Peter Blair | January 4, 2023 | California Law
California’s mountains, coastlines, and parks provide some of the most beautiful camping spots in the country. Millions of people take advantage of camping in recreational vehicles (RVs) and campers throughout our state. Many California residents invest in campers for their family’s recreational and traveling adventures.
However, where do you store a camper once you purchase it? Can you put it in your backyard or driveway? Would it be legal to live in a camper in your backyard if you wanted to do so?
Before you decide to move into a camper on your property or allow family or friends to live in the camper, it is important to understand the federal, state, and local laws governing setting up residence in a camper.
What Does Federal Law Say About Living in a Camper or Recreational Vehicle?
According to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a recreational vehicle is not designed to be used as a primary residence or for permanent occupancy. Instead, an RV is for recreational use.
HUD clarified the definition so that RV dealers and manufacturers would not be held to the same standards as mobile home manufacturers. Mobile homes are intended for use as primary residences instead of being moved frequently or used for travel.
Even though HUD refers to recreational vehicles, it does not mean that HUD governs where a camper can be placed. It also does not mean that HUD will exercise authority to remove someone from a camper in their backyard.
However, you might need to worry about the State of California and the City of San Diego if you are living in your camper in your yard.
What Does California Say About Campers and Recreational Vehicles?
The California Health & Safety Code §18010 defines a recreational vehicle as a camping trailer, travel trailer, motor home, or truck camper with or without power. A vehicle must meet the following criteria to be considered an RV:
- It is built on a single chassis;
- Contains less than 320 square feet of internal living space;
- Is truck-mounted, self-propelled, or permanently towable; and,
- Contains 400 square feet or less of gross area.
On a state level, the laws are relatively silent about living in your camper on your property. If you have a permanent residence on your property in addition to the camper, the state is unlikely to become involved unless you violate other state laws.
However, the state allows county and city governments to enact ordinances and regulations to govern campers and recreational vehicles. Furthermore, homeowners associations (HOAs) and other organizations could enact regulations preventing people from living in their campers in their backyards.
What Should I Do if I Want To Keep and Use My Camper In My Backyard in San Diego?
San Diego’s Municipal Code states that no one can use or occupy a recreational vehicle, commercial coach, or mobile home on private property that is not licensed as a special occupancy park or mobile home park. There are a few exceptions, including using the RV as a temporary residence for up to 12 months while building a home on the lot. Anyone desiring to live in their RV should consult the code before moving into their camper.
In addition to checking the zoning ordinances and regulations for the City of San Diego, you should also check with the County of San Diego. The county has ordinances regarding temporary and accessory dwelling units that could apply.
Even if the city and county do not bother you about living in your camper or allowing someone else to live in your camper in the backyard, your neighbors might have a problem. Most neighborhoods have restrictions and covenants that govern the residential lots. Many restrictions prohibit campers, RVs, boats, and other vehicles from being stored in yards.
Therefore, your neighbors might object if you rent your RV or allow your family to live in a camper in your backyard. They might not be able to have you arrested, but they could cause a lot of trouble with the city. If that fails, your neighbors could file a civil lawsuit asking for a court order to force you to move the camper.
If you are unsure what to do, contact a trespassing or criminal defense lawyer to analyze your specific situation. An attorney can explain the local laws, including your criminal liability for breaking those laws. Furthermore, a lawyer can help you understand your civil liability should someone be injured because you kept a camper in your yard.