Through the years, Walmart has welcomed hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of RVers for a free night’s stay in its store parking lots across North America. The company doesn’t just look the other way at these “squatters,” it actually states right on its website that such stays are permitted, as long as it’s okay with store managers and doesn’t violate local ordinances. “Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers,” the Walmart website notes.
It’s been this way since the mid-1980s, when Walmart founder Sam Walton was still around, and a fan of the practice.
But that’s changing. More stores are banning overnight stays than ever before. In 2010, about 78% of Walmart stores allowed overnight RV parking. Now, it’s close to 58%, according to Jim O’Briant, who runs Overnight RV Parking, a website that tracks more than 14,000 free RV parking locations in the United States and Canada for its RVer members.
This comes at a time when RV sales are skyrocketing, and spaces in RV parks are filling up, with few new parks under construction. Walmart has become an overnight safety valve for an increasing number of RV travelers.
One by one, however, Walmart stores that once allowed overnight stays have erected “No Parking” signs because of abuse. Too many times, RVers have leaked sewer tank waste onto parking lots or intentionally dumped it into storm drains. Others have dripped motor oil, left bags of trash, ruined asphalt with their leveling jacks, or pulled out lounge chairs and grills as if the parking lot were a campground.
RV park owners have lobbied their city councils to ban stays at the stores, as it’s bad for their businesses. Cities that have enacted such laws have often endured considerable bashing on social media, sometimes forcing them to reverse their decisions.
O’Briant believes that more Walmart stores are restricting the practice because people are increasingly using the parking lots to camp out for extended times.