Is it Legal to Live in a Camper in Your Backyard?
Camping and the use of recreational vehicles (RVs) are a popular pastime, especially in a place like California where sunny skies and warm temperatures are common throughout the year. With plenty of well-known state parks in both the northern and southern regions of the state, there are people from all over the country who flock to California every year to camp.
But buying a camper or RV can be a significant investment. And once you do have one, there is always the question of where to keep it. While the state of California has its own laws regulating camper and RV use, parking and zoning laws are almost always governed at the city or municipal level.
Added to that are regulations and recommendations from Housing and Urban Development (HUD). With all levels of government having a say on whether or not you can live in your camper, there is a lot to consider when answering this question.
The Federal Government’s Stance
According to HUD, campers and RVs are designed to be recreational vehicles and not permanent dwellings. The reason HUD recently clarified its position on this issue was actually to appease RV manufacturers and RV dealers who were worried they would be held to the same standards as home builders.
Now that they are not, it allows RV manufacturers to continue making their popular vehicles without following burdensome rules and regulations.
With that being said, there is not an enforcement arm of HUD that is going to come to your property and fine you for living in your camper in your backyard.
At the state level, government officials recognize California’s unique geography, superb weather, and the fact that the state is a camping powerhouse. Lawmakers and regulatory bodies have set clearly defined rules related to camper and RV use such as how long an RV can be and how many vehicles you can tow with your RV.
Scattered throughout the state are a litany of state parks, RV parks, and campgrounds. Many of these places offer short term camping options while others allow for lots to be rented by the year. The state doesn’t say much about living in your camper in your backyard and leaves it to each city to regulate. As long as you have a permanent residence on your property as well, the state will most likely remain disinterested.
As noted above, local laws are where parking and RV regulations are most clearly defined and enforced. In fact, regulations can even vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and be governed by the homeowners association (HOA) in a particular area.
Los Angeles, for example, is a unique place when it comes to permanently residing in a camper or RV. Because of skyrocketing rent prices and an increase in homeless rates, the city has a significant population that lives in one type of vehicle or another.
In 2019, the city brought back a law that made it illegal to sleep in a vehicle overnight in a residential area. The law came with a fine of $25 for the first infraction, $50 for the second, and $75 for each subsequent infraction.
However, the law was directed towards people who park their campers or RVs on residential streets and not toward homeowners who park their vehicles in their driveway or backyard. While technically it might be unlawful to permanently live in your camper even if it is on your property (depending on your municipality and HOA) you most likely won’t face legal trouble if you sleep in it from time to time or if you use it as an extension of your home to house guests (there could be exceptions though if you are using your RV as a rental property).
Even if you do live in your camper full time, if it’s in your backyard, you would most likely only face trouble if a neighbor noticed and complained about your living arrangement. In that case, all you would have to do is move back into your house and it should end the issue.
If you’re still unsure, you could contact a trespassing attorney to examine the issue for you so you can make sure you are complying with all federal, state, and local laws.