It seemed like a good idea at the time to Carl Davis, Bruce Jackson and their neighbors in Chesapeake Mobile Court in Harmans: Sell the wheels and axles off their mobile homes and pick up some spare change, anywhere from $90 to $250.
"Everybody could do with a little extra money," figured Mr. Jackson, who made $90 on the sale.
What they didn't know was that a county ordinance forbids the removal of those wheels and threatens a six-month jail term and a $1,000 fine for violators. Not only that, it could cost $500 to $1,000 to replace the wheels.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do now," moaned Mr. Davis, who has been out of work for nearly a year. "They told me it would cost between $500 and $600 to buy them. And that doesn't include the labor to put them on. Man, I need a job."
A representative of American Recycling Co. showed up last week at the mobile home park, offering to buy wheels and axles from the tenants for $10 each, depending on equipment's age and condition.
His company, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, and operates throughout the Northeast, sells the wheels and axles to an Elkhart, Ind., firm that reconditions them and resells them to mobile home manufacturers.
At least five residents at Chesapeake sold their wheels before one decided to check with county officials. "I talked to a girl there who said it was against the law," recounted James Costa, Mr. Davis' neighbor. "I called Carl and said whatever you do, don't sell them. But it was too late."
Anne Hatcher, county chief of licensing, said she generally hears these complaints when the weather gets warmer.
"We start hearing about this every year in the spring," she said. "We get a few phone calls and see a flier or two and then it goes away."
Having wheels is "part of the definition of a mobile home," she explained. "If it doesn't have wheels, it's no longer eligible to be put in a mobile home park."
Bill Bazemore, owner of American Recycling, said that the 1960s-era law stems from the days when mobile homes could be pulled by automobiles. "That code was made years ago," he argued.
"It's part of old fire regulations, so in an emergency you could pull a mobile home off the lot. But today, you can't do that. It takes a big truck and at least 45 minutes to get it hitched up."
Mobile homes rarely move from their lots anymore, he said, because it costs too much. In many cases, dealers remove the wheels and axles for recycling after they have delivered mobile homes, and some jurisdictions actually require removal.
Regulations vary from one jurisdiction to another, confirmed Andy Scholz, director of site development for the National Manufactured Housing Association.
But mobile home dealers and manufacturers are increasingly recycling wheels and axles, he said.
"It's really stupid to leave them on," Mr. Scholz said. "They don't do anything, and, if the retailer can take them off, he can reduce the cost of the home."
And Mr. Bazemore said he doesn't "know of any inspectors who are going to go under there and check."
Inspectors check mobile homes when they are placed in a park to "verify that the wheels are on," Ms. Hatcher said. But she conceded it's unlikely they will check after that.
"If the skirting is crumbled or something has been done to a mobile home, they may want to verify the wheels are on," she said.
None of that, however, mollified Mr. Davis. "I just want my stuff back," he groaned.