Dealer licensing issues preventing some tiny home owners from getting a title

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Back in March, Karen Bryant paid cash for a tiny home located in the Village Farm community in east Austin.

She has the certificate of origin, which shows the tiny home’s vehicle identification number or VIN number. But she wanted the title to use for another property purchase.

“I was going to buy another property,” she said. “And instead of putting any more money out of pocket for that property, I decided I would pledge the title as collateral.”

After it dawned on her that she didn’t have the title, Bryant took her concerns to the dealer. For months, she says she’s had trouble getting the title from Lifestyle Sales, LLC.

“It was very surprising,” said Bryant. “I’m thinking it’ll be about 30 days, no one said any different.”

Other homeowners in the community tell us they’ve also dealt with title transfer delays but chose not to go on camera for fear of retaliation.

It comes at a time when many people struggle to afford a home in Austin. Around the country, tiny homes have become affordable options for those who want to downsize.

Bryant reached out to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. A DMV Investigator told Bryant in an email he would try and contact Lifestyle Sales to get them to release the title. He added the company was not a licensed dealer.

In an email to KXAN, the company responded.

“We understand the frustration some of our homeowners may be facing as we work to navigate the DMV’s titling process” said a spokesperson for Roberts Communities. “Our paperwork has been submitted, and we are eagerly awaiting our new license in order to transfer titles.”

The spokesperson added the titling process was slowed by the DMV changing its requirements for licensing earlier in the year, something the state agency denies.

“The Motor Vehicle Division of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles made no change to licensing requirements, application processing or application approvals,” said a DMV Public Information Officer. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, MVD has maintained full operations, processed applications timely and answered questions from the public and the industry.”

DMV records show Lifestyle Sales applied for a franchised dealer’s license on June 3. That’s several months after Bryant purchased her tiny home.

“Everyone was in a quandary about what to do,” she said. “My answer would have been stop taking people’s money. Stop selling these until you do have an answer.”

The DMV told KXAN it won’t discuss the ongoing investigation. It has the ability to sanction sellers, depending on the violation found. This could include fines or license revocation.

A spokesperson told us broadly, motor vehicle investigators will likely ask whether tiny homes should be titled as motor vehicles in the first place.

As we dug further, we connected with the tiny home model manufacturer, Champion Home Builders, Inc. The General Manager of the company’s Mansfield, Texas plant tells us only recently did the state start classifying his homes as RVs.

“Shortly before COVID-19 resulted in shutdowns at state agencies, Champion was notified by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles that the Athens Park models do fall within the Texas definition of a recreational vehicle,” said GM Randy Read. 

“Champion promptly applied for and eventually received a license in June from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to sell its current Athens Park model product to authorized Champion dealers licensed by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.” 

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