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?
In most counties, and just about every incorporated city, town, and village, it is illegal to live in an RV on your own land. At least, without making any modifications to the RV.
The reason is because if you use your RV as a primary residence, the city or county will consider it a residential building, and as such will require it to conform with all building codes.
Even though it doesn’t make sense to apply residential building codes to motorhomes and trailers, cities and counties are not about making sense. Rather, they’re all about selling building permits and issuing fines.
Moreover, many cities take great care to develop beautiful neighborhoods to attract high income professionals. As a result, city and county planners don’t want to see rows of RVs parked on lots up and down neighborhoods.
Thus, if your goal is to live in an RV on your own land, you’ll have to do some research into local building codes, including electrical codes, sewage codes, and plumbing codes.
If you have not yet purchased land, then you should definitely make sure to buy land that is administered by the county, and not by a city, town, or village. Counties tend to be more lenient with respect to land use. At the same time, people who live in rural areas tend to care less about what their neighbors are doing.
Read our other article, “Can I Live in a Motorhome On My Own Land?“
A Building Permit is Required to Move an RV on to Your Land
All counties and cities will require you to purchase a building permit just to park your RV on your land. This is only the case if you will be using the RV as a permanent residence. Otherwise, a building permit is not required if you’re simply parking and storing the RV on your land.
This is because building permits are not just for the construction of a new building, but also for moving a building. Building permits are still required if all you’re doing is moving a building from one location to another. And if that building happens to be an RV, which you plan to use as a residential unit, then you must obtain a permit.
And that’s where the county and city will get you. Once you obtain that permit, you have effectively notified their building inspector, who will eventually visit your property to make sure your “building” meets all codes. The inspector will then give you a timeline to make all necessary modifications. If you don’t meet that timeline, you will then be fined.
Building and Safety Codes
There are a myriad of codes that each building has to comply with. Probably 80 to 90% of all counties and cities use the same set of codes adopted by the IBC (International Building Codes). You just about have to be an engineer to understand them. But for example…
- Your RV’s sewage must drain directly into a septic tank. It cannot drain into a holding tank, and then into a septic tank.
- Any electrical cables running to your RV must be ran underground, or overhead. It cannot lay on top of the ground.
- It has to have at least two exits.
- It has to have its own heating and cooling system (not a portable unit) to keep you warm and cool.
- It has to keep you dry in the rain, and be free of mold and mildew.
- There are hundreds of codes.
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 set by the city or county. 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.
For example, the City and County of San Francisco, CA has an ordinance that sets the minimum size of a dwelling…
(b) Superficial Floor Area. Every dwelling unit and congregate residence shall have at least one room which shall have not less than 120 square feet of superficial floor area. Every room which is used for both cooking and living or both living and sleeping purposes shall have not less than 144 square feet of superficial floor area. Every room used for sleeping purposes shall have not less than 70 square feet of superficial floor area. When more than two persons occupy a room used for sleeping purposes the required superficial floor area shall be increased at the rate of 50 square feet for each occupant in excess of two. Guest rooms with cooking shall contain the combined required superficial areas of a sleeping and a kitchen, but not less than 144 square feet. Other habitable rooms shall be not less than 70 square feet.SEC. 503(b). Room Dimensions, Building Code, San Francisco
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?“