The new American RVer – not a pretty sight


By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Across the nation, people are discovering just how much an RV can become a home. Full-timers have known this for ages, and snowbird RVers may spend months calling their RV “home.”

But a new breed of Americans is taking up RV living and, for them, it isn’t a life of sights on the road, visiting National Parks, nor spending a wonderful night around the campfire with new friends. For these RV dwellers, it’s $10-a-day to rent an RV on a back street, ducking police and angry neighbors, and fighting bedbugs and other vermin. These unfortunates are homeless people, in a strange, symbiotic relationship with a new breed of slumlords called Vehicle Ranchers.

photo: bryce_nesbitt on

Here’s how it works: A Rancher hits the abandoned vehicle auction where, for example, a broken-down RV can often be bought for as little as a dollar. He tows the dead rig out of the yard and onto a local street where he parks it. An advertisement on Craigslist offering a place to sleep out of the weather for $10 a night will soon put the “no vacancy” sign up.

In many areas, as long as the vehicle is moved every 72 hours, the Vehicle Rancher can keep the game going endlessly. Worst-case scenario, if the rig is impounded the Rancher will often just leave it alone until it goes back up for auction.

One Rancher in Seattle, Richard Winn, says he feels he’s providing a reasonable service. Since none of his tenants are required to put down a deposit, nor sign any kind of binding lease, if they fail to pay their $75 a week rent, they aren’t out anything when given the boot. On the other hand, the “tenants” don’t get a key, nor are they allowed to use the toilet in the RV. In some cases they can, provided they line it with a plastic bag and dispose of the waste on their own. Winn is considered one of Seattle’s biggest Vehicle Ranching landlords, but he’s certainly not the only one.

Down in Los Angeles there’s the man who calls himself Rob. He buys abandoned RVs from a tow yard. He, however, has an inside track – he works as a tow truck driver. His tenants pay $10 a day, and some of them get a bonus. They can use their rigs’ toilets, provided they pay a bit extra. Rob has a friend who’s a septic pumping business employee, and he’ll come by and pump out the holding tanks. In the San Francisco area the prices aren’t as easy – there RV renters are charged $400 to $500 a month.

Just how big the Ranching business is can’t be quantified. In a recent survey of Seattle homeless, there were about 800 RVs being occupied by what were identified as homeless people. Just how many were on the rent-by-the-day system wasn’t clear. But even if half were Vehicle Ranched, it’s easy to see how some sharp-eyed characters might find the business a hit.

IN SOME WAYS, living this way is better than a cardboard shelter or a tent. At least the weather is largely kept out, and once inside, a dweller can lock out the bad guys. But once inside there are other problems. Likely there’s no running water, and often no place to poop. One towing company said conditions in many of the rigs they tow are so bad they prohibit their tow truck drivers from stepping inside the rigs. That decision was made after a driver came out of one rig bearing a load of bed bugs. Trash, dirt and overall filth aren’t uncommon.

Not surprisingly, business owners and residents where Vehicle Ranchers set up shop don’t find having rundown RVs on their doorsteps pleasing. Temporary tenants often find themselves on the receiving end of verbal abuse, and frequent visits from law enforcement officers. It goes with the territory.

Seattle officials are now taking aim at the Vehicle Ranching practice. The Emerald City’s mayor has a $1.3 million budget earmarked to remove and demolish the worst of the street-parked RVs. She wants more regulations that would push hard to close down Vehicle Ranchers. Likely outcomes include pushing paying customers elsewhere, perhaps into worse situations. And for those who live in a rig they already own, a law targeting Vehicle Ranching will have no effect.

Where does the answer lie? One non-profit group in Sacramento is aiming to help “non-chronic” homeless people – ones who are temporarily out of homes. The group takes donated RVs, places them in RV parks so there will be full utilities, and rents them out for around $500 to $700 a month. Inexpensive, when compared to apartment rent, but certainly out of the reach of those without a job. But like so many of the other big problems facing not just the United States but humanity as a whole, there just doesn’t seem to be any easy solution at hand.

