There seems to be a growing trend in America and around the world as more and more people are going off the grid, living in RVs/caravans, putting together modular homes, and learning unique and innovative ways to survive on very little, yet thrive all the same. But our there any legal lines that you can’t cross? Can you live in a caravan/RV on your own land?
It is perfectly legal to live in a static caravan on your own land. However, as with everything in life, there are certain stipulations that you have to consider and adhere to. So long as you and the state and federal government are good, you can live in your caravan as long as you like.
There are a few hoops that you will have to jump through because nowadays, just about everything is layered in red tape to one degree or another. If you’re waiting on the construction of a new home or just downsizing and living off the land, the red tape and the wait are well worth it.
The basic things you need to cover
First and foremost, you have to have an address or “place of residence.” Unless you’re planning on building a home, where all of that will get taken care of in the process. Just buying a plot of land and parking your RV on it doesn’t establish residence, at least not legally.
- Use a friend or a family member as a place of residence until yours is established
- Establish a PO Box for your mail (bills and professional correspondence)
- Establish a connection to electricity, water, and sewer
- Obtain a building permit if necessary (contact your county building office/administration
State and local laws will require you to either establish your own well or get hooked up to city water. The same goes for sewers. You will either have to have a septic tank put in or hook up to the city’s sewer. Since most people who go off the grid or live in caravans are well outside of city limits, you will probably have to opt for a septic system.
If you can draw well water, do so at all costs. The nature of local politics is driven home when you consider the fact that cities, towns, and municipalities can force you to pay for garbage services, even if you are capable of taking your own garbage to the landfill.
They do this by integrating the trash bill with your city water service. You could even pay the city for the exact amount of the water portion of the bill and if you refuse to pay the garbage portion that you don’t need, they’ll cut off your water.
Your caravan/RV has to comply with local building codes
With the city, town, or municipality considering your RV/caravan as a residential building, you will have to make sure that is it up to standards on the building and safety codes. One way or another, the government is going to make some money off of you before you can take advantage of minimalist living.
Building codes can change according to where you live as every state has its own little conditions and add-ons in congruence with federal law. If you happen to own land next to a well-established neighborhood, prepare yourself for a few headaches.
The first thing that will probably happen is that your neighbors will contact the local authorities to report you for code violations, even if you have already had a local inspector out there. The reason that they will do this is that if it is discovered you are living on that property in violation of building codes, it has the potential to drive down the adjacent property values.
All it takes is a few wrong-doers messing it up for everyone else. The best thing that you can do is as soon as you are completely set up, contact the local building inspector and have them come out to your property. There are several things that they will inspect before you get a passing grade.
- No mold or mildew growth
- Must have adequate heating and cooling capabilities
- Must have smoke alarms (carbon monoxide alarms are optional except for a few cities)
- It must have windows that are fully functional, opening and closing easily
- It must have electrical power
- It must have clean, flowing water
- It must have toilets and sewage (whether with the city or through a septic system)
- It must be able to secure you from the elements (wind, rain, snow, sleet, hail, etc.)
Electric must adhere to codes as well
Electric is almost something that lives in its own bubble. It has to adhere to the NEC (National Electric Code) before it can be cleared by a building inspector. This means that you need to have a conduit that runs to a utility box. The utility box has to be secured from the elements and easily accessible.
There are also specific types of wiring that you can have running to your RV/Caravan. It’s a waste of time to have the building inspector come out unless you have established power in accordance with NEC. Unless you are a certified electrician, you will probably have to hire a professional to have this done.
Figure out what your local ordinances are
The best place to go and take care of this is by visiting the National Association of Counties website. There, you can choose your county and get a full breakdown of all of the local building codes and contact information by contacting the number listed or going to the link that your county choice provides.
This is an important step. You may think you know everything that you need to do but remember, counties have legislators too, and just like at the state and federal levels, they are always issuing new ordinances. What you thought you knew three months ago could very well have changed.
Establish you address
You can get an address established and listed by contacting or going to your county zoning and planning department. If you are already building a home on-site, this is usually a part of the process. If you are preparing to live off the grid, however, you’ll need to get that established.
You can probably get away with it if you truly want to live off the grid, but you will have to live out in the country to do so, preferably on a large plot of land. It also may be a trial trying to get a residential address without a building permit. There is a lot of red tape that often has to be cut to get your way. However, just remember that you will catch more flies with honey.
Do mobile home, modular home, or manufactured home laws apply to RVs/caravans?
This can be the case but it is entirely dictated by where you live. There may be a lot of counties that are alike in the US but not one county is exactly the same. In most cases, the terminology that defines modular, manufactured, and mobile homes, doesn’t apply to RVs/Caravans, so you needn’t worry.
It’s always best to play it safe and research your county’s definitions and terminology in terms of what constitutes a mobile, modular, or manufactured home. If the terminology matches yours, you’ll have to deal with your RV/caravan as a mobile home.
The number of residents is important
Section 503(b) of the Uniform Housing Code lays down the number of residents that can live within a residence of certain square footage. All residences must have at least a single room that is 120 sq ft. The remaining rooms must be 70 sq ft or larger.
In residences that are the minimum size, there can only be two occupants legally. For each, additional occupant, the size of the residence must increase by 50 sq ft. It simply goes up from there in 50 sq ft increments.
The only room that is excluded from the square footage is the kitchen, so you don’t have to include that room when calculating the square footage of the residence. If you already know the square footage, get a measurement of the kitchen’s square footage and subtract it from the total.
Live out in the country
This is your best bet for establishing an RV/caravan residence that won’t be messed with and wrapped up nice and tight in big, bright balls of red tape. Ideally, you want to put down stakes in areas that are outside of city and town limits but within areas that are still administered by the county.
It is perfectly legal to live in your caravan/RV on your own land. However, where your land is located adjacent to city or town lines makes all of the difference in the world. The farther out you are, the better off you will be.