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RVs becoming housing of last resort

By Andy Zipser
The ongoing and deepening U.S. housing crisis continues to ripple through the RV and camping industry, as more people are squeezed out of conventional housing and traditional notions of what it means to have “conventional housing” get upended.

With housing prices at historic highs, asking rents are likewise soaring—23% higher in the second quarter compared to the same period in 2019, according to an Axios report last week, a gain of more than 8% a year. That’s a nationwide average, by the way, including small towns and rural areas; major metropolitan areas are a different story altogether. The average monthly rent in Manhattan, for example, just crossed the $5,000 level for the first time, but asking rents (the rent for new leases, not lease renewals) in lesser cities are growing by double-digit percentages. The year-on-year increase in December, for example, was 23% in Austin, 26% in Phoenix, and 29% in West Palm Beach, Florida.

But rental properties aren’t getting more expensive simply because real estate overall is getting pricier: In many places the supply is shrinking as well, especially in the kinds of places that attract tourists and people with money and a hankering for a second home. Investment-property owners who once might have signed year-long leases now find it’s more lucrative to cater to the vacation crowd, converting to Airbnb listings.

OWNERS OF SECOND HOMES, on the other hand, either leave the properties vacant for much of the year or also resort to short-term rentals, resulting in Airbnb listings outside of major metro areas soaring nearly 50% between the second quarters of 2019 and 2022. Either way, the inventory of conventional, affordable rental housing has been diminishing at a steady clip.

What’s a person to do?

The default, for those who suddenly can’t afford to rent a house or an apartment, is to move into an RV, a van or even a tent. Some end up in campgrounds, some on public lands, some on city streets. That migration creates a host of social problems, from health and safety issues having to do with inadequate sanitation and increased fire hazards, to societal instability and environmental degradation. But it also amounts to an invasion of a public sphere that most people still regard as essentially recreational rather than residential. Increasingly, RVers report they can’t find a camping site, or the sites that they can find have been trashed or are in close proximity to “campers” who make them uncomfortable.

For some people, living on the street in an old RV is the best they can manage.

Some communities are attempting to deal with the problem at its root by limiting short-term rentals. Stinson Beach, a California ocean-side community just north of San Francisco, recently banned new Airbnbs, following the example of San Diego—which has approved a cap that is expected to cut vacation rentals in half—and San Bernardino County, which has temporarily stopped issuing permits for new Airbnbs and other vacation rentals. In Colorado, meanwhile, the Steamboat Springs city council has not only banned new short-term rentals but is seeking to impose a 9% tax on existing rentals with which to fund affordable housing.

Efforts meet with opposition

Such efforts, however, inevitably generate opposition from property owners and civil libertarians, like the lawsuit filed against Lincoln County, Oregon, after voters last fall readily approved a ban on new short-term rentals. Earlier this month the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals overturned the measure, ruling the decision goes against state laws, but ban supporters have vowed to continue the fight to “reclaim” their neighborhoods. Similar confrontations are bubbling up elsewhere.

As RVs increasingly become homes of last resort, legislative attempts to recognize and regulate this expanding use frequently run into opposition from trade groups eager to maintain the legal distinction between vehicles and homes. The RV Industry Association, for example, reported last week on its success earlier this year in modifying proposed legislation in New Hampshire that sought to define a “tiny house.” As initially written, the measure would have required a “tiny house on wheels” to “have a seal from a third-party inspection company authorized to provide such certification for tiny homes or recreational vehicles,” which RVIA contended would have resulted in RV standards being “confused with building codes meant for structures used as housing intended for year-round occupancy.”

Thanks to the trade group’s intervention, the reference to RVs was removed—although that did nothing to change the fact that RVs and park models are being used for year-round occupancy. The bill itself, meanwhile, died in committee.

RV as a residence idea nixed

Similarly, a bill in Colorado that RVIA dogged earlier this year would have established a definition of “RV residence,” a mash-up that made the trade group bristle. In addition to applying to any type of RV or park model used as “permanent or semi-permanent living quarters,” the legislation would have created regulations for properly registering an “RV residence” and hooking up an “RV residence” to utilities. The bill overall was meant to regulate tiny homes and was signed into law in May—but only after the “RV residence” references were all stripped out.

While it is indeed incorrect to refer to tiny homes and RVs in the same breath, as the two are built to entirely different standards and codes, the practical effect of actions like those just mentioned is to leave full-time RV residency in a legal and regulatory limbo. While RVIA and others insist that RVs are not intended for year-round occupancy, the reality is that’s how they’re being used, and increasingly so, for the reasons outlined above. Moreover, that’s also how they’re increasingly viewed by the public—which is why they were so readily lumped in with tiny homes by two widely separate state legislatures.

