As the number of folks “selling out” and becoming RV full-timers grows, new issues arise. Here’s part of a letter we received from one of our regular RVtravel.com readers. Mary H. wrote, “My husband and I have looked into purchasing land to put our RV on and use as a ‘home base.’ This seems to be harder than we first thought! There are numerous lots available out there, but it is not so easy to determine whether the community will allow an RV as the only dwelling on said lot. Realtors seem to just advise us to contact each town and ask about each lot individually! This is like trying to find a needle in a haystack! Is there a better way?” Can you live in an RV on your own property?
Plenty of misinformation
As we researched the question, it quickly became clear there are a host of “helpful RV” websites that have tried to tackle this question. Sadly, many hand out misinformation like lollipops to the kiddies. One goes so far as to provide a list of states that allow this—just move on in! Here’s what another writer, Olu, says: “Generally speaking, you will need to meet certain fire and safety standards set by the state. States that allow you to live in an RV on your property include: California Florida Kentucky [and] North Carolina.” Incidentally, Olu touts his credentials by describing himself as, “A passionate entrepreneur who loves to write about Pets, Home Improvement Hacks & Products, Fitness, and Travel Lifestyle. I have two bachelor’s degrees in Veterinary Medicine and Applied Accounting with a CPA designation.” Loads of RV experience!
While Olu may have checked to see which states “allow” RV dwelling, his fact-checking falls a bit short. States may lay down laws on property use in broad strokes, but it’s local government that writes the fine print. Here’s our direct experience on the subject. Another website suggests that Washington state is one of the most favorable toward allowing RVers to live on their own property. At one time we owned property in Washington. Relatives prevailed on us to allow them to move a travel trailer onto a corner of our land. It wasn’t very long before we received a letter from county officials, who, in no uncertain terms, threatened us with legal action if we did not immediately get the kinfolk “down the road.”
Suggested property search plan
Sadly, Mary’s “needle in the haystack” quandary is spot-on. Don’t worry about what the state says. If you want to live in an RV on private property, here’s our suggested search. First, contact the county (or parish) building permit office. They’ll be in the best position to tell you if RV living is permitted in their jurisdiction. If it is, be sure to get the “fine print” down. While some jurisdictions DO allow RV living on private property, they may stipulate time restrictions. For example, some local laws allow RV dwelling, but only for six months in a given calendar year. What about the need for utility hookups? It’s not uncommon to find that your RV will need to be hooked up to electricity, water, and sewer—be it a septic system or publicly provided sewers. Are you ready to put up the money to get those utility hookups?
So, let’s say the county’s response to your plans sounds good. Are you a shoo-in? Hang on—there could be another layer of bureaucracy. Is the property in a Home Owner Association (HOA) controlled environment? If it is, you’ll need to check to make sure the HOA will bless your plans. And even if a county allows your plans and there’s no HOA involvement, if your proposed property site is in a city, town or village, it, too, may have its own set of regulations you’ll need to meet.
No shortcuts to checking it out
Sadly, there’s no shortcut to checking out the legal regulations on any property you might want to call a home base. Don’t be sucked in by “RV condo” situations. We ran into another situation in Washington state. In Thurston County, some years back, we checked out a privately owned “RV group” situation. The group jointly held a huge plot of land and “leased” sites out to RVers. All legal, we were told. But further investigation showed that while the county knew of the arrangement, county officials understood these were “temporary” sitings, more like for “vacation use.” They cracked down, requiring that the RVs be moved off the property after a given time frame, and could later return, but starting the clock all over again.
Here’s a place or two for RV property living
It has been said that the “farther out” or perhaps less-densely-populated areas have a leaning toward RV living favorability. Some counties don’t even have a building department and no building codes that would restrict RV living on private property. If state law doesn’t prevent it, then moving in could be relatively easy. Here’s one couple’s story about establishing a home base in Tennessee.
