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Can You Legally Live in a Camper in Your Backyard?

Can You Legally Live in a Camper in Your Backyard?

Many vacationers have dabbled in the RV lifestyle, either purchasing or renting an RV for summer vacations or short-term adventures.  But for some, living in an RV full-time may be a long-time dream or even a necessity.  This is especially true if, rather than traveling around the country, you wish to live in your RV on your own property.  This begs the question: is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard?  Let’s find out…

“Living” vs. “Camping”

Before we go any further, let’s differentiate “living” in your camper versus camping in your backyard.  

Many rural subdivisions allow their property owners to live in a camper while they are building a sticks-and-bricks house. But, there is usually a limit (most commonly six-months) when the camper may no longer be considered your full-time residence.  In this instance, you would be considered “camping” on your property.

Pro Tip: Check out the Prepare for Full-Time RV course to learn everything you need to know to smoothly transition from your home to your RV!

When asking is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard, there are two things you want to consider first: property zoning regulations and the HUD Law.

Property Zoning & Regulations

You may run into zoning issues in many jurisdictions when it comes to residing in an RV full-time. This is especially true with no permanent residence onsite and none planned for the near future.  

These days most residential land falls under county or city zoning laws and/or homeowners association agreements. These laws and agreements usually have stipulations against living in anything other than a long-term, permanent structure.  A travel trailer or RV doesn’t qualify as a permanent residence in these cases. 

If you can find land that has no zoning restrictions or homeowners regulations, you can truly “live” full-time in whatever you like. You still need to follow county laws regarding water, septic, and electrical installations, though.  So do your research! Never assume that just because you own a property, you can live in your RV there.

HUD Law FR–5877–P–01 

Some confuse the Housing and Urban Development Law FR-5877-P-01 with further restrictions on where you can live in an RV.  But this law was created to regulate the RV manufacturing industry, not RV owners.  It states that manufacturers must label certain types of RVs as intended for “recreational” uses and not “full-time living.”  What you do with that vehicle after you purchase it, whether traveling in it for holidays or living in it year-round, is up to you.

This does not negate your responsibility, however, for what problems are and aren’t covered in manufacturer’s warranties or by your insurance. If said documents state that full-time living won’t be covered and you do it anyway, that’s on you.  So buyer beware (or at least be prepared!).

Options for Stationary Full-Time RV Dwellings 

With strict zoning and housing restrictions in many places, the possibility of living in a camper in your backyard might look bleak. But, there are actually several options you might consider:

1. Registering as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) – Some regions may have less stringent restrictions on RV living, and several have enabled laws allowing RVs to be considered an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on a property that has a primary permanent residence on it.

2. Domicile where zoning regulations allow full-time living in your RV – This would usually be found in rural areas that don’t have county zoning laws, and outside of subdivisions where no regulations or homeowners associations exist.

3. Purchase land where you can camp short term (up to 5 or 6 months at a time) – Again, make sure zoning and subdivision regulations allow this. Be prepared to state an “out” date.

4. Purchase a lot in a private RV community that is designed for full-time RV living. Is it legal to live in a camper in your backyard? It is if your backyard is an RV community! The bonus here is you get amenities, full hookups, and your neighbors are other RVers. 

5. Rent in an RV Park that allows annual or long-term space rentals.  These usually have all the amenities and activities found at most private campgrounds, like pools, gyms, hot tubs, and social events.

Does It Make Sense To Use An RV As A Full-Time Dwelling?

RVs are essentially tiny homes on wheels. Even if you don’t use “the wheels” and instead choose to remain in one place, they have almost everything a house provides.

If you find a place where it is legal to live in a camper in your backyard, there are additional considerations you need to take into account. 

Full-Time RV Living Costs

RVs typically cost less than most homes. Not to mention, long-term monthly rates for RV parks typically cost less than most rental agreements. Because of this, full-time living in an RV can also be a way to live more affordably, if well planned. 