By maintaining the fiction that RVs are just hard-sided tents on wheels, we’re simply tolerating the development of a new generation of slum dwellings.

 PREVIOUSLY FROM ANDY… 

Low-income people turning to RVs, while RV parks change with the times

Two unrelated developments this past week affecting two RV parks … illustrate two trends on a collision course. The first trend is that of low-income people increasingly turning to RVs for permanent housing. The second is that RV parks are now tracing the same inflationary curve as the trailer courts that preceded them. Some are shutting down, for a variety of reasons, and many more are either restricting or phasing out long-term residents altogether; almost all are increasing rents, in the most extreme cases doubling their previous rates. Read more.

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park for eight years, five of which was as a KOA franchise, and of Turning Dirt, a step-by-step guide for finding, buying and operating an RV park and campground. Both books are available through bookstores or at Amazon.com.

##RVT1068b

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Sally
19 days ago

https://rvforhomeless.com/ “Donating a RV is quick, easy, and free for donors with RV For Homeless.”

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-10-02/column-abcarian-van-lord-column

https://homelessquandary.wordpress.com/2019/08/08/the-new-predatory-landlord-the-vehicle-rancher-who-rents-vehicles-to-the-homeless/

“Low-income people turning to RVs” – I agree with this. However, the majority of what we are seeing is not people selling their homes, and downsizing. Much Much of this, is happening by way of the Van Lords, Vehicle Ranchers, and appeaaraantly, 501c non profits getting people to donate their old rvs, that they then repurpose as housing, parking them on public property, at wal marts, ect and in rv parks are they also helping with rv park rent that contributes to overcrowding and pushing out the normal rv crowd? I dont know, good question I think.

This is not happening mearly by way of hard luck.

Bob
20 days ago

I understand we have a housing crisis but, don’t bill yourself as an RV park if 90% of your sites are filled with permanent campers that have green moss growing on the side and a window unit Ac hanging in the bedroom window. If you want to be a trailer park bill yourself as one. If you want to be an RV park make them power wash the rig once or twice a year and keep the rest of the unit functioning as an RV. We have a park we spend the winter months in. There are a few rigs that stay year round or at least most of the year. But, given a few days notice and any of them could roll down the road.

Richard Hughes
20 days ago

The problems we have faced in private campgrounds, in the past two years, is being able to negotiate our way through and park. Pull through a usually aren’t a problem, but trying to back in when someone has vehicles parked blocking half of the road, makes it nearly impossible to get a trailer parked. Four wheelers, boats and other toys, along with fully skirted trailers and over sized propane tanks indicate full time residents who look at short time campers as interlopers. I understand their plight and put the blame on the campground for letting some places become hoarder nests or so run down they look like slums.

Scott Gitlin
23 days ago

“. . . especially in the kinds of places that attract tourists and people with money and a hankering for a second home. Investment-property owners who once might have signed year-long leases now find it’s more lucrative to cater to the vacation crowd, converting to Airbnb listings.”

Spot on. Take a gander at real estate prices in Newport, RI – a touristy location.

Also there is the problem of “investment” people out of country with plenty of cash to park. The real estate industry makes it real easy for short term rentals to be “managed.”

suzanne Ferris
23 days ago

Another thing contributing to the housing crunch is the wage disparity between tech workers and your average teacher or nurse. Without rent controls of some form the housing market gets squeezed upwards. We are experiencing a perfect storm in high demand markets like Seattle.

Even tent camping with reservations has become difficult- we had to wait hours for our prepaid site to be cleared of an unwelcome visitor at Skamokawa. It’s an uncomfortable feeling; wondering if there is anything to be done to reverse this trend in usage of public parks and state campgrounds.

Barbara R.
23 days ago

When my husband passed away, my RV adventure came to an end. Since studio apartments smaller than my RV can cost up to $1,000 a month, I decided to stay in my RV full-time! It may be necessary for me to move the RV occasionally, but it is my home and I cherish it.

My disability insurance covers everything I need and I can usually live on it. Is this an ideal situation? In fact, yes. That’s the case for me. I am no longer considered homeless. My husband and I shared hours as Campground Hosts in the mountains during the summer. I am able to live comfortably in my RV.

My current location is quite comfortable. No pool is available. Public showers are not accessible. Laundry facilities are available. An owner has taken over, and so far he seems caring. The rates didn’t increase, and it includes electricity, water, sewer, and crappy internet. The rate for all of this is half that for other RV parks or that dreaded studio apartment. I am the exception rather than the rule.

