You may have past by RV parks and seen people living in RVs while driving down the road and thought, “Can you live in an RV legally?” As it turns out, you can indeed save money on housing by living in an RV full time, but you need to be aware of a few laws that apply to RV living – this article explains how to live legally in an RV in the US.
Can you live in an RV legally?
YES. The legality of living in an RV varies by state. The rules change according to whether you stay fixed in the one place, or live on the move, and they primarily ensure your mobile home is a safe environment for all. Many RVers choose to go “off grid” to avoid paying utilities and taxes and abiding by county rules.
Life on the Road
Just imagine the secluded, gorgeous destinations you can stay at, or the campervan parks filled with like-minded, life loving, fun filled RV enthusiasts. And of course, we must mention the freedom of not being chained to “house duties” and the bills associated with having such a monstrous property to maintain.
Plus, seeing as how an RV has efficient storage solutions, it promotes a streamlined, minimalistic lifestyle, that allows you to be less materialistic and more at one with your environment.
And for those tech heads that may have just balked at the concept of getting rid of their prized Silicon Valley toys, there are a ton of gadgets available for the new age RV enthusiast.
Living in your RV Full-time
Driving around this beautiful country, setting down temporary roots to enjoy the landscape while living in an RV is part of the great American Dream, and it’s perfectly legal, providing you set up in an approved RV friendly zone.
Putting down permanent roots however, comes with some legal challenges:
Since HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) changed a few laws back in 2016 and 2018, RV manufacturers have had to mark their recreational vehicles as following:
“a vehicular structure, not certified as a manufactured home, designed only for recreational use and not as a primary residence or for permanent occupancy, and built and certified in accordance with either the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1192-2015, Standard for Recreational Vehicles, or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A119.5-15, Recreational Park Trailer Standard”
This basically states that RV’s are not built for permanent living. They are classified as a recreational vehicle.
Codes of Conduct – City vs Country
So, can you live in an RV legally in your city? When you state that you are going to permanently live in your RV, the local council will consider your new dwelling a residential building and no longer a vehicular structure. This means the RV must now attain a standard of living that is expected of any permanent dwelling, and this is where it can get confusing, as different city councils have different approaches.
For example: a large city will be looking to keep its neighborhoods neat, tidy, and conformed. It’s pretty hard to attract new, high income homeowners to a neighborhood that has campervans scattered all over the place…however smaller towns and counties may have a more relaxed, community based approach and allow RV’s to remain stationary for extended (not indefinite) periods of time.
On that topic, when you tell your council that you will be living in your mobile home, using it as a permanent dwelling, they will ask you to comply with a list of requirements such as waste and plumbing management. Some states and counties will simply require you to have a system in place that allows a generator for power, an area to safely and hygienically discard your grey and black water, and of course have a supply fresh of H₂O. Others, however, may require utilities to be installed such as a septic, power from the grid (or off-grid supply), and potentially hook up to town water or drill a well.
Local Building Inspectors
No matter whether you stay in a cosy country town or in the burbs though, you will find that the local building inspector will eventually turn up, and not for a coffee. They’ll be keen to know that your humble abode abides by those local safety and building codes hinted at above.
They will most often be looking to confirm that your RV has an efficient heating/colling system in place, and effective cover against heavy rain. The foundation will also be looked at, as they don’t want to see your mini home sinking in a downpour (aim for a gravel or concrete base). They’ll also compare awnings, staircases and patios against the local building codes.
Defence wise, they will check how your RV handles rodents, mildew, mould and insects. And of course, fire is a nasty risk, so you better have smoke alarms in place – some counties even require CO2 detectors in place!
Keep your Campervan on the Road Legally
There are many pros and cons when it comes to living in an RV full time. Full time RV’ers often mention negatives like limited storage space, having to clean up after themselves and no chance of ducking out to the shed for a breather. But they often forget to mention more important LEGAL requirements like vehicle maintenance, registration, and insurance expectations. Then you have the normal automobile maintenance needs like seals, belts, tires, fuel costs, etc. Treat your humble RV the same way you treat your car, regardless of how often you expect to drive.
Love thy Neighbors
Oh, and something to mention is neighbors: If you expect to park temporarily or permanently in either an RV park or a fixed location, you need to understand you will have a limitation on the amount of people able to visit your little home AND you will be close, really close to your neighbors. You will share amenities, Wi-Fi, power, water, sewerage, barbecues, pools, and more. So, get used to being close, BUT do not get into the habit of walking through other peoples’ sites for a shortcut – their space is still their home.
Keeping your neighbours onside will certainly lead to you having a peaceful, long term stay in paradise, while disgruntled neighbors may result in visits from officials that can make your stay troublesome.
Tips for living a fun life in an RV!
Now, before we sign off on this helpful blog let’s cover a couple of things should you decide to live in an RV.
Privacy: This is something that gets harder to find when you’re parking in RV parks and public areas. Things get…cosy, when you’re sharing space with your fellow campers.
Security: Your Campervan is now your home, your everything, so lock it up, keep windows and doors in top notch condition, make sure you clamp the wheels, install a safe for your goodies and get to know your neighbors so that you can all keep an eye out for each other.
Ground coverage: Again, depending on whether you choose to stay on your own developed/undeveloped land or an RV park, you may have limited space for entertaining, exercise, etc. Because of this, you may be tempted to park in less obvious areas but remember that your safety is paramount. Always ensure you park in areas that are not exposed to flooding, soft ground that may collapse or bog you down, and wild animals.
Additional questions we suggest you address while deciding upon a location for your humble abode include:
- Do I want to stay on my own property, in an RV park or should I keep mobile, moving from location to location?
- Do I need to work while RV’ing, and if so, what areas provide the best employment opportunities?
- What are the states that offer the best, most beautiful locations for a mobile home?
- What states should we steer clear of?
- When we plant ourselves, what are fun things we can do to keep ourselves entertained?
- Do we need to worry about mail redirection, or should we simply get a mail box?
- Will you need internet and phone access?
So, RV living can be exhilarating and adventurous, but it must also be safe for all involved. Travel safe, appreciate every location, and tune in to our blog for more great tips on the RV life.
Written by Shannon Boyd
Avid Camper and Life Coach at Fate By Design Hypnotherapy