Is It Legal to Live in a Camper in Your Backyard?

Last Updated on January 2, 2022 by Douglas

A lot of us can remember setting up a tent and camping in our backyards when we were kids. Some of us either still do it as adults, or we continue the tradition by camping in the backyard with our kids later. It is like an adventure without having to leave your premises, and given how 2020 has been going, a little camping trip in our backyards might do a lot of us some good.

If you happen to own a Trailer Camper or RV, you might have tinkered with the idea of parking it in your yard and setting your base camp there for different times throughout the year, so you can avail, guests can avail of it, or your kids and their friends can have fun with it. Now before you park your Camper or RV in your yard, you might wonder whether or not it is legal for you to that, and the answer to this question in most situations is yes.

The different States and different neighborhoods have set rules and regulations regarding camper and RV parking, and for that, you will need to check with your neighborhood’s Home Owner Association (HOA). Campers and RVs are recognized as vehicles, so you will be allowed in most cases to parking it on your property, but a lot of neighborhoods have regulations against keeping the RV or Camper in the neighborhood as a fixed or permanent residence or dwelling.

If you have gotten the approval to keep your camper or RV on your property, then you need to make sure that your park is safely and legally as well to avoid any hassle later on.

Correctly Parking Your Camper

Yes, you can legally park your Camper or RV in your backyard and sleep and live there for a couple of nights, but you legally cannot turn these cars into your permanent home. So, if you are living in the RV and doing every activity in their like sleeping, eating, throwing parties, or inviting guests, then what you are doing is considered illegal.

Parking your RV in your garage is recommended but if your garage is too small for your RV or camper, then you will need to consult with your local authorities to make sure that you park your RV in the correct spot in your yard or property. We have already mentioned how living permanently in your RV is considered illegal by law, but at the same time, there are not a lot of regulatory bodies or tight inspections being conducted, so a lot of people do end up getting away with parking and living in their RV, but we would advise against this since there is still the potential of getting caught and then getting into trouble with the authorities.

If you do want to live in your RV and ensure that it stays safe, then there are many ways you can go around and do that, and this includes:

  • Go and park your RV at RV parks or RV campgrounds. There are designated and fixed locations for these, so you can go and find them.
  • You can go to your DMV and get your RV or Camper registered as a “recreational vehicle” and then parking it in your area.
  • You can also choose to go to the DMV or other authorized offices and get your Camper registered as an “accessory dwelling unit” so that its existence is recognized and you can continue using it on your property without any issue.

The government considers Campers and RVs as vehicles that are designated for traveling and other recreational activities rather than as a permanent residence that people can live. So, now that you have the basic facts in mind, you know that you can spend a few days in your RV in your backyard as long as you are living at your actual house as well. Permanent residence in an RV is prohibited in residential areas regardless of whether you are living in an urban or rural area, so that rule is something you need to remember.

Living in a Camper

Living in a Camper or RV is very different from just driving your RV when you are traveling or going camping. Like we said before, RVs cannot be considered legally recognized permanent living residences, so if you want to check in with your RV for a few nights when out on the road, then you can part at a motorhome stopover, catch a break, make sure your RV is still in good shape and then get back on the road.

Different states have different rules and regulations regarding motorhome stopovers. In some states, you can keep your RV parked on the side of the road for as long as you need to, and in other cases, you have a set time limit for how long you can keep your RV parked while you are there, so to stay prepared and ready, you should do some research about the regulations related to motorhome stopovers whenever you plan on taking a trip in your RV so that you know what to expect, what to bring, and then create a backup plan in case there are any hiccups. So stay informed before making a trip anywhere so that you do not end up making any serious mistakes or errors that might cost you later on.

RV as The New Permanent Home

If we look at the legal definition of a Motor Home or RV, then it is usually defined as a vehicle that provides transportation and a sleeping space. These vehicles have a coach-built body and are fitted out to make space for living or accommodation. Campervans are better recognized by RV’s (recreational vehicles) and are used by people throughout the country for various reasons.

Official authorities and regulatory bodies do not recognize RVs as permanent living statuses, so an RV is mainly used for camping, traveling and other recreational purposes, and not as an actual permanent home, so if you are caught living in just your RV, then the police will give you a warning or notice, and in case your RV is camped in your property while you are still living in it, then a complaint can be launched by your HOA or neighborhood and then you will be given a ticket or fine.

Living in your RV for a few days is acceptable, but if you are spending weeks at a time living in your RV, then you will probably get in more trouble with the authorities as time goes on and this comes to official notice.

