Did you know that over 1 million Americans are living full-time in a Recreational Vehicle (RV) or camper, according to the RV Industry Association? That means everything – the bedroom, kitchen, dining room, bathroom and living room – is all within a 250-square-foot space. This statistic might make you wonder “Wait, is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard?”
Another piece of statistic: In 2017, more than 10.5 million households own at least one RV, a year of record RV sales. This is a whopping increase from just 7.5 million households in 2015.
For many, this is the abandonment of the traditional American dream of owning a sticks and bricks house and instead an embrace of flexibility, freedom on the road to travel and work where they want and minimalist living.
For many others, it is also a practical and economical choice considering the big price tags come with renting and buying homes. Thus for many Americans arises the question “Can I live in an RV on my own property?”. There are a number of laws you would need to look into in order to make sure you can live in your RV uninterrupted without breaking any laws. Refer to this ultimate guide to find out: Is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard?
Federal Laws on Recreational Vehicles (RVs)
Technically you can live in an RV, however if you wish to do it full-time, all year round, even on the land that you own, you’re likely breaking the law.
The US government does not classify RV as permanent residence like traditional manufactured housing – the “sticks and bricks” homes. The Department of Housing and Urban Development only deems RVs as vehicles for camping, travel and other recreational purposes.
So is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard?
Due to this categorization by the Government, even if your camper or trailer might meet all the standards of a manufactured housing unit, living in a trailer on your own land full-time has always been illegal.
In 2016, Department of Housing and Urban Development made clear again that RVs are not meant for permanent residence, causing an uproar among full-time RV-ers.
Note that their original regulation did not extend to RVs that are bigger than 400 square feet. Meanwhile, the RV manufacturing industry has been making bigger trailers and motorhomes exceeding 400 square feet, with added patio or decks, turning the RVs into something closer and closer to traditional permanent homes.
In short, if you own an RV, living permanently in your camper, even on your own property, is illegal in most parts of the US.
Local Laws on Living in a camper
What other laws would impact you if you plan to live in a camper? Local zoning laws.
Although it’s illegal to live full-time in your camper on your own land in general, you can live in it for a short period depending on local laws, given that your RV meets either the American National Standards Institute recreational park trailer standards or the National Fire Protection Association recreational vehicle standards.
In every area where local zoning laws exist, you can only legally live in your RV for no more than 30 consecutive days. In some areas, RVs and campers intended to be permanent housing are grouped together with mobile homes.
This means in these counties, if you want to live full-time in a camper in your own land, you must get the same permits and pass the same inspections as if you had a mobile home. This ensures your trailer can meet essential living requirements, including proper electrical, water and sewer hookups, plus good drainage.
Rural vs Urban Parking Laws
Make sure to check the local zoning laws on parking an RV. There are differences between parking in rural areas and parking in an urban setting.
In most urban areas in the States, it’s illegal to park a full-time travel trailer within city limits. In some areas, you might not be able to even park your camper on your own land.
While you might get away with living in your RV over the 30-consecutive-day limit, in urban areas, neighbors are much closer and might report you. You can find yourself paying a big sum of civil violation fine.
How to live in a camper in your backyard
Don’t give up if you want to live in an RV on your own property. First, research thoroughly local laws. You may find a good location where you can legally live in your RV on your own land, after paying for some permits and passing some inspections.
So if you cannot find such a place, what other options are there? There are 3 choices for you:
1. Mobile Home parks or RV Co-op Parks
There are around 45,000 mobile home parks in the US, according to Mobile Home University. Here you can purchase a lot of land for life and enjoy living in your camper. This is the easiest choice, and given the vast number of parks available, you have plenty of options and locations to choose from.
A huge perk of living in an RV Co-op park or Mobile home park is that you will have all the necessary RV hookups like electricity, water and cable. There might also be other amenities and common facilities like a swimming pool.
A major con is that you won’t have a lot of space. Neighbors are close by, like in a campsite, so noise and lack of privacy might be a downside. However, it can be quite lively for many who chose this way of living.
2. Neighborhoods with RV Allowances
If Co-op parks are too small and too noisy for you, look for areas that are zoned to allow RV living so that you can enjoy more space. For instance, you can find areas in Alabama where you can purchase a lot to park your RV permanently. All hookups are in place, lots are pretty spacious for one or even two RVs, and there are also pools and clubhouses.
These neighborhoods are the perfect choice for those who love a nomad lifestyle but want to enjoy privacy and be a part of a friendly community.
Each lot in these neighborhoods costs around $30,000 to $50,000 as of early 2019, plus low taxes.
3. Rural Homesteading-Zoned Land
This is also a perfect option for those who do not mind living in a rural setting and without some perks and conveniences. In the more deserted areas in out west states like Arizona, you can purchase land and live in an RV legally.
Note that these areas are quite isolated, so your place might be far from the hospital and other necessities. You might have to take care of your own electricity, water and sewer.
So, is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard? In most areas, no. In some specific areas, yes. But make sure you have checked local laws carefully on living in and parking an RV, if you are considering living in your RV, either permanently on your own property or for traveling. Each state, county, and town has their own laws and rules. Just do your research and live the life that you always wanted.
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