I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.
Can I Live in My Camper on My Own Land?
The land is yours and you want to live there in your RV, but can you? Is doing so legal, and is it really something you should even be considering?
The answers to these questions, in order, are possibly, maybe and maybe. The reason is that taking this step will only work under the right circumstances and in appropriate locations.
Read the details here, and then decide for yourself whether this is a plan that can work for you.
Pay Attention to Zoning Laws
These days, it is difficult to navigate your way through the housing market, and many people simply do not want to do so. For some, the way out is to buy a recreational vehicle and place it on some land they already own or may want to purchase.
It is important to take great care when taking this step because most cities do not allow full-time motorhome or travel-trailer living on property located within city limits. In fact, many do not even allow people to park their vacant rigs beside their homes!
I know of one area in Nevada that does not allow people to live this way anywhere within its limits; no exceptions!
Things to Consider
If you are bound and determined to fulfill this plan, you will most likely will have to consider moving to an area that is outside of town. Doing this requires quite a few sacrifices such as
- having to clear the land and place utilities on it
- doing without the best level of medical care and facilities
- having to drive long distances to shop and handle business affairs
- and worrying about security, especially when you must be away for any length of time.
A Plan That Went Wrong
Speaking as someone who followed this route, I can tell you that it has many caveats. In my case, the price was right and the spot was pristine, but the beautiful rustic mountain acreage my husband and I purchased resulted in the death of two of my dogs, damage to my travel trailer and the theft of major land-clearing equipment.
To find what we wanted, we had to locate 20 miles from the nearest town, which left our property and belongings vulnerable. The local thieves had a field day, and their hard work caused us to sell our land and move back home. When one of our friends saw that we had returned, he actually cried because this move had been our retirement dream, and now it was ruined.
We had put a lot of hard work and money into the property, and it sickened us to have to walk away, but we really had no choice because staying would not have been safe.
Based on that experience I advise people to find a nice deeded lot in a campground and live there instead, so that they can avoid the risk. The Pros and Cons of Owning a Deeded RV Lot gives more information about this option.
However, if you are dead set on buying acreage and placing your coach on it, try to locate as close to neighbors and a town as you can so that you can lower your security risks and increase your level of convenience.
Where Will Your Land Be Located?
If you are starting from scratch with this idea, the first thing you must do is find a piece of property that is properly zoned for what you plan to do.
Usually, it will be located in the country and is vacant, undeveloped and may even be off the main road or lack legal road access. If this is the case, you want to make sure that you have good access to the land and that it can be developed.
Road Access and Utilities
Even if the land is good for development, before you purchase it, you must make sure
- the water is potable and on your land and that you have the rights to it
- the entry roads are on your own property
- electricity can be run across your land, or if necessary, you can get a neighbor's written permission to run some or all of it across his
- your land will be suitable for putting a septic system in place
- and you will be able to access telephone, cell and internet service.
Choose the Best Possible Location
Never assume that any of these things are "givens," because each depends greatly on location, zoning and the willingness of others to assist you. Furthermore, if you are too far away from the closest city, it may cost more than you are willing to pay to gain access to some of the items on this list.
The closer you locate to town, the easier it will be for you to make arrangements for different things.
If your land is within city limits, you will not have to dig a well or install a septic tank or worry about accessing electricity, phone or internet services. This will save you a great deal of time, effort and money, but if your original goal was to be able to be more self contained, using standard facilities will undo that dream because you still will have those monthly bills to contend with for your utilities and other services.
Once you are certain you can access the services you need, you probably will have to clear at least some of your land. If you plan to do this yourself, you will need to purchase or rent equipment that can handle the job.
You should purchase the small items, like chainsaws, that you will have need of in the future, but rent the large ones, like ditch witches, that you will only use once.
Note: Before you do any of this, make sure you have the skills that you will need to tackle this job so that you don't wind up in the hospital!
If you hire professionals to do some or all of the work, make sure they are licensed, insured, bonded and know what they are doing. Ask around town for references before you employ anybody. Doing this will keep you from having problems and will save you some money, too.
Property Development Options
Once you have been assured that all systems on your property are a "go", you can make your purchase and have your utilities installed. You may want to build a cement pad and patio for your RV because they make for cleaner living.
However, no matter how you set things up, you must make sure that the spot you choose for your living unit will be close to your utilities outlets. Also, you may want to install more than one sewer, water and electrical hookup so that friends with motorhomes and campers can stay on your property with you when they come for visits.
This is an especially good idea if you will be living a good distance from the closest town or campground.