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You can’t speak knowledgeably about, or have a basic understanding, of the reasons for homelessness unless you’ve spent some time close up with the homeless on a personal basis. Therefore, I recommend that you volunteer at your local homeless shelter for awhile in order to get a better understanding of the myriad causes behind homelessness. I did and I know that mental illness and drug addiction are the 2 primary causes of homelessness. I also know that the more that is done to help the homeless can have the opposite effect, it can increase the number of homeless in a locality as word gets around about the great benefits available. Unfortunately there are no easy fixes to the problem, only hard fixes that I don’t see happening until a majority of voters decide they’ve had enough and they force the hard fixes into play. But regardless, there will always be homeless.


Your country spends 100’s of millions a year housing your politicians. Horrendous sums housing, feeding and transporting the President. A country with the resources available shouldn’t have people living on the streets. California has miles of homeless people and most likely the richest people (actors) living in mansions.


This is a great article bringing awareness to The Full Time RV community about how Slumlords/Vehicle Ranchers are taking advantage of the homeless or those with no other current options. (no matter the reason for being homeless, which are numerous). I loved it, thank you.

The title in is my opinion clickbait and misleading. Newbies and future newbies have fears about getting into this great way of living. This title which has nothing to do with the written article can fuel their fears. Thanks for listening,


Thank you for that very interesting article. This is a new one on me. My DH & I have been proud to have been Landlords for the majority of our 45 years together and have always treated our tenants with dignity and respect. Please do not refer to these people that move trailers about as Landlords. These “Ranchers” are may be enterpring clever and, in their minds, saving the planet by recycling old RV’s, but I, for one, am left hollow, saddened, and aghast, not only by their actions, but by their true intention.


It’s all free until you run out of other peoples money.


So, taxpayers in Seattle are having to fork over $1.3 million to remove these street-parked RVs? Aren’t these RVs tagged and titled? Seems simple enough to follow vehicle registration laws and fine the owner.

Gina Harrington

This is not just a city streets issue! My husband and I are new to RV ing and like the affordability and beauty of state campgrounds. A lot of them are located at or near prime tourist attractions. We recently camped in a NY state campground and a homeless guy was tent camping next to us. He was squatting on a campsite that was reserved by someone else, and was asked by a park employee to move to another campsite AND pay for the past 4 days which he had not done, by that evening. Next day he was still there and nobody else came to enforce the request. We are not city dwellers and were happy to be able to lock our camper at night. There were MANY families with young children staying in tents at this campground.


In a sad way, I had to laugh at the comment about the program that puts used RV’s in campgrounds and then rented out at a reasonable amount of $500-$700 per month. If the very liberal west coast states stopped cow-towing to the public service unions and everything should be free mantra, free college, free health care, free immigration, free energy and so on, maybe, just maybe the prices for a decent apartment wouldn’t be in the thousands, hey San Francisco, and the ranchers would have less clients. In the Buffalo, NY area there are many good apartments in that price range, but our government to is trying to catch up with states like California in ridiculous taxes, fees, and Free!

You can only take from those that work for and have it for so long until they too will have nothing of their own and nothing more to take. The urban human blight is a tragedy in the western states that gets very little attention from the national media and even less from some politicains from these areas running for president.

Cactus Jack

I am astonished. Like, “wow!” just can’t cover it. Drugs is not always the cause. Or alcohol. Maybe mental health has it’s presence, but that’s really a tale for another time (how many of you feel you’re just fine, when by DSM-5 you’re really not?).

I have lived the majority of my life in an RV. Is it a matter of choice? Yes and no. Yes I’d rather live in an RV and try enjoying life free of fear of assaults or I can live in an apartment where I have fewer rights. You see, I am one of those disabled people you guys talk about. And people like me are sick and tired of being the local joke because of physical injuries that impair me yet unless someone is a doctor they cannot see the impairment.

