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

Campers and RVs have exploded in popularity in recent years for several reasons. For one, campers and RVs allow people to explore new places and experience different cultures without ever having to leave the comfort of home behind.

old man next to his camping trailer

They also offer the opportunity to downsize and live a more minimalist lifestyle while costing only a fraction of what it would to purchase a large home.

For some, necessity might force them into living in their RV long-term and some people just find the idea appealing.

It is a fun notion, for sure, but is it even legal? Can you live in a camper or RC in your backyard?

No, you generally cannot live in a camper or RV in your backyard.

Zoning laws are different all over the country and some places will allow it, but the majority of jurisdictions will not allow people to live permanently in their RVs or campers because it is considered to be an illegal use of residential property.

That is the last thing you want to hear if you want to make RV or camper living your new way of life, or just help out friends or family in a bind.

But, don’t give up: there can be exceptions depending on where you live and exactly what your municipality allows. Keep reading and we will dig a little more into this tricky question.

Cheap RV Living on Private Land

Can I Park My RV or Camper in My Backyard?

Generally it is legal to park your RV or camper in your backyard or elsewhere in your property.

In some cases, you must ensure that your vehicle will with local rules and regs for the size of the vehicle, the number of vehicles permitted on residential property, and so on.

In some circumstances, permission may be required from the local council or HOA before any large vehicle or trailer can be parked on the property.

Ultimately, it’s wise to check with all relevant local authorities for specific requirements before attempting this.

Even if you can park the camper or RV, that does not mean you can live in it while it is there.

So Why Isn’t it Legal to Live in an RV in My Backyard?

While it is generally legal to park your RV or camper in your own backyard, living in that same RV on that same property is usually problematic. Maddening, I know, but that is usually just the way it is.

Residential areas are zoned for the use and occupation of permanent residences. By most state and federal definitions, your typical RV or camper is not a permanent residence.

Often, to legally live in an RV on your property you must obtain special permits or exemptions from your local housing authority or city council if it is no expressly forbidden, and it usually is.

Man not allowed to live on camper parked on his property

Can You Just Claim a Parcel of Land as a Primary Residence, Then Park Your Camper?

It is almost never that easy. There are standards of accommodation that must be met, locally and at the state level, to qualify a property you own or control as your residence.

Some states require any property used for long-term habitation to have one or more utilities- electricity, water, sewer, etc.- connected to it.

In addition to potentially being expensive, this can also be troublesome if the property itself or the camper/RV isn’t designed or equipped with one or more of these “hookups”.

You will have to demonstrate that they are genuine and functional! Or, even worse, in some jurisdictions RVs cannot be hooked up to any of the above utilities!

Some jurisdictions may have additional requirements for permanent habitation such as building codes, fire safety regulations, and so forth.

Concerning fire safety regs in particular most vehicles don’t meet the specs demanded for structures.

The bottom line is that you’ll have roadblocks at every turn in most places you try to live in your RV.

You won’t be able to pull the ol’ switcheroo of listing vacant land or another structure as your residence and get away with it. At least not for long!

RVs and Campers Might Be Classified Differently in Some Areas

In some jurisdictions, the local zoning ordinances may differentiate between recreational vehicles, or RVs, which are motorized vehicles, and campers, which are towable units that are otherwise much the same.

Yes, many people use the terms interchangeably, but you will want to look closely at your state and city ordinance definitions to be certain: the difference might work in your favor!

Can You Live in an RV on Someone Else’s Property?

No, not for the long term. At least, not according to the general restrictions spelled out above.

Though, once again, laws are always different no matter where you go, it is very, very rare that you’ll find a place that will let you live in an RV or camper parked on your own, or anyone else’s land, fulltime.

The Powers That Be Don’t Want You in Your RV

The truth is that most governing bodies, at any level, don’t want people living in their RVs or campers unless they are travelling in them recreationally.

This is why they all have very strict rules about habitation requirements on residential property.

Basically, if you live in an RV or camper on your own land you are effectively creating a new residence which may be in violation of zoning laws and other regulations.

But whatever good reasons they might say, it is really because they all want to keep tabs on us and hate freedom.

Even so, there are ways to live in your RV or camper all the time without running afoul of the law.

How Can I Use my RV As Permanent (Or “Semi-Permanent”) Housing?

Happily, there are some ways to live in your RV full-time with minimal fuss, at least as the law is concerned.

The first and most straightforward way is to live in an RV park with long-term lots or residency, or else live in a mobile home park that allows mixed-use.

Either way is not only 100% legal, but also allows you to set your “lot” as an address much of the time.

I can already hear your pain, considering most of us don’t own and operate a property like that, you’ll have to pay a lot of rent month to month or yearly.

If you own another property of your own, residential lot or otherwise, this is a bitter, bitter pill. But it is an option!

Another option is to seek out and move to a place where you can live in your RV on a residential lot. Arizona is one state that is known for being far more RV- and camper-friendly than most.

Even so, you’ll have to do your homework. Remember that those rules and regulations we mentioned can vary down to the county, city, township, and neighborhood level.

It would not do to buy a lot in a permissive town only to find out it has a tyrannical HOA that forbids your RV!

You Can Stay Mobile

You might not like the notion, but it is possible to live fulltime in your camper or RV, and more easily, if you stay on the move.

You can, of course, travel around the country and visit places as you see fit, or just bounce from place to place and property to property until the law gets wind of you and runs you off.

This route has its pros and cons, of course: you get to keep your beloved RV and continue living that lifestyle.

But at the same time, you have no real place to call home and will have to cope with all the many challenges associated with relocation- access to utilities, cell and internet signal, transit time, etc. So it’s a trade-off for sure, but lots of people do it!

Bottom Line: Is it Possible to Live in an RV or Camper Legally?

Yes, though it is very difficult to do it in a residential neighborhood in most places. Your best bet is to stay mobile, or to park it in an RV park that allows long-term lots.

That way you can stay true to your dream while avoiding any legal headaches.

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