Inexpensive Land Clearing
You Pay Less (and Get Less) Living on Your Own Land
Once the utilities are in place, you can move your unit to your property and start enjoying it. You will not have to pay taxes for your RV, but you still will have to pay them for the property.
You also will have to pay for electric, telephone and internet services, but there will be no water or sewer bills unless you were able to tie into the closest town's water and sewer systems.
If you are used to city living, you will find that moving a recreational vehicle onto your own property may not be what you originally thought it would be. Living on your own land is not the same as being in a campground, and generally will not have the same level of safety and convenience.
So while the monthly bills will be less, and you will have more flexibility and freedom, you may find you also are getting less in many ways. This is why you should really think things through prior to making this type of move.
One word of caution for those of you who are seriously considering this venture.
When you live in the country on your own land, you need to be very careful about protecting yourself and your belongings. As my story showed, you do not have the same safety levels that you may be used to if you lived in a city or town. Thus, you need to be more vigilant about what you do and how you do it.
Despite all of the issues mentioned in this article, many people are able to successfully live in their recreational vehicles on their own properties. However, these are the folks who are willing to do the work and make the sacrifices that are necessary to do so.
If you want to give it a try, remember what I've said here, and tread carefully.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: I live way out in the country; on my own land in a camper. How can the government come on to my land and tell me I can not live in my camper?
Answer: If your land is not zoned for recreational vehicle living, then you are living in your camper there illegally. You have to follow the zoning laws of the town your land is located in.
Question: I have a 39-foot Park Model Camper with three slideouts. I have it on land that belongs to my brother which was previously occupied by a single-wide mobile home. I have a septic tank but no electricity. The code enforcement tells me that they cant inspect it because it doesn't have a HUD sticker. Do you know of any way I can get around this?
Answer: If your park model isn't classified as a mobile home, I doubt you can get what you need. Check with your local HUD office and also your zoning office to see if they can help you to come up with a solution. Some park models actually are small mobile homes, but others are actually recreational vehicles with slides. It will depend on what you have.
Question: I'm thinking about buying vacant land with an RV and want to live there as a permanent resident. Do I need a permit?
Answer: You might. Before you buy the land, check the zoning laws for the land at your county's office.
Question: My sister lives in a house on her property. Can I live in my RV in the yard?
Answer: Possibly. You need to check with your county's zoning office as well as the subdivision where the house is located to see if it is legal for you to do so.
Question: Sondra, I have county approval to live in the RV. Where can I find info on how to connect to the septic system and city water line?
Answer: Your city and county utilities offices should be able to provide this info.
Question: I am looking to move to Florida, but the cost seems high. With your experience do you think RV living would be OK to start with instead of an expensive apartment? Eventually, I would like to buy land and live on it also. I'm not much for city life.
Answer: You can find reasonably priced campgrounds in many areas of Florida but must be careful when purchasing an RV because they can be very expensive unless you know how to shop for one. If you find an inexpensive RV in good shape, you should be able to afford to live in an RV Park for now and later move your unit to land that you purchase that is located outside of the bigger cities. People are doing this every day down here!
Question: My neighbor rents a house. They have parked a trailer behind the RV gate, and they have someone living in it full-time. Can he live in it?
Answer: That depends on what the zoning laws are in your area. Call your county office and ask them that question and proceed from there.
Question: Don't you think everyone should be able to live in their RV on their land no matter where it is?
Answer: No, I don't. The reason I say this is that zoning laws exist for a reason, which is to maintain the integrity of certain areas for people. For example, I wouldn't want to spend $500,000 or more for a house and have an RV parked on the lot next to mine because it would lower my property values. Also, sanitation can present an issue. Not every person who owns an RV parks it in places where they can dump their tanks! One person wrote that someone was living in an RV that was parked behind an office building that the RV owner also owned. Furthermore, while some RVs are beautiful and well maintained, others are pieces of junk that their neighbors would not want to be looking at!
Question: Behind my house is a medical building with a parking lot. The owners have been living there in an RV for about four months now. Is that legal?
Answer: Probably not. It depends on who owns the property and what the local zoning laws are. I'm wondering what they're doing with their sewer and gray water waste. If it bothers you, call your county zoning commission and tell them what the situation is. They'll take care of it from there.
Question: Is it legal for my mother to live in travel trailer on her daughter's property?
Answer: Yes, as long as the location of the RV meets all local zoning requirements. Contact your town's zoning department to find out.
Question: I bought land in Florida, and I lived on it in my RV for years with no issues. Is my experience unique?
Answer: No, it is not. Many people can do this. The point in the article is to make sure you meet all zoning and health requirements and prepare your land properly. If you do this, of course, you won't have any issues, if you are located in the right place.