How a Domicile Status Can Help

Having a domicile status means that you have permission to permanently live in your RV. This is however still different from having a residency status since a domicile status means you have “residences” in different locations or areas, whereas a residency status means that you can be a resident of an RV in just the State that you applied for it in.

This depends on the state you are in, but in some cases, having an RV with a domicile status makes you eligible to pay a certain income tax. You will have to look up these tax charges in some other resource or website since we will not be covering the specifics or RV taxes in this article.

Building Permits

If you are looking to dodge or get around different RV living laws and strict regulations around RV parking, then you can get a building permit that will allow you to live in your RV legally for some time, but this loophole is only limited to certain cities so you will have to do your research here as well.

If your land is still empty or your house is still in the middle of construction, an RV can be recognized as a temporary living and housing situation until your actual house is constructed or complete. You will have to pay close to $1000 and there will be some fluctuations in this fee depending on the state you are in, but once you have gotten this permit, you can start living in your RV without any other conditions. However, this is a temporary solution. If you have not gotten your house built or found some other type of residence, then you will be fined eventually because you will be viewed as someone who did not make any effort to change their living situation, so a building permit can be used as a temporary fix that will allow you to stay in your RV for a certain period.

The 2016 HUD Problem

In 2016, the HUD, better known as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was believed to have set a policy that prevented and prohibited anyone from living in their RV for extended periods regardless of their circumstance. This news of course concerned the RV community as a lot of people had made homes out of their RV and had invested a significant amount of money for their lifestyle.

This new updated regulation made it clear that living in an RV full-time is illegal. At the time these regulations and policies were being discussed, Camper and RV laws were not being strictly enforced, and now that these regulations are beginning to change, things might start changing for the RV and Camper community and how they might park their vehicles now.

Looking at Zoning Laws

We have talked about the importance of paying attention to State law and then Federal laws so that you are more aware of the laws and regulations in your State and City regarding RV living and Parking. Another type of law that you should be keeping in mind here is zoning laws. In case you are not familiar with the terminology, then it is the way a city is divided into different designated areas and sections like an industrial zone, a residential zone/area, etc.

If you are an RV owner, then you do need to take zoning laws into account. If for instance, you are living in an upscale residential area where the entire street and population only had traditional houses, you park your RV in that residential area can very likely lead to complaints being launched against the RV by your neighborhood.

All homeowners and real estate developers think about the overall value of the neighborhood, and this includes how it looks, so having an RV in their upscale or traditional neighborhood can end up bringing down the “look” of their neighborhood.

In case your backyard is not visible, then you do have a higher chance of being able to park your RV and even sleep in it for a few nights without any complaints, but if your RV can be seen in plain sight then it is a different story.

If you can park your RV in your backyard residence and are also able to spend a night or two of the week there, then other people in the neighborhood can also feel inclined to do the same, and when multiple houses in the neighborhood have RVs parked in their yards and residence, then the City itself can take notice of this issue and then intervene.

Different cities allow you to park your RV on your property even if it is visible to the rest of the street, but others might not, and they might cite security issues or an inconsistent look; regardless of the reasons given, you will need to abide by the laws in your city or else you can risk getting into trouble with the authorities.

As a general rule of thumb, commerce-heavy cities are more living to have strict laws that they enforce when it comes to RV living since they have a larger population residing there. So, cities on the West Coast like San Francisco and San Diego will have stricter zoning laws, where cities in mid-America are more likely to have more lenient laws.

RV Laws in The Different States

We have already highlighted this several times, but we still feel the need to emphasize the fact that different states and cities will have different laws and regulations when it comes to sleeping in your RV when it is parked in your backyard or residence. You can get more information about different states and their laws regarding RV living by either contacting your local housing or law offices. You can also lookup ordinances and rules set by different cities by checking out different certified websites online as well.

This can also help you find loopholes in the law, for instance, Californian RV Living laws have a loophole. If you get your RV registered as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), and when you get this done successfully, then the State will recognize your RV as an extension of your actual main property as long as it is placed inside it.

This ADU situation can get a bit tricky and messy depending on your city since there are different definitions and criteria that your main property, you, and your RV will have to meet. This includes asking questions like whether or not your RV will need a separate utility meter, whether it is smaller than 1200ft if your main property can accommodate both your actual house and the RV, and so on.

Oregon and Washington categorize and recognizes any structure with wheels as an ADU, whereas Chicago, Illinois are stricter and recognize and define RVs strictly as vehicles and nothing else.

So, as we mentioned before, an RV is legal in your property in most situations, but it cannot be considered a permanent residence since that is illegal. Always read up on RV laws in whatever State or city you are in and it is only by staying informed and ready that you can navigate and enjoy your RV lifestyle.

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