Yes, it is possible to legally live in an RV on your own land, but only depending on the city or county you live in. Most larger cities have enacted ordinances and codes that effectively require your RV to adhere to the same requirements that a house is required to comply with. Code enforcement officers routinely patrol neighborhoods to look for violations. Smaller town and rural counties have more relaxed ordinances, and typically only enforce them when they receive complaints from neighbors.
Can You Legally Live in an RV on Your Own Land?
When you use an RV as you primary residence, the city or county will consider it a residential building, and as such will require it to conform with all building codes. Moreover, many cities take great care to develop beautiful neighborhoods to attract high income professionals. Many nearby residents will often call the city or county to report code violators in an attempt to prevent their own property values from dropping. This makes it difficult for property owners to live in an RV on their own land.
Larger metropolitan cities have the worst problem with people living in their RVs on city streets, and thus smaller to medium sized cities have become more proactive in ensuring those people don’t come to their town. Read our other article, “Can I Live in a Motorhome On My Own Land?“
Building and Safety Codes
If you are currently live in an RV on your own land, as a permanent residence, a city or county building inspector may eventually learn about this and pay you visit. He or she will determine if your RV is in compliance with all city and county codes for residential structures.
Your RV must offer heating and cooling and keep you dry during rain. It must be free of mold and mildew, and provide adequate defense against rodents and insects. It must have windows that open and close. It must have smoke alarms, and in some cities, carbon monoxide detectors too.
It must have electrical power and clean running water. It must also have a toilet and a means to dispose of sewage without risk of spilling.
The good news is that most RVs have these amenities, though tent trailers, tear drop trailers, and Class B vans may not.
Your Land Must Have Either a Septic Tank or Access to City Sewage
It doesn’t matter that your RV has a black tank. If you’re going live in it permanently on your land, then it must drain directly into an underground septic tank or city sewage. Cities don’t want to run the risk of a black tank spilling on the ground. They don’t want bacterial infection to leach into the ground water, nor the stench of human waste wafting through the air. If your land does not have a septic tank or an access to city sewage, then you will be required to add it. If your choice is to add a septic tank, you will be required to obtain a septic tank permit, which will cost you money, and then have the septic tank inspected.
Electrical Cables Must Adhere to Code
You cannot run an 110-120 volt extension cord from a house out to your RV on a long term basis. It has to instead run through a conduit, preferably underground, and then come up to your RV into a utility box. There are then codes that dictate the type of cable and connections that connect the utility box to your RV.
If you consider that a city building inspector will eventually pay you a visit, you’ll want to research this ahead of time to make sure you’re in compliance. Matters of electricity can be deadly, and spark fires, and thus can result in hefty fines.
There are Laws Against Too Many People Sharing the Same Residence
If you plan to have three or more people (including yourself) living in the RV, you may also be in violation of occupancy limits, depending on how big (or small) your RV is. However, these limits generally apply to unrelated persons. As long as the people living in your RV are your immediate family, and as long as its just one or two children, you’re likely fine. But if you and your spouse have 5 or more kids living in an RV on your own land, you may be visited by Child Protective Services.
The federal government enacted a law that sets the minimum size for a dwelling. Section 503(b) of the Uniform Housing Code requires each residence to have at least one room measuring at least 120 square feet; and all other habitable rooms excluding kitchens must be at least 70 square feet. The minimum dwelling size determines the maximum occupancy rate. Two people can occupy a minimum-sized dwelling. For each additional occupant, the minimum must increase by 50 square feet. The Code acknowledges that certain dwellings may be configured to allow a third person to comfortably sleep in non-bedroom space, and that infants and very young children can share their parents’ room.
A 40 foot class A motorhome would generally measure 320 square feet gross. When you include the slide-outs, you’re looking at about 400 square feet of living space.
Your Best Bet is to Buy Land Out in the Country
Areas that are not governed by an incorporated city or town, but are administered by the county, is your best choice if you want to live in an RV on your own land. As long as the area you are considering buying land is not part of a suburb or residential area, county code enforcement officers are not going to patrol.
Read our related article, “Is Camping On Your Own Land Illegal?“