I have lived with this for over 35 years. In real estate I actually owned (yes, cripples have the right to own real estate! Scares you I’m sure, but it’s true!), dealing with neighbors and cops. Neighbors get nosy, don’t see you working (even if you do hold a job), and start calling the cops. Then the line of “how do we know you’re not a (insert criminal actor) if we don’t know where your money comes from?” almost always pops up. It’s extortion, really. My last home was broken into 14+ times in 3-1/2 years, and video security wasn’t helping. And even when the burglars were finally identified, the cops did nothing.

And renting is even harder. The state says that landlords have a reasonable expectation of knowing about your income source in the event you don’t pay your rent. Ok, but does that mean it’s ok for your landlord to make fun o your impairments? No. But a lot of the time they do it anyway. Or they may not make fun of it, but somehow expect that you live a sedentary life. So when they see that you go out camping and recreating like a normal person, they become suspicious that you’re really a welfare fraud, even though you’re not on welfare. That and any other time they want to know “more” about your personal life and they enter into your apartment rummaging through your stuff until they find the documentation they wanted all along, which even the state says is never any of their business- your medical records. Unless you have $40,000 to hire a lawyer, there’s nothing you can do but move. The state says what they did is illegal, but does nothing. The feds, same thing. I have been there, I have done that, so many times you’d think I’d own a t-shirt store.

As an RV’er I have more rights. More freedom. No, I have no more protection than before, anyone can do what they want and the cops still don’t care. But it is getting more expensive to RV.

So is there an answer that covers all aspects of why people like me are homeless or RV full-time? Yes- respect.

We don’t expect you to kiss our feet, but we do expect a reasonable amount of privacy. We expect to have the same rights as other Americans. We expect that while you may be friendly and want to help, sometimes the best thing you can do is jut leave us alone. Unless we ask you for help, maybe we don’t need it. All we are, really, is an eyesore to you. The less you see us the less you *really* give a damn. Out of sight, out of mind.


Ultimately all forms of aid and comfort given to the homeless, addicts, and mentally challenged have to come from somewhere. Every program conceived of by man has flaws and those flaws are exacerbated by and exploited by people who exist to line their own pockets or seek to exploit those they are supposed to be helping.
We had state institutions for the mentally challenged who couldn’t cope in society but you can thank the ACLU for putting those poor unfortunate folks on the streets and under our bridges. Yes their civil liberties may have been violated but at least they had food, shelter, safety from violent attacks and medical attention and treatment.
You can thank the bleeding hearts that demanded that the government crack down the drug problem and waste billions of tax dollars yearly trying to stop what could have been greatly reduced with legalization, controls and regulation. The nation seems to be getting dumber instead of smarter. We realized in the 1930’s that Prohibition had failed and in the process it had created the organized crime syndicates that have plagued us ever since and the addiction problems that those organizations have fostered.
So if we use logic and not emotion to solve our homelessness and addiction problems we should return to state institutions for the mentally disadvantaged and legalize and tax drugs with controls that are regulated by doctors and not by the DEA. The elimination of the federal, state and local drug enforcement costs would more than offset the cost of providing topnotch budgeting for the necessary facilities including the VA for vet’s suffering from PTSD, and the other difficulties of returning to civilian life.
As for those who are homeless because they are too lazy or simply don’t want to participate in society there is no cure. To them the old adage of no work no food should not be too harsh.
But I repeat that all of these things can only work if they are carried out with reason and logic and not emotion.
We are only human and as such we will never concoct a perfect solution. We can only do our best knowing it will fail some, favor some and barely address the problem.
In the short term though every municipality has the authority to limit or restrict the parking of vehicles.
I own a house in a small Kansas town that prohibits the parking of RVs and trailers of any kind on the streets and the parking of RVs in driveways for more than 3 days. This small town employs a compliance officer who was overjoyed when she could write a citation. That is until I pointed out to her that she had the same job, attitude and approach as BTK who worked for the next town over :-). And no I didn’t get a citation so I’m not grinding an axe.
One mans opinion.


