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The thought of making a camper or RV into a permanent home is appealing to many but is it legal to live in a camper?

Do you feel the wanderlust tugging at your travel spirit, urging you to minimize, invest in a camper to call home, and be able to travel on a whim wherever the wind takes you?

It is legal to live in a camper provided you adhere to the local zoning laws. You can legally live in a camper on your private property for up to six months while building, for a few weeks at different campsites while traveling, or indefinitely in a zoned RV park.

Buying a camper as a tiny, mobile home is a dream for many. However, the logistical maze of legal jargon you may need to navigate can be a deterrent and extinguish that wanderlust.

Depending on your need for the camper, there are different legal solutions to living in it. Unlike becoming stationary in an undesirable trailer park, like in the movies, zoned RV neighborhoods provide the long-term living with access to electricity, ablutions, recreation, and community.



How To Legally Live In A Camper

Although it is legal to live in a camper, you would still need to adhere to certain laws and by-laws depending on where you live. There are typically three options for legally living in a camper as follows –

  • Register your camper as an RV in your local state. RV stands for Recreational Vehicle, allowing you to permanently park it in a designated area and legally live in it indefinitely.
  • Register your camper as an ADU or Accessory Dwelling Unit in your local state. This changes the camper’s functionality from a recreational vehicle or RV to allowing it to be parked on private property to live in.
  • If you do not have your own property, you can scout some recreational parks or camping grounds that offer long-term living. This affordable arrangement works for many wanting to live in a camper legally.

Even if you take the camping grounds route, you must ensure your camper is registered and paid for the relevant licenses.

How Do Zoning Laws Affect Legally Living In A Camper?

Even though you can follow certain procedures to legally live in a camper, that doesn’t mean you can park it on any open piece of land and not face the consequences. The local government will have zoning laws that govern living spaces.

There are several ways to get the correct information before parking your camper. This is what you can do –

  • Call your local city council office and speak to the zoning department. They can assist you in locating areas zoned for living in a camper and determine if your property falls in that area.
  • Request a city handbook from your local council. This handbook contains all the state and county by-laws, including zoning regulations.

It helps to do as much research as possible so you can call your local camping sites and recreational parks and ask questions.

Another option is driving out to see locations and make notes about the services offered, such as electricity, water connections, ablution, and sewage, and what the general condition of the place is like.

Security and personal safety should be a high priority when living in a camper so take note of this in camping terrains or recreational parks when there may be periods when there are not many people around.

Finding a county with no zoning laws may be difficult in some states, but in the more rural areas of America, that is still very possible.

Homeowners associations have a lot of power in the zones they govern. Even if you own property, you may find it impossible to park a camper in your yard, let alone live in it, so do your due diligence.

How To Turn Your Camper Into A Legal Dwelling

If you are in a residential zone where you may park a camper on your property to live, the correct way to do it would be to register the camper as an ADU. This allows the camper to be stationary and function as a home. Points to prove and for consideration–

  • Show proof it can provide sleeping space
  • Show proof it provides eating facilities
  • Show proof it has ablution and running water
  • Is the plot of land large enough?
  • Does the camper take up only one parking space?

Each state and county will have different by-laws you should adhere to. They are strict in some places and are enforced when broken. For example

  • Can the ADU have wheels?
  • How long can the ADU be
  • What is the minimum size of an ADU?

You will need to go to your local council and pay for the registration, permits,  licenses, and other fees associated with each process. Your camper may be subject to a physical inspection by a council worker to see that everything is in order and you are displaying the correct information.

In some regulations, the registration cannot proceed if the camper keeps its wheels on and will not be registered as an ADU. This effectively makes it no different from a stationary trailer home.

Bonus Tips For Legally Living In A Camper

Once you've decided where to park your camper, there are a few last things to consider –

If you are single, you may not need such a lot of space, but considering it may be stationary for a while, buy as big as you can afford. The space is always useful.

Ensure your camper is kitted out well with a fully functional kitchen, gas stove and oven, and good-sized fridge and freezer. This way, you can park your camper anywhere it is allowed.

If possible, install the best security system you can afford. This will give you the extra safety features you need when living in a unit not made from brick and mortar. Make friends with your neighbors and be vigilant at all times.

Find out how to receive your mail. If there is a shared post box at the trailer park or recreational park, you can ask if they will receive your mail. Remember to update your forwarding address at the bank and other important institutions.

Always have enough spares on hand. You never know when you need to change a tire or if the camper needs routine maintenance. You might get caught in a severe storm and fix unforeseen damage. The minimum tools are a must.

Take care in humid areas so your camper does not fall victim to rust or mold. Mold is a serious and ongoing issue and can cause severe illness.

Do regular leak checks on pipes, joints, and in the shower if the camper has a bathroom. Rust will compromise the integrity of the camper and should be dealt with immediately.

Dripping water is an attraction for rats, and if you are not careful and stop leaks when they start, you may attract some unwanted rodents. Rats carry disease and are difficult to get rid of once they know there is a water and food source—store all foods in airtight containers.

Be well prepared for winter. If your area is likely to get snow or sub-zero temperatures, you may need to inventory and check what is needed. You may have to get extra blankets, food, and medicine.

Make sure the heating units are working and wrap all exterior pipes in cold protection material. This will help prevent pipes from cracking or expanding when frozen.