Can you legally live in an RV on your own land? Is it legal?
The truth is there are too many local ordinances and Home Owner Associations to answer this question with a simple “Yes” or “No.” Generally speaking, the answer is going to be a very strong “No,” but not always. Please don’t let that discourage you. People do own RVs. It’s a thing, so that suggests that there are systems and businesses that have been put into place.
The first thing to do is to look into your local zoning ordinances. I’ll show you where you can find them, and then we can look at some of the land ownership options for you and your RV. We will also need to talk about some potential HOA issues.
There are a few helpful websites that you can use to discover the rules that pertain to your neck of the woods. Let’s discuss those, and then proceed to how you work within those regulations.
There are regulations, and – as irritating as they are – there needs to be. People are diverse which is both a source of power and problems. While many would choose to maintain a clean curbside appeal. There are also individuals that don’t mind looking like the city’s backside blister. That makes ordinances important for those of us that wish to keep our city’s looking fresh and sparkly.
You can look up the ordinances for your area with a visit to the website Municode. Municode is a very useful compendium of each of the “local” zoning ordinances.
…I’m a bit paranoid, so I would also type out a Google search “*City Name* zoning ordinances.” The first result will likely be a government website for your city that lists all of the ordinances. If it isn’t there, then you may just have to hoof it over to the zoning office…probably not though. Most of them tend to have a fastidiously maintained website.
Go ahead, I’ll wait here till you get back. Keep in mind, these laws are in a constant state of flux. When laws can be made, laws will be made. It is the nature of government, and it is a metaphorical noose that we slowly tighten around ourselves. Laws are always subject to change, so there is the potential that what is acceptable now will not be acceptable later. Usually, there will be grandfathering laws that protect individuals from major financial losses (as it applies to real estate) due to the shifting legal landscape.
As an example of both the “blister” and the regulations – Look towards the troubles in Los Angeles. The city recently reversed its decision on a citywide ban of oversized vehicles. Not long after, RVs became a prolific problem. Many of them gathered along the sides of the roads, clogging up the inner city streets. It quickly became difficult for businesses to operate in such crowded conditions. This wasn’t ideal for anybody. That includes the owners of the RVs.
Issues like these are why the more densely populated areas tend to become more restrictive as the population grows and becomes increasingly dense. There are some exceptions to this general rule. Many tourist-heavy locations consider the necessity of camper lots in their design and evolve to accommodate them in the most harmonious way possible.
Unless you are fortunate enough to currently find yourself in one of those RV-friendly cities, you will likely need to either hide your camper somewhere out of sight, rent a lot to store the RV, or your property will need to be outside of town. Some counties will not let you store your RV on land even if it is outside of town. However, most of the time, counties are more flexible the farther out you go.
Home Owners’ Associations…
…Are a pain the butt. There is much to be appreciated about HOAs, but the freedom to develop your property as you see fit does not make that list. These organizations do a fair job at maintaining the property value of the local neighborhood. Every neighborhood has its ugliest point, the weak and rusty link, and HOAs keep the ugliness in check.
The enjoyment of freedom is a common trait among RV owners. We are a breed of people that do not like to be restrained. Admittedly though, I hate to say it, but as already stated, we can be the ugly blister on the city’s behind…can be. Work needs to be done to maintain the city’s pretty face, or some of us will bring the property value of the people around us down. Check your HOA site, or make a call to see if your RV will fit within the neighborhood guidelines.
RV Land Options (How To Do It)
Did you look up the local laws on the website, Municode? Do you know if RVs are allowed under your HOA regulations? If so, then we have enough information to start looking at some options.
Hiding The RV
Some counties allow RVs to be parked within their borders, but they require that you hide the RV from view. For instance, they might require that the RV is located behind the front side of your home. It can be visible; it just needs to be behind that physical line. This presents some obvious complications if you don’t have a brick and mortar home on that land.
Other counties allow you to park your RV on your property, but the view must be obscured. One of the standard solutions that I have come across been to build a fence or to plant a tall hedge in front of the RV. I haven’t used these solutions personally, but they have been repeated around the internet.
Purchasing and Developing Land on the Outside
These strict regulations are why RV’s tend to congregate at the outsides of cities. It is unfortunate, but it is also understandable. If you are interested, you could purchase undeveloped land on the outskirts. Not an inexpensive option, but the rules will be more flexible the farther out you go. The clear downside is that the farther out you go, the more inconvenient the location and the more expensive services become. Not to mention, land development can be costly.
Deeded Lots – RV Condos
Can’t park an RV at your current location? Deeded lots might be the ideal option for you. These potentially beneficial little investments can be a good source of income that can turn your problem into a profit.
These are condos of the RV world. They are purchasable spaces within RV lots that can be rented out, managed, and tended to on your behalf whenever you aren’t actively using them. Like any real estate, the cost of these tiny plots of land will vary greatly based on the location. The price will often vary between the ranges of $10,000 to $200,000. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. When the purchase price is high, the potential profit is high. When the purchase price is low, the potential profit is likely also low.
In addition to the profit potential, there are some other benefits to owning a deeded lot. The RV resorts that offer deeded lots are usually higher quality locations that extend a helpful list of desirable amenities. One of those benefits will often include a place to store belongings. As most experienced camper enthusiast will tell you, space and especially weight are critical considerations. Patios equipped with barbecues, cottages, suites and a mailbox are also common features.
These lots are legal residences which means that you can enroll in the local services that require a residence. Internet, cable, and my personal favorite, a library card are available to you from this location. It feels good to be a local.
Most real estate agents do not find these locations from their typical real estate information sources so you might have to search for them yourself through websites such as RVProperty.com
The open road is our backyard, but sometimes, we want to enjoy an actual backyard. Time outdoors is great, but sometimes people just need to rest at a home that feels exclusively their own. In response to this, the RV community has had a development recently. When you feel that need to retreat to a fixed point, a port home might be just the thing to help you recharge before heading out into another corner of the country.
There have been communities of RV enthusiasts ever since there have been RVs to be enthused. Port homes are a renovation of the structure of your typical home that is made to incorporate the RV into its design. An overarching structure hangs over the RV’s parking spot. This isn’t an ugly hideaway to obscure the RV from view but to prominently display it as a feature of the home. The RV is used as a mother-in-laws quarters to supplement the features of the house.
Typically, these homes will not be found in solitude. Inhabitants of these port home communities share a universal love of the camper lifestyle which can obviously make integration a bit easier. Your neighbor is less inclined to complain about RV related activities when he or she has one sitting in their own yard.
On a related note – RVs Are Not (Legally Speaking) Permanent Dwellings
In my personal opinion, the government is overstepping its bounds a bit here. Shocker, right? In what I assume is an effort to encourage stability, the federal government doesn’t recognize RV’s as a permanent residence. Many of the districts cite them as unsafe for permanent dwellings which is one of the cornerstone arguments for the regulations that prevent you from “setting up camp” in your own yard. It honestly kind of irks me. Regardless of regulations, I believe this to be one of my inherent rights. It feels like my freedom is being trampled upon when I am not allowed to choose what to do with my own land…Okay, that’s all I’m going to say about that. This isn’t a political piece.
In conclusion, Yes, it’s true that owning an RV can present some hassles. What you can do, and what you can’t do is tied up in a messy bundle of government rules and regulations. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it. Some of the best moments of my life have been afforded to me through the use of an RV. It is a unique experience to travel the world and to enjoy the immense variety that humanity and the natural world has to offer. It isn’t something that you can experience from a fixed point. I highly recommend pushing through the legal maze. It is worth it. It is so completely worth it.