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Brownfield Subdivision, Inc. v. Mckee

MAY 2, 1974.

BROWNFIELD SUBDIVISION, INC. ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

REX MCKEE ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. CREED D. TUCKER, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE SMITH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied June 6, 1974.

Plaintiffs sought a mandatory injunction prohibiting defendants from occupying what they claimed was a mobile home and for its removal from the Subdivision. The basis for the action was the following restrictive covenant:

"No building shall be erected on any lot except a one family dwelling house, a garage and one service building and used exclusively as such. Buildings shall be permanent structures of an attractive design. Duplexes may be built on Lots 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38.

No structure of a temporary character, trailer, basement, tent, shack, mobile home or garage shall be used on any lot, at any time, as a residence, either temporarily or permanently."

After a hearing, the court found that the structure erected by the defendants was a "mobile home" within the meaning of the restrictive covenant and enjoined its further use as a residence. Defendants appeal.

Is or is not what defendants erected a "mobile home"? This is the central issue of this appeal. To be sure, some side issues are raised relative to the grant of a new trial, but the principal thrust is for outright reversal, that is, that we should rule as a matter of law, that that which defendants erected on the lot they purchased in this subdivision does not fall within the ban of the covenant just quoted. Defendants argue that their home is a "sectional" home or a "modular" home, not a "mobile home". Resolution requires a recital of the evidence.

Initially, with regard to the subdivision itself, there are approximately 66 lots, most being restricted to single-family dwellings. Exhibits of plaintiffs' evidence that homes presently existing are of a conventional type — all the way from single-story ranch type to split-levels and two-story homes. Defendants' structure is in part composed of an "Armor Home" — a trade name — and its dimensions are 52' x 24'. It is known in the trade as "double wide". Altogether there are 1,460 square feet. This includes a family room added by defendants which is connected to the Armor Home — and a two-car garage. In the Armor Home there are three bedrooms, a living room, 24' x 15', with paneled walls, bay windows and full carpet, and adjacent to the living room is a modern kitchen and dining area, plus a utility room and two baths. Outside there is a concrete patio and driveway. The outside is of light aluminum and the roof runs completely across the family room and a portion of the Armor Home. Apart from the family room and garage, the home rests on three I beams which are mortised into the foundation. The Armor Home comes equipped with detachable hitches and running gear. It was pulled in place by a truck, the running gear removed and in doing so, the undercarriage, springs, axles, wheels and everything under the frame goes too. The family room is 14' x 22', the garage 18' x 24', the patio 14' x 10', and the concrete driveway is approximately 35 feet long. Being "double-wide", the Armor Home had two sections, and each was pulled separately to the lot. There is a concrete block foundation completely laid around the lower portion of the structure. The vendor of this structure designated it a "Mobile Home". Pictures of defendants' home are in evidence, as we have said, and by agreement of the parties, the court viewed the premises. He found the structure to be "neat and attractive" and also that it was indeed a "mobile home" within the meaning of the covenant.

"The use of the term `mobile home' is a generic term applied to a certain type of structure and is not intended to be taken in its most technical sense, by breaking it into two rigidly defined words. Both the view of the premises, which the parties agreed should be a portion of the evidence, and the photographs leave no doubt as to the type of structure on Lot 65, however neat and attractive it has been made."

To us the covenant is clear — mobile homes are excluded and the term mobile home is not elusive of meaning, or otherwise vague, or ambiguous. Hence, we need not concern ourselves with the rule of construction which says that if there is doubt we should lean away from any restrictions on use. Mobile homes are different from conventional homes. This difference is the basis for the restriction. The restriction's validity is not before us — hence we need not be detained in analyzing whether this difference is meaningful in the sense of furnishing a reasonable classification for particular treatment. Thus, assuming validity of the covenant, that is, that it can be enforced, we must decide whether the court below was correct in coming to the conclusion that it did that defendants' structure was a mobile home. We agree with the court below, whether we call it a generic term or not, that it is descriptive enough of a given type of dwelling that adequate criteria are bound up in the term itself as to which we can ascribe a reasonable meaning.

When we say that mobile homes are different from conventional dwellings, we have to be specific. It would be easy enough to affirm by simply saying that the evidence was not against the manifest weight of the evidence based on the pictures in the record that we ourselves can view, and by giving full credence to the court's belief that what it saw on the view of the premises was indeed a mobile home. But we would be shirking our duty to do so and to simply affirm by saying that a mobile home is that which looks like a mobile home, defining a thing in its own terms has obvious drawbacks.

• 1 The crux is in design. It is not so much that it is moveable but that it was designed to be moved. It is not so much what kind of a foundation it might have — here we can assume that it is permanent — but that it was designed without a permanent foundation. Logically, therefore, we can say that a mobile home is a structure which is designed to be moved and has no foundation or the need for one. In 54 Am.Jur.2d 472, Mobile Homes, Trailer Parks, and Tourist Camps, section 1 (1971), we read:

"According to the Mobilehome Dealers National Association, a mobile home may be defined as a moveable or portable dwelling built on a chassis, connected to utilities, designed without a permanent ...


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