Came in late and can’t read all the comments, but if no one has mentioned population unsustainability as a major cause of much of this a point has been missed. People with no means can no longer continue to come to this or any other prosperous country dripping in infants and expect anything but these types of outcomes. Of course that doesn’t mean Americans and Canadians north of 49 don’t have enough home grown problems , it is just that we cannot keep breeding like fly’s and expect great results down the road. The city I live in has the highest drug abuse/use per capita in the world, next is Bern Switzerland. In case anyone wants to fact check that city is Lethbridge, Alberta.


The question remains….what do we do about those that “choose” to be homeless? I have a very good, loving, wonderful friend whose son, at a very young age, “chose” to live on the streets, for the past……22 years!!! He cut off all communication with his family for most of that time. Heartbreaking, to say the least.
Now, due to an accident and brain damage, his widowed mother has let him return to the family home. He can no longer function alone. Can’t work. Can’t interact in most situations. They barely know one another. A sad and stressful situation.

Charles Yaker

there are solutions but nobody wants to hear them. Income inequality just keeps rolling along and most if not all of our representatives whore for the biggest payer. the mainstream media is broken therefore we no longer agree on basic facts. without which there is no way out.

Gigi R

Just the fact that there are so many homeless in this country is something I for one am ashamed of. I don’t know the solution, but it’s hard to think it is this way here, what is supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world.


I am in agreement with a post above regarding the advertisement for “rent your rv”. I got a bad feeling in my gut the second I set eyes on it, and I had not yet read this article. Who buys an RV to rent it out? There are legitimate RV rental companies that do this and adhere to standards. Do you rent out your house while you’re on holiday? (Yes, I know, some people do exchanges, but I’m not talking about that.) This will quickly morph into the Airbnb of the trailer world, and we all know what happened to that. A bunch of people, many of them foreigners, buying up properties everywhere to rent them out and they don’t live in them, many of them don’t even live in the country. The entire idea that launched Airbnb became yet another abusive money-grubbing system.

Allowing ads for this type of activity is giving a foothold on a reputable newsletter to slum lords who will ruin the reputation of the recreational and legitimate full-timer RV experience, and bring back the image of a “trailer trash” society that will tarnish everyone.

I realize you need ads to keep this newsletter alive, but please, pick something else and don’t let Google Ads place them on your site either.


give anyone that finds them self in this situation and they will ruin any good thing, that’s why before very long walmart will not allow any parking overnight, this group would ruin everything good that they can, why can’t people learn to respect property that doesn’t belong to them, because they don’t give a damn about anything in life that’s anywhere
near decent, some are so bad they belong in a cage , what’s the solution there isn’t one as this will continue for as long as we live here on this earth sorry to say


WOW! Great article! Really eye opening. Never knew of “RV Ranchers”. Could be they’re part of the problem. I know San Diego (4th in the nation for Homeless) has a huge problem with RV homeless parking on their streets.


To those that think it is not happening…IT IS. To those that think it’s either a drug or a homeless problem…YOU ARE WRONG. Folks, it is time you open your eyes and your minds to a growing problem. This is happening now in the NP campgrounds as well as on the streets. The Police, Camp Hosts and Rangers try to keep an eye on this, but it is getting harder and harder to do so.


Seems like this newsletter, which I enjoyed for many years, has gone the way of the negative! Negative toward the manufacturers, the dealers that sell them, the campgrounds and now the seedier side of RV use. Could we get back on a positive note of RVing? Or at least have a balance? Great places to go, beauty to see and great people to meet! RV tips to make things more fun or easier? There are many more positives aspects to write about! Let’s put the Recreational back in RV!

Ms DuVille

“Verbal abuse”. What a joke. How do you kindly say to someone “please do not deficate on the sidewalk”? I live in the PNW, it’s already been established, this is not a “homeless” problem, it’s a drug problem.