How to Turn a Trailer into a Permanent Residence

By Matt Valzania

When deciding on a residence for your land, there is a plethora of options. You could stick with the standard, stick-built home, but if this is going to be a second home or you are downsizing, permanently affixing a mobile home or camper-trailer might be a better, more cost-effective alternative. There are even companies that will rehab retired school trailers or shipping containers into neat, architecturally pleasing homes. Once you’ve decided to go with a trailer of any kind, you’ll need to follow some very important steps for it to be considered real property.

The first, and most important, step is to check with your local zoning office to verify that your piece of land is zoned to allow trailer-homes. There are some municipalities that don’t allow trailers as real property no matter what; in that case you’ll need to look elsewhere to turn a trailer into a permanent residence. If your county does allow trailers as real property, be sure to ask them specifically what you need to do for a trailer to be valid. More than likely you’ll need a building permit, you’ll have to apply for inspections to be done during and after the installation and, once the trailer is permanent, you’ll need to surrender the title and convert it to real property.

If all is well with the county and you’re clear to install the trailer, you need to make sure the land is suitable. There are other Land University posts discussing land selection, but the land needs to have minimal slope to avoid costly excavation, decent drainage for a septic system, and be able to support pilings and/or foundation footers. Just putting a block wall under the perimeter of the trailer will not suffice, especially if it is done so to only “skirt” the structure and not actually take any load. To legally turn a trailer into a permanent residence, an actual foundation wall with footers and support piers underneath will need to be put in place to minimize settling. Also, all the running gear (axles, hitch, etc.) will need to be removed and the trailer will need to rest on the foundation. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) publishes a thorough guide to how to permanently attach a mobile home.

Once the foundation wall and support piers are in place, the mobile home can be set on top. More than likely this will require a crane. However, you may be able to build the foundation underneath the trailer while it is temporarily elevated in its final resting place using cribbing or other means. Once resting on the foundation, proper attachment will be necessary to ensure heavy winds or other forces don’t knock it off. The HUD guide above outlines the proper types of bolts, ties and straps to use.

Finally, you can begin setting up your utilities. Check out my other posts on how to set up utilities in a standard home, what to do if you’re in a more remote location, or what your options are if you’re off the grid.

When all the work is complete you’ll need to get everything inspected. A licensed structural or professional engineer will need to ensure that all necessary steps were followed correctly and the trailer is safely attached. The county building department may also want to have a look. As soon as you complete that, the title can be surrendered and you file to record it as real property. You’re done! Kick back, relax and enjoy your new, PERMANENT home.

Image Credits: Wikipedia & HomeDsgn

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