In Arizona, the town of Quartzsite is a haven for RV dwellers. The town does have some restrictions. For example, a set number of hookups are allowed, based on the size of the property. And technically, you may not rent out a site unless you have an RV park permit, which has steep requirements. Other small communities near Quartzsite are also RV-OK on private property. But don’t run off and buy a few acres on our word. Laws can change. Always check before proceeding!
What’s your experience? Do you know of a county, a community, or an area where living in an RV on private property is legal? We’d like to hear about these spots so we can share them with others in a future article. Drop us a line using the form below. Please include “RVs OK” in the subject line.
The wide government brush stroke here in Colorado depends on which county one resides in, A few counties will allow temporary Rv living on site if a house is under construction. Yes, there is a time clock to which one’s house must be move in ready.
It isn’t allowed where I live, but have noticed people get away with it until neighbors complain.
Washington state… as noted check as each county can have different rules.
Check the county, King is different than Yakima, etc.
A lot of this question (can I live in an RV on my own property) can be handled by not asking it in the first place. Two of the basic tenets I live by are: “If you don’t want to know the answer to a question, don’t ask it” and “Better to ask forgiveness than permission”.
That doesn’t work in real estate. You don’t want to spend tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands, of dollars on a piece of land and then find out you can’t use it. It may take a while, but the bureaucrats will eventually grind you down and throw you out if you don’t fit the rules established by the community. Oh, and any use of real estate needs to comply with the environmental rules for things like wetlands, or you could wind up with huge fines or in jail.
We lived on my parents’ property for 8+ months in 2017 while our house was built. We had improved a barn to accommodate our 43′ DP and had full utilities including 50-amp service (and 30-amp service for any guests). It never occurred to me that Hamilton County, Tennessee might not allow us to live full-time there. We have since (as of early January 2018) moved into our house and only store our RV in the barn. We now host a Boondockers Welcome site at the barn and allow guests to use power and water if they wish. We have not requested County approval. Given how remote our RV barn is, I doubt that the county will know for some time yet. (He said expectantly.) 😉
When we sold the sticks and brick in 2017 to become fulltimers we still needed a place to return to in TN for doctors, family visits, domicile address for taxes, etc. We were fortunate to find acreage on a dead end road at the cul de sac in a County that allowed rvs to set up on private property. It had electric and water connections but no septic. A dump station was less than 20 minutes with a blue boy on the truck. Before purchasing we spoke with the neighbors on the cul de sac about our plan. No one had an issue and were very welcoming. We laid down gravel so we could pull in from road and pull out into cul de sac to turn around with fifth wheel and leave. Our view everyday was the woods on the back of the property along with the wildlife. Thank God for this haven during Covid as we stayed eight months. We recently sold in TN and purchased a rv site in a new resort in a quaint beach community in TX which is now our home from which we will travel.
What county was that Lee Ann? We live in Hamilton County but I don’t know if it allows full-time living in an RV on private property. We just did it without asking, but that was almost 6 years ago.
If you go the route of “…contact the county (or parish) building permit office..”, then DO IT IN WRITING. Make sure you get a reply IN WRITING. Or three months down the road somebody else will come along and tell you a different story from what you got verbally.
You can research local ordinances using municode.com and rule out or in specific locations.
This link doesn’t appear to work, it redirects to civicplus.com, which appears to be for governments. Maybe there’s a correct link?
In southwestern Arizona 10 miles east of Yuma is an area called the Foothills. The lots are zoned for RV’s, manufactured homes or stick built homes. We’ve been here since 2003 and have seen lots of growth. It’s a snowbird destination and winter population increases approx. 40%. Hope this helps.
Wandering the back roads, there seems to be few rules, if any in many places. Not my cup of tea.
We live in “Pennsultucky”. A very large state with as many local authorities that feel they can write whatever local ordinances they want. Do all your “due diligences” first. They won’t make it easy.
Chaffee County in Colorado is taking steps in this direction, but while it does not appear to have a time restriction, a prohibition on hookups makes this a less than desireable long-term arrangement. . . .