Michael Starks
23 days ago

Your article says:
“Increasingly, RVers report they can’t find a camping site, or the sites that they can find have been trashed or are in close proximity to “campers” who make them uncomfortable.”

and…

“While RVIA and others insist that RVs are not intended for year-round occupancy, the reality is that’s how they’re being used, and increasingly so, for the reasons outlined above. Moreover, that’s also how they’re increasingly viewed by the public—which is why they were so readily lumped in with tiny homes by two widely separate state legislatures.”

How do you know that? What are your sources for those statements?

Tim
23 days ago
Reply to  Michael Starks

Just received an email from a “large” RV dealership this week touting the “benefits” of living “full time” in an RV.
Ditch the house or apartment and live in an RV full time they pushed. No more rent or mortgage payments they said.
So, I wonder what RV parks let you stay for free?

Rebecca
23 days ago

I appreciated this well-written, informative, & non- judgmental article

bull
23 days ago

Federal, State and Local Governments also “Resort” to RV’s for what they call “Temporary Housing” when there is a natural or man made disaster.

For many this “Temporary Housing” can easily last 1 year or more which by any stretch of the imagination would hardly be considered “Temporary”!

Isn’t it ironic that the housing solution for government in times of disaster is the same type of housing they wish to limit or forbid at any other time.

Not in my backyard!

Last edited 23 days ago by bull
Kris
23 days ago

I think a huge part of the problem is the development of AB&B type rentals. People with ambition and money are buying properties, converting them to short term rentals, essentially eliminating permanent housing wherever this occurs. With the elimination of permanent housing, supply and demand increases prices for whatever permanent housing is left. So people who can’t afford permanent housing resort to tents, trailers and RV’s. I know this is a repeat of what the article said but I just want to state the fact again. The short term rental industry has contributed hugely to the lack of affordable permanent housing for people. I find the high rents and high cost of home ownership to be very disturbing and sad.

Edward Wilkinson
23 days ago
Reply to  Kris

When there is a complete disregard for consequences in our attempt to make money, I think that the word “ambition” is too often substituted for what I see as the reality here: insatiable greed; applicable here on the part of many including the Air B&B movement, and the RV industry itself. If it is not greed, then it is at least misguided ambition. But I prefer to think of ambition itself as a good thing. Blind ambition though is, to me, greed indeed! I very much agree with your statement, Kris. Thanks for writing it.

Robin P
23 days ago

My living full time in my 2021 KZ Escape was by choice thanks to cost of a traditional home, poor workmanship by so called “the best home builders”, HOA’s dictating terms, homes being built so close to one another I could hear conversations, No thanks! It’s been 9 months so far since leaving the traditional home life and I don’t miss it, except the garage to do stuff in. Cost wise, spending half that of what my mortgage was and not being hassled by anyone, priceless. Staying at an awesome rv resort in Houston, just shy of having a general store on site, they have everything needed. Being here and living in the rv is temporary as I’m still looking into building an arched cabin in the country to get away from the rat race of the city. A two hour drive into Lufkin, the rates at rv parks are half of that than where I’m parked. It depends on where you need or want to be that dictates what you’ll pay.

Tommy Molnar
23 days ago

By the time we leave the RV park here in the Houston area, we will have been here for almost seven months. We’re here for medical reasons as are 70 percent of the rest of the park ‘residents’. Most come and go as their medical conditions change, but stays are measured in months, not days or weeks. And then there are those who have moved here permanently because their problems are huge. There are also a few rental ‘cottages’ for those who don’t own trailers or don’t (or can’t) drive this far from home. Everyone’s site is well kept and it’s hard to tell who is here ‘full-time’. And there are always many, many open sites for those who just want a night or two. It’s not particularly inexpensive to stay here either so I guess this keeps the clientele at a higher level than some parks.

I’m just thankful that this opportunity even exists for us!

Abcmixon
23 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

The rv sites at Scott and White were a Godsend for me in my late husband’s last two weeks. I wish more hospitals had that available to desperate family members

Wayne Caldwell
23 days ago

Back in ’87, I was suddenly confronted with divorce. As a mid-career USAF NCO, I couldn’t afford even an unfurnished apartment with state imposed $600 per month child support. So I bought a 26′ travel trailer. It was a comfortable efficiency apartment on four wheels. So can understand why people may resort to living in an ‘rv’.

Martin
23 days ago

We see that at the RV park in FL where we winter. We don’t mind most of the full timers — most fell on hard times and are good people — but those with alcohol issues make us think seriously of staying up north for the season.

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