I’ve known people whose RV is nicer inside than their own house! So what if you have one of these luxury cruisers and want to live in it on your own property? All you have to do is hook it up for electrical service and you’re good to go – right?
While this may seem very simple on the surface, it is not just as simple as parking your RV in your backyard and using it to live in. There are a great number of local laws (typically known as zoning ordinances) that can prevent someone from living in their RV in their own backyard.
The location of your property, local zoning laws and the practical aspects of parking and hooking up a camper or RV will all play a part in whether you can live in a camper or RV on your property. We will dive into this question and explain the possible alternatives to living in an RV in your backyard.
Laws and Regulations
I’ve worked in the construction industry for nearly 15 years. By far, the most common question (Is It Legal to Live in A Camper in Your Backyard?) I get from landowners revolves around adding additional structures to their property. Consumers believe that they should be able to park a structurally sound, fully outfitted object like a camper or RV on their land for their usage without restrictions. While this may make sense on the surface, local cities and governments have good reasons to consider whether living in a camper or RV is acceptable or advisable.
The issue for most cities and counties revolves around zoning requirements and how many living units the property is zoned for. In most metropolitan, high-density areas, these zoning laws are strictly enforced. Since a camper or RV often comes with some sort of kitchen and some sort of bathroom – many cities define these units as “living units” and strictly restrict placing them on lots both with and without homes.
Beyond aesthetics, building officials will also be concerned about structural or seismic capability and fire protection as well. There is a whole slew of other concerns that need to be addressed if your property is zoned for multiple dwelling structures. The reality is that most cities and counties will not recognize a vehicle as a permanent structure if it can be moved.
Local Rules and Regulation – Is It Legal to Live in A Camper in Your Backyard?
To find out if your property is zoned for multiple living units, your first call needs to be to your City or County Department of Building Services. Consult your local government website for contact information. Once the building officials have your address and parcel number, they will be able to let you know if the property is zoned for multiple dwelling units.
In my research, I was not able to find a single, large metropolitan area where it is legal to place an RV as a permanent dwelling. For example, here is the code for San Diego. “No person shall use or occupy any mobilehome, commercial coach or recreational vehicle on private property not licensed as a mobile home park or special occupancy park except as follows.”
San Diego is just one example and similarly, strict laws can be found in jurisdictions throughout the country. These high-density urban areas may seem like great places to post up in your RV but they are most certainly not.
Where Can I Legally LIVE In My RV, Camper or Motorhome?
The best bet you’ll have to live in a Camper or RV on your property is going to be in rural areas of your state. Often (but not always) these areas are more acceptable for long term placement of these vehicles. As mentioned above, you’ll have to put some leg work in and call local jurisdictions for more information on whether or not you can place the vehicle of your choice. Keep in mind, there are truly very few areas that will let you park the RV on your land by law.
If you intend to camp or stay on your land temporarily, this is a whole different ball game. Most cities and counties will allow you to camp on your land (with a permit) for a period of up to two weeks. Beyond two weeks, the above-discussed issues become obvious and the assumption becomes that the person is attempting to live on this land vs just camp on it.
Motorhomes and RVs do have a solid option when it comes time for long term living. Specific motorhome and RV parks exist in metropolitan areas and include spaces with water, power and waste hookups. These parks are specifically zoned for usage and are sanctioned and allowed by the city for this exact purpose. It is completely legal to utilize these facilities as long as your vehicle is compliant with applicable road laws and is mechanically sound.
What Else Can I Do With My RV?
Many people will ask themselves, “If I can’t live in my RV in my backyard or on my property, then what can I do with it? Well, first off, there is not really any specific law that prevents someone from parking an RV in their backyard. There may be local HOA (Home Owners Association) rules that come into play about the visibility of the RV or location in proximity to your neighbors houses, etc. Consulting an HOA lawyer would be a good idea here as you don’t want issues with your neighbors.
Once the RV is in place per local HOA rules, it can function in a variety of ways. One common usage for an RV placed in your backyard is to use the RV as a guesthouse or guest suite for guests that are coming in from out of town. As stated above, this can not be a permanent solution and it can not be lived in but there is no one who can tell you that you can not use it temporarily. I have even seen families use their RV as a movie watching area for their kids or turn into a bunkhouse for sleepovers.
Challenges To Putting An RV In Your Backyard
One issue must be noted and considered when deciding how to use your RV. Typically, it will not be difficult to hook the RV up to a power source (electricity) since that is relatively easy to connect to most RV’s. Some even have solar panels on the roof! Water may also be easy to hook up since many RVs use a standard hose bib connection.
Wastewater and solid waste may not be practical to get rid of since you can not practically dump waste on your property. RVs typically have holding tanks but these tanks are limited in size and are temporary. Your guests may have to enter into your house to use the restroom unless you plan to regularly drive your RV to a site for proper waste disposal. Although an unpleasant thought, it must be considered.
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What About Airbnb, HomeAway, etc.?
If your intention with your RV or camper is to earn additional money for yourself via services like Airbnb – you may be in luck! The answer, of course, depends on where you live and what your local zoning ordinances say. For example, according to Conde Nast cities like Los Angeles completely restrict RVs from being used as Airbnb type rentals! On the contrary, cities like Austin Texas are completely open to RV’s being used as Airbnb/affordable housing rentals.
Check out this awesome article from the Houston Chronicle for a perfect example.
High Rents and RVs
If you follow local issues that are reported by the media, you are no doubt aware of the housing crisis and the affordable crisis that is currently looming over cities like Los Angeles. According to RentJungle the average price for an apartment in the City of Los Angeles is a staggering $2836! Many residents, most who have been driven out by high rent and low wages, have taken to living in RVs, campers, and motorhomes throughout the city in an attempt to keep shelter over their family’s heads.
According to NPR, Los Angeles has recently reinstated a ban on vehicles like RVs, motorhomes, and campers, from staying in residential and commercial areas overnight and will begin to fine people hundreds of dollars if they are caught. Over 10,000 people are doing this shuffle around the city on a nightly basis.
Renewed interest in the issue means that enforcement will be extra tight for vehicles placed on their property as well! This is just one example from many cities across the United States.
What If I Break The Law?
Some will not listen to the letter of the law and move forward with the placement of a camper, RV or motorhome on their property. For those willing to take that risk, the consequences must be considered. These consequences include fines and “red-tagging” of main dwellings to force owners to remove the RV or camper from the property. You can even be sued by your HOA!
You will find plenty of stories on the internet about people who have lived on their rural properties in their RV or Camper for many, many years and have never been cited. However, one call from an angry or annoyed neighbor can put a stop to that very quickly!