So if you have financial concerns or just want to spend less on housing, purchasing an RV might be a way to meet your goals. Learn about the cost of full-time RV living and how to figure out your budget in our other article.  

Stationary RV Maintenance

Firstly, you need to consider stationary RV maintenance. If you choose a motorcoach as your full-time dwelling, remember that they are created to move. You’ll want to take it out on the road now and then, keeping belts, hoses, and motor components supple and healthy. The generator needs regular running to stay in working order. 

You’ll also need to keep an eye on your tires. Although they won’t be accumulating miles, stationary tires can deflate, flatten, rot, or warp. 

Property Utility Considerations

Beyond understanding the legality of living in a camper in your backyard, utilities are also a concern. If you end up choosing a piece of property without utilities, you’ll need to figure out how to manage your power, water, and sewer needs. How will you get electricity to run the appliances in the RV? Where will you dump the gray and black tanks, and how will you get fresh water?

You will either need to have utilities brought to the property (run power, drill well, install septic, etc.) or find off-grid solutions. Depending on the property, it may make more financial sense to invest in an off-grid power system and water collection/transfer. 

We have a piece of undeveloped land in Michigan. It would have cost us tens of thousands of dollars to run power, drill a well, and install a septic system. Instead, we built a solar and lithium battery system to meet all of our electrical needs (including powering an electric car!). We also installed a composting toilet to eliminate blank tank dumping, installed a french drain for our gray water, and bought 60-gallon drums for transporting water to the RV with our truck.

Towable RV Transportation

If you’re looking at a towable RV as your stationary solution – with no plans to move it – you might not need or want the vehicle required to tow the travel trailer or fifth wheel RV. 

Towing services, and sometimes even the RV parks/communities you’re looking to move to, can provide transportation of the RV from the dealership to its destination. This allows you to skip the big truck or SUV, if you don’t have one already, and stick with your sedan or compact. However, this gives you less control over your overall housing situation.

Is The RV Lifestyle in Your Future?

Now that you know that it can be legal to live in a camper in your backyard (or elsewhere), we hope this article helps you figure out your next steps for pursuing the RV lifestyle. If full-time RV living is in your future, it can be a great way to cut down on expenses and still enjoy life to its fullest.  

And if you discover that full-time won’t work where you want to live, consider giving part-time or seasonal RV life a try. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a place you like even better, or fall in love with the nomadic life! If your home is on wheels, moving your residence is a piece of cake.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Leslie

Sunday 10th of July 2022

Great news on your property. Love what your doing with it! Instead of viewing the lack of utilities as roadblocks, you have made it work . Very interested as we also have purchased unrestricted acreage for our RV and plan to stay there through the summers. We are finalizing the plans for an open air pavilion that will serve as a cooking/living space. We have followed your channel since “Going North” and appreciate the professional content you provide. Keep up the great work, and looking forward to watching the property unfold.

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 24th of July 2022

Thank you! :)

Glen Taylor

Sunday 17th of October 2021

I was curious if it is possible to live in an RV on my own property, as I was thinking I will live there when I retire, I like the unconstrained life. Thanks for your post, I already have the answer for it.

Glen Taylor

Friday 29th of October 2021

Thank you for sharing this useful information. I will continue to monitor your site.

Reba

Saturday 17th of April 2021

Other than septic, electric, water, what do I need to live on my land while I am deciding to build or not. In an RV or camper trailer. Do I need concrete pad, awning over it, should I underspend for Tn winter.

Mortons on the Move

Saturday 17th of April 2021

At least gravel is nice to have under the rig so it doesn't sink into soil and get muddy. An awning is an option and will minimize leak potential but not necessary. If your going to be in the cold skirting can really help, check out our cold weather blog post https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/cold-weather-camping/

Steve Mullins

Monday 23rd of November 2020

Thanks for the info... We have been part timing for a few years, but our plans are to sell our current home, downsize and travel most months, then purchase land for a home base that can also be our exit plan once we might choose to stop traveling.

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 24th of November 2020

You're welcome! Good luck with your travels!

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