Robinson Tp. v. Knoll, Docket No. 58747

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation410 Mich. 293,302 N.W.2d 146
Docket NumberDocket No. 58747,No. 1,1
PartiesROBINSON TOWNSHIP, a Michigan Municipal Corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Donald KNOLL and Merle Knoll, jointly and severally, Defendants-Appellees. Calendar410 Mich. 293, 302 N.W.2d 146, 17 A.L.R.4th 79
Decision Date23 February 1981

Page 146

302 N.W.2d 146
ROBINSON TOWNSHIP, a Michigan Municipal Corporation,
Donald KNOLL and Merle Knoll, jointly and severally,
Docket No. 58747.
Calendar No. 1.
410 Mich. 293, 302 N.W.2d 146, 17 A.L.R.4th 79
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued Jan. 8, 1980.
Decided Feb. 23, 1981.

Page 148

[410 MICH 307] Scholten & Fant by R. Neal Stanton, Grand Haven, for plaintiff-appellant.

Hoffman & Watts by John A. Watts, Allegan, Mich., for defendants-appellees.

[410 MICH 308] LEVIN, Justice.

In this case we revisit the holding of Wyoming Twp. v. Herweyer, 1 and consider whether a municipality constitutionally may provide that mobile homes are to be sited only in mobile home parks and exclude all mobile homes from other residential zones.

Robinson Township commenced this action against Donald and Merle Knoll, seeking removal of a mobile home from their 80-acre parcel of land.

Count I of the complaint alleged that the use of the mobile home was contrary to § 307.1 of the township's zoning ordinance 2, which provides that mobile homes may be located only in mobile home parks, and to § 1302.1 of the ordinance 3, which requires that a building permit be obtained before [410 MICH 309] the erection of a building or structure on any property in the township. Count II alleged that because of violation of the same sections of the ordinance, the mobile home was a nuisance per se.

The answer raised affirmative defenses based on the unconstitutionality of the ordinance in that it arbitrarily and capriciously prohibits a proper land use, and is overbroad, failing to establish clear standards to be observed by property owners and citizens of the township.

Page 149

Trial was had on stipulated facts, including: the home had been placed on the parcel; the parcel was not a mobile home park; no building permit had been obtained; and the Knolls had dug a well, obtained a septic permit, applied for power from Consumers Power Company, cleared trees for a roadway and erected a rail fence around the site. No claim was made that the dwelling was not a mobile home within the meaning of the ordinance.

The trial judge, citing Wyoming Twp. v. Herweyer, held that "unless and until such decision is reversed," the provision that mobile homes are permitted only in mobile home parks was valid, and accordingly ordered removal within 30 days.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that because 1) there was no existing mobile home park in the community, and given the state of construction on a newly approved mobile home park "the use of land for mobile homes is neither imminent nor a factual certainty" and 2) "(a)s a matter of law," "a single mobile home (is not) a nuisance per se or detrimental to public health, safety, morals or general welfare, either," the township had totally excluded a legitimate use from the entire township. 4 The Court found no justification for this [410 MICH 310] total exclusion, and held the ordinance unconstitutional. The Court found its conclusion reinforced in that the Knolls' land was so zoned that it could be licensed as a mobile home park, commenting that "if the existence of such a park on that site poses no threat to 'public health, safety, morals or general welfare,' it is difficult to perceive how the existence of one mobile home could do so."

We agree with the Court of Appeals that the ordinance is unconstitutional, but on other grounds.

We hold:

(1) The per se exclusion of mobile homes from all areas not designated as mobile home parks has no reasonable basis under the police power, and is therefore unconstitutional. 5

The reasoning on which the rule of Wyoming Twp. v. Herweyer was based is no longer valid in light of improvements in the size, quality and appearance of mobile homes, and that decision and cases to the same effect are overruled as to housing that is not a "trailer."

We add, however, that a municipality need not permit all mobile homes, regardless of size, appearance, quality of manufacture or manner of on-site installation, to be placed in all residential neighborhoods. A mobile home may be excluded if it fails to satisfy reasonable standards designed to assure favorable comparison of mobile homes with site-built housing which would be permitted on the site, and not merely because it is a mobile home.

