and security is commonly required.
In recent years legislation for POA's is finding favor. Moving away from the
more lightly regulated HOA, "property" owners association seems to
feature more detailed Condo style regulation. It is thought that this approach
does not disturb existing HOAs yet provides a more regulated, adoptable,
framework that deals with specifics of property, rather than the more general
non profit corporate environment, usually applied.
Long Term Lease
What we are considering here, is a
lease that is paid for with a one time fixed payment at the time of execution.
From the perspective of a 55 year old retiree, a 99 year lease is forever and so the long term
lease is included here. It, of course, is not a form of true ownership but in
practice it can be very similar. In this sense the subject real estate lease is
like a sale except for the restrictions contained in the lease and the eventual end of the lease at which time the lessee
has nothing. It is difficult
to generalize about leases. Each one can be structured in a different manner. It
is fair to point out that simple ownership brings many limits and restrictions
too, so in some cases there would be little difference in practice..
Under the right circumstances a long term lease can work to the benefit of all parties. Prior recorded restrictions
discouraging sale may push an owner toward long term leases. In complex holdings of large parcels long term leases
may work as an effective way to realize income while keeping the whole in tact over a long time horizon.
A prospective lessee, in
reviewing a lease should be careful about maintenance increases over time, right to sub let or transfer clauses that make
“resale” impossible or out of your control, cost of living adjustments, and other items structured to protect the
lessor at the expense of the lessee. Keep in mind that a long term lease may be of great value to the original lessee but if
the lessor has the right to change the terms of the lease when you wish to sell, the period remaining may effectively be
worthless. In other words, you will have nothing of value to sell. Generally,
the only long term lease that maintains any value over time is
one that stays as structured, even after a change in lessee. In other words, a
successor lessee is treated in the same way as the first lessee. Get legal help in reviewing
leases. This is definitely "buyer beware" country ! These
documents are usually drafted to benefit only the lessor.
UDI (Un Divided Interest)
The UDI is a way to achieve “membership” style camping without the risk of developer flight because the “members”
own the real property ! Each owner ( member) that purchases (joins) receives a deed . The deed represents, for example, a 1:1000
undivided interest in the total property. The deed is recorded in county public
records just like any other real estate
deed. What is owned is an “Un Divided Interest”, that is, you do not have title to a specific campsite or
lot, but rather, a
fractional ownership of the whole property plus a right of use. That use is typically two weeks camping per month and
unlimited day use. Facilities can include not only campsites but cabins, boats, horses and other. In our example, the
entire park is exclusively owned by 1000 people who each have a deeded interest. Owners (members) pay regular dues
or maintenance costs necessary to the parks continued operation.
With the rise and fall of membership campgrounds, the RV community developed a healthy
skepticism for developer
owned parks that could simply close leaving “paid members” with worthless
paper. Like many health clubs
modeled on the same system, membership RV parks failed and closed nationwide.
The benefits derived from a UDI are
related to the amount of use. If you never visit, it is expensive indeed, but a UDI can be a wonderful value for those who use
the facilities. Some UDIs allow extended stays with multiple ownerships. Others permit you to store your rig for additional
fees. UDIs provide the opportunity for the most economic camping normally available.... and you are a voting owner too!
Ownership deeds being resold are often inexpensive and some parks are worth much
more that the market price total of all
outstanding deeds. Probably no other structure places more importance on
management than the UDI. Casual involvement, low cost, intermittent use and lack
of knowledgeable or professional oversite of management, can easily combine to
foster damaging business practices and lead to the messy failure of the UDI .
Study financials carefully !
Not really a form of ownership, still no list would be complete without a consideration of “the back
yard”. We’ve all seen RVs camped in the side yard, awning extended and signs of life all around. Just as the “granny”
apartment is taking ahold in some locations permitting an addition to a single family home for “granny”, so the RV
parked in the yard is accepted in some communities.
If your child happens to own in such a location, or if you can purchase a home and rent the house for
income, you may have the perfect spot to spend time each year and store your stuff. This can be the place where
you maintain contact with old friends and family before you take off again. Such real estate can be a good investment and
provide that home base for your travels. Don’t overlook this RV real estate if your community, or that of one of you
relatives, or a location where you always wanted to be, looks favorably upon
RVs. The addition of a fence here, a cover
there, some judicious planting and planning may be all it takes. It is important to remember that
"home ownership" is
generally accorded a great deal of flexibility, even in strict neighborhoods. If you own it, your status is accomplished!
Common sense in shielding and selecting a more spacious property removes the RV from
casual consciousness and
observation. Most code enforcement operates on a complaint / response basis and has more issues than they can keep
up with. Know your neighbors and make sure they are aware and happy with your plans. They will always know what you
are doing ! If they are happy and you don’t abuse your situation, odds are you can come and go without problems in
many locations, even those less than receptive to RVs.
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