Many vacationers have dabbled in the RV lifestyle, either purchasing or renting an RV for summer vacations or short-term adventures. But for some, living in an RV full-time may be a long-time dream or even a necessity. This is especially true if, rather than traveling around the country, you wish to live in your RV on your own property. This begs the question: is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard? Let’s find out…
Before we go any further, let’s differentiate “living” in your camper versus camping in your backyard.
Many rural subdivisions allow their property owners to live in a camper while they are building a sticks-and-bricks house. But, there is usually a limit (most commonly six-months) when the camper may no longer be considered your full-time residence. In this instance, you would be considered “camping” on your property.
When asking is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard, there are two things you want to consider first: property zoning regulations and the HUD Law.
You may run into zoning issues in many jurisdictions when it comes to residing in an RV full-time. This is especially true with no permanent residence onsite and none planned for the near future.
These days most residential land falls under county or city zoning laws and/or homeowners association agreements. These laws and agreements usually have stipulations against living in anything other than a long-term, permanent structure. A travel trailer or RV doesn’t qualify as a permanent residence in these cases.
If you can find land that has no zoning restrictions or homeowners regulations, you can truly “live” full-time in whatever you like. You still need to follow county laws regarding water, septic, and electrical installations, though. So do your research! Never assume that just because you own a property, you can live in your RV there.
Some confuse the Housing and Urban Development Law FR-5877-P-01 with further restrictions on where you can live in an RV. But this law was created to regulate the RV manufacturing industry, not RV owners. It states that manufacturers must label certain types of RVs as intended for “recreational” uses and not “full-time living.” What you do with that vehicle after you purchase it, whether traveling in it for holidays or living in it year-round, is up to you.
This does not negate your responsibility, however, for what problems are and aren’t covered in manufacturer’s warranties or by your insurance. If said documents state that full-time living won’t be covered and you do it anyway, that’s on you. So buyer beware (or at least be prepared!).
With strict zoning and housing restrictions in many places, the possibility of living in a camper in your backyard might look bleak. But, there are actually several options you might consider:
1. Registering as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) – Some regions may have less stringent restrictions on RV living, and several have enabled laws allowing RVs to be considered an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on a property that has a primary permanent residence on it.
2. Domicile where zoning regulations allow full-time living in your RV – This would usually be found in rural areas that don’t have county zoning laws, and outside of subdivisions where no regulations or homeowners associations exist.
3. Purchase land where you can camp short term (up to 5 or 6 months at a time) – Again, make sure zoning and subdivision regulations allow this. Be prepared to state an “out” date.
4. Purchase a lot in a private RV community that is designed for full-time RV living. Is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard? It is if your backyard is an RV community! The bonus here is you get amenities, full hookups, and your neighbors are other RVers.
5. Rent in an RV Park that allows annual or long-term space rentals. These usually have all the amenities and activities found at most private campgrounds, like pools, gyms, hot tubs, and social events.
RVs are essentially tiny homes on wheels. Even if you don’t use “the wheels” and instead choose to remain in one place, they have almost everything a house provides.
If you find a place where it is legal to live in a camper in your backyard, there are additional considerations you need to take into account.
RVs typically cost less than most homes. Not to mention, long-term monthly rates for RV parks typically cost less than most rental agreements. Because of this, full-time living in an RV can also be a way to live more affordably, if well planned.
So if you have financial concerns or just want to spend less on housing, purchasing an RV might be a way to meet your goals. Learn about the cost of full-time RV living and how to figure out your budget in our other article.
Firstly, you need to consider stationary RV maintenance. If you choose a motorcoach as your full-time dwelling, remember that they are created to move. You’ll want to take it out on the road now and then, keeping belts, hoses, and motor components supple and healthy. The generator needs regular running to stay in working order.
You’ll also need to keep an eye on your tires. Although they won’t be accumulating miles, stationary tires can deflate, flatten, rot, or warp.
Beyond understanding the legality of living in a camper in your backyard, utilities are also a concern. If you end up choosing a piece of property without utilities, you’ll need to figure out how to manage your power, water, and sewer needs. How will you get electricity to run the appliances in the RV? Where will you dump the gray and black tanks, and how will you get fresh water?
You will either need to have utilities brought to the property (run power, drill well, install septic, etc.) or find off-grid solutions. Depending on the property, it may make more financial sense to invest in an off-grid power system and water collection/transfer.
We have a piece of undeveloped land in Michigan. It would have cost us tens of thousands of dollars to run power, drill a well, and install a septic system. Instead, we built a solar and lithium battery system to meet all of our electrical needs (including powering an electric car!). We also installed a composting toilet to eliminate blank tank dumping, installed a french drain for our gray water, and bought 60-gallon drums for transporting water to the RV with our truck.
If you’re looking at a towable RV as your stationary solution – with no plans to move it – you might not need or want the vehicle required to tow the travel trailer or fifth wheel RV.
Towing services, and sometimes even the RV parks/communities you’re looking to move, can provide transportation of the RV from the dealership to its destination. This allows you to skip the big truck or SUV, if you don’t have one already, and stick with your sedan or compact. However, this gives you less control over your overall housing situation.
Now that you know that it can be legal to live in a camper in your backyard (or elsewhere), we hope this article helps you figure out your next steps for pursuing the RV lifestyle. If full-time RV living is in your future, it can be a great way to cut down on expenses and still enjoy life to its fullest.
And if you discover that full-time won’t work where you want to live, consider giving part-time or seasonal RV life a try. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a place you like even better, or fall in love with the nomadic life! If your home is on wheels, moving your residence is a piece of cake.
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