The Robinson Township ordinance embodies a per se rule segregating mobile homes from residential zones that are not mobile home parks, and is therefore unconstitutional.

(2) The complaint also alleged violation of the [410 MICH 311] provision of the zoning ordinance relating to building permits. A building permit could not have issued because of the per se rule confining mobile homes to mobile home parks. It necessarily would have been futile for the Knolls to apply for one. For this reason, the township is entitled to no relief based on the Knolls' failure to apply for a building permit.

(3) We intimate no opinion whether building code provisions may now be invoked against the Knolls, leaving that question for consideration by the circuit court should the township seek further relief on that basis.

We vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Municipalities throughout the state have assumed the continuing validity of the rule of Wyoming Twp. v. Herweyer in drafting their ordinances. We reserve the question

Page 150

whether our decision overruling that opinion as applied to housing other than "trailers" should be applied retroactively in other pending cases or to other ordinances and, if so, whether retroactivity should be conditioned upon compliance with reasonable standards designed to assure favorable comparison of the mobile home in question with site-built housing which would be permitted on the site. 6

In Kropf v. Sterling Heights, 7 this Court said [410 MICH 312] that "(a) plaintiff-citizen may be denied substantive due process by the city or municipality by the enactment of legislation, in this case a zoning ordinance, which has, in the final analysis, no reasonable basis for its very existence."

A "reasonable basis" must be grounded in the police power, 8 which this Court has defined as including "protection of the safety, health, morals, prosperity, comfort, convenience and welfare of the public, or any substantial part of the public." 9

The township's argument based on the land planning principle that like uses should be grouped and incompatible uses kept separate begs the question raised by the appeal: do mobile homes differ from other single-family dwellings in any constitutionally cognizable manner which would justify their per se classification as a different use? If not, then the ordinance limiting mobile homes to mobile home parks has "no reasonable basis for its very existence."

In Kropf, we reaffirmed the principle that " '(w)hile an ordinance must stand the test of reasonableness, the presumption is in favor of its validity and courts may not invalidate ordinances unless the constitutional objections thereto are supported by competent evidence or appear on their face.' " 10

[410 MICH 313] The Knolls, having failed to produce any evidence in the circuit court, can succeed only if the rule that no mobile home may be located outside a mobile home park is invalid on its face.

We believe that it is. 11


Wyoming Twp. v. Herweyer, holding that a municipality may constitutionally limit trailers to trailer parks, would seem to be dispositive of this case, and was so treated by the trial judge. We conclude, however, that it does not control.

That case, decided over thirty years ago, dealt with trailers. Today, we consider the per se exclusion not of trailers, but of mobile homes and more than the label has changed with time. The mobile home today can compare favorably with site-built housing in size, safety and attractiveness. To be sure, mobile homes inferior in many respects to site-built homes continue to be manufactured. But the assumption that all

Page 151

mobile homes are different from all site-built homes with respect to criteria cognizable under the police power can no longer be accepted.

Section 203 of the township's zoning ordinance defines "mobile home" as "(a) movable or portable dwelling constructed to be towed on its own chassis, connected to utilities and designed without a permanent foundation for year-round living as a single-family dwelling."

If mobile homes are to be excluded from all residential zones in Robinson Township other than [410 MICH 314] mobile home parks, it cannot be because they are "movable or portable." Site-built homes are "movable or portable," although they are rarely moved.

We note in this regard that § 500.2 of the township's building code 12 specifically provides for the issuance of moving permits to allow the relocation of one- or two-family dwellings from outside the township or from another location within the township. Any dwelling covered by § 500.2 is, by the township's definition, movable. It would be arbitrary to discriminate against mobile homes on that basis.

Nor do the criteria "constructed to be towed on its own chassis" and "designed without a permanent foundation" identify characteristics which justify the exclusion and segregation of mobile homes.

One can agree that a community has a legitimate interest in safeguarding residents against, for example, windstorm damage, justifying a requirement that a mobile home be firmly attached to a solid foundation on the site. And a municipality may reasonably conclude that a dwelling the wheels and chassis of which are exposed is unsightly[410 MICH 315] or is likely to lead to transience and should not be tolerated alongside site-built homes. These and similar considerations would justify requirements that certain on-site modifications be made as a condition to placement of a mobile home in an area not a designated...

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