Mobile home safety questioned after storms

April 26, 2011 4:34:36 AM PDT
By law, mobile homes are required to be anchored to the ground, but that may not be enough to save lives if the home is not up to code.

Weather experts warn mobile homes are no place to be during a tornado. The metal straps used for anchoring are an added safety feature.

City Inspector Don Harris has examined dozens of homes in the Stony Brook mobile home park where four children died on April 16. City officials say 27 homes were completely destroyed and 52 are so severely damaged no one can live in those homes again.

It's possible some of those homes were older models since the park has been around since the 1970s.

"When your unit was built some 30 years ago, the code was probably going to be very minimal," Harris said.

When it comes to code enforcement, there's no law requiring regular inspections of mobile homes. The bottom line is older mobile homes don't have to meet new safety standards.

Much like an old house, older mobile homes are grandfathered into the law.

"Once you have a house built, and once you have the certificate of occupancy, then I cannot go back to that piece of property, no ma'am," Harris said.

Newer safety standards take the height of the property and the number of cinderblock columns into consideration. Research shows mobile property anchored to the ground have a greater chance of withstanding a storm.

"If they want to make it better, they're going to have to have somebody, another mobile home installer, come back and see what they can do about upgrading the safety of their unit," Harris added.

That can be expensive and not even an option for renters who may never know they're living in a mobile home with old safety standards. Despite devastating scenes, like the ones left from the April 16 tornadoes, there's little talk of changing the law to require regular inspections.

There are some states that require mobile home parks to install safe shelters in the event of severe weather but North Carolina is not one of them.

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