Question: Do I need to register my RV with the DMV?
Answer: Yes. Your RV is considered to be a vehicle, and it must have a license plate and registration.
Question: If I just want to store my RV on my property in Reno. What kind of surface can I park it on? Are pavers acceptable?
Answer: Yes, pavers would be fine. However, make sure the city zones your property for doing this. I know that your area of the country is pretty strict about where RVs can be parked.
Question: I was thinking about buying land in Colorado to put an RV on. What issues do I need to be careful about before buying the land?
Answer: Before buying anything check with the location where you want to buy land to find out about zoning, utilities, access and water quality. You might also want to check crime rates in the area as well as property taxes.
Question: You mention how people don't like RVs because some are ugly or pull the prices down of homes. That doesn't seem like a valid reason. It's like not allowing someone to live because they don't have a nice house. You can argue that it's like discrimination. I understand why someone would be upset if they had neighbors they didn't like or didn't like the appeal of their home, but to say it's illegal?
Answer: Unless an area is zoned for RV living, yes, it's illegal for someone to live in one. Those are the laws in many areas!
Question: Is there a way to change these RV related property laws? I think they are unfair and the government has too much control over where people can live in their RVs.
Answer: If enough people complain to their local legislators, there's always the chance that these laws can change, but usually, there are good reasons for their existence. It isn't a matter of how nice and RV is, but rather how the zoning is set up.
Question: I have a park model that is registered with the DMV as an RV. Code enforcement just told me that because it's big and doesn't have lights it's too much like a mobile home and needs to be moved off the property. No one lives in it, it's not hooked up to any septic, water or electricity. I just use it as storage. Do they have the right to force me to remove it? They gave me 30 days
Answer: I believe park models are actually viewed as mobile homes because they generally are not used for travel. You may have registered this unit as an RV, but apparently the zoning people have caught up with you. If you fight this one, I think you'll lose. You might want to sell it and use the money to buy a storage shed instead.
Question: A small village in Michigan is having issues. Elected officials are now trying to force campers and RV owners to replace their units with only new (5 years old) ones plus possibly charging me the 100 dollars a year permit, to park a camper on my own property, No zoning is in place that says this. We feel the elected officials are overstepping their intended duties, especially when they haven't cleaned up the blite. How can they do this?
Answer: This is a question for a lawyer to answer. I would guess there must be a clause somewhere that allows people already situated with RVs on their own property that would "grandfather" them in, but you really need to seek legal advice on this one.
Question: My son has 3 acres on which he built a house. I want to buy a travel trailer and live on his property, am I able to legally do this?
Answer: That depends on the zoning laws where his property is located. You will have to check with his county to get your answer, and he will have to install a septic system, water and electric outlets for your RV if it is permitted for you to live there.
Question: Can you get mail delivered to your RV? I heard it was a federal law that if you put up a mailbox near other boxes, they are required to deliver mail to you. Is this true?
Answer: I believe you are correct, but call your local post office to make sure. You must have a legal address in order to receive mail, this I know for sure.
Question: Do you think it is wise to live in an RV in Florida? I thought that maybe due to guaranteed high winds, it may not be a good idea.
Answer: As long as you will be able to drive your RV, this won't be a problem. There are always plenty of warnings, so you can just hook up and leave if a bad storm is coming your way. Thousands of people full time it in FL without issues, but remember that there are weather problems all over the country, so no matter where you go, you'll have to pay attention to them.
Question: In South Carolina, can I put a park model travel trailer on the site where a mobile home was?
Answer: That would depend on the zoning laws and the spot where your mobile was located. Check with your county office to learn if your spot is zoned for a park model or RV.
Question: What zoning do I need to be able to live in my RV?
Answer: You'll have to ask your local city or county officials this question because each location has different zoning regulations. It all depends where your property is located. If you haven't purchased property yet, get this info before you do so you'll know for sure that you won't have a problem.
Question: Will my Onan RV gas generator shut down if I disconnect the battery?
Answer: That depends on the generator's year and model. Check with Onan to get the answer you seek.
Question: Is living in a crowded campground more expensive than renting an apartment?
Answer: It depends on the campground, and it can be any campground. Crowding has nothing to do with it. Many charge an annual fee of less than $600 per month plus electric, but some charge $l,000 or more plus electric.
Question: Can I legally have someone living in a trailer on my property in Anne Arundel county in Maryland?
Answer: You'll have to check your local zoning laws to find out the answer to that question. Each city or county has its own rules about that.
© 2013 Sondra Rochelle