Whether you own a motorhome or travel trailer, zoning laws and regulations vary widely from place to place. There are no national zoning laws for living in a travel trailer or other RV. But many cities across the US are now regulating this trendy lifestyle.
Many places are also starting to differentiate between tiny homes and travel trailers. They’re creating legislation that dictates where you can park. Laws also say for how long you can park. Even when parking on a property that you already own. Regulations are diverse and depend on a huge number of factors dictated by the city, county, and state of residence. It’s hard to give generalizations that would apply to everyone across the board. For the basics about how zoning laws impact RV and travel trailer owners, keep reading.
Motorhome and Travel Trailer Zoning Laws Basics
There are tons of reasons people live in RVs full-time or part-time, on vacation or just passing through. If you are one of them, you need to know about motorhome and travel trailer zoning laws. Educate yourself and stay on the right side of the law.
Motorhome and Travel Trailer Zoning Laws Differ from Place to Place
Zoning laws aren’t there to make your life hell. Some cities ban RV parking for good reasons. Having zoning regulations takes land use into consideration for the impact it will have on the surrounding area.
Cities and counties break up their space into areas approved for different usages. For example, they will zone a particular lot for residential or business purposes. Imagine driving into a residential cul-de-sac and finding a dermatology office in the middle of a neighborhood. Having a doctor’s office in the middle of a neighborhood would likely lead to major issues with parking, safety, and noise.
It is up to individual areas how they choose to zone land and what activities they will and won’t permit. Zoning laws can also change over time as needed to accommodate a community’s changing needs. Or, as people abuse free overnight parking for RVs.
How Zoning Laws Define Tiny Homes and RVs
Some areas lump tiny homes and RVs into the same category when it comes to zoning regulations. If you live in either, you know these types of dwellings can be very different.
The biggest point of legal separation between the two is whether or not the tiny home has a foundation. If the home is on wheels, it is often considered an RV and should be registered as one.
Similarly, DIY travel trailers may be subject to inspection. Passing it will be required before you can register that RV and get a license plate.
Many zoning regulations include the abbreviation “ADU.” An ADU is an “accessory dwelling unit.” This usually applies to a tiny home built on a permanent foundation. Examples include a shed, pool house, or guesthouse.
However, some municipalities do not make clear distinctions between the two. A trailer permanently parked in a backyard with an existing home may qualify as an ADU as well.
Why Zoning Laws Matter to RVers
Does it matter if your trailer is considered an RV or ADU? Why do you need to bother with zoning laws at all? What if you’re only planning to stay in one spot for a day or two? Is it really that big a deal?
In short, it is a big deal. It is your responsibility to inform yourself so that you can abide by local and state laws.
Just like zoning laws can vary widely, the consequences of violating those zoning laws can vary widely as well. A violation may result in something as simple as you having to move your travel trailer elsewhere.
Or a violation can result in a large fine, civil penalties, or even a criminal proceeding and possible imprisonment.
Chances are, most cities don’t send cops to find and arrest travel trailers parked inappropriately. But to avoid any potential problems and frustrations, it’s best to know who to contact. This ensures your travel trailer is parked legally.
How to Find Zoning Information About RVs
In some areas, living in a travel trailer full-time just isn’t permitted. That is, unless it’s in a dedicated RV park or campground. But as the trend grows, hopefully more places may create regulations to accommodate those who prefer a non-standard living arrangement.
If you plan to spend more than one night somewhere, do your homework. Find zoning information about RVs by locating the county or city zoning department (whether online, over the phone, or in-person). Usually, there is a department that deals specifically with zoning and land use. However in some areas that may be incorporated into another department.
Be upfront and clear about your questions and intentions. Local governments aren’t in the business of making your life harder (even though it might feel that way sometimes). They can’t help you if they don’t understand what you need.
Explain what you want to do, whether to set up an RV permanently on your own property, park for an extended stay at a relative or friend’s house, or rent a plot of land for a short or long-term stay in your travel trailer.
Let local authorities know your goals. This helps them accurately assess your plans or offer suggestions and solutions for problems you may face.
Examples of Motorhome and Travel Trailer Zoning Laws
Every city and county has its own individual rules and regulations regarding travel trailers and RVs. It may be helpful to go over some specifics in a few different places. Even if these areas aren’t on your list, this could give you an idea of what different communities allow.
RV Zoning Laws in Las Vegas, Nevada
A flyer released from the City of Las Vegas’s department of planning lists 20 of their most commonly asked questions about city code enforcements, several of which deal with RVs and travel trailers.
When asked, “Can a person live in a motor home or trailer parked on my property or on the street?” the city responds that under no circumstances can RVs be either connected to residential utilities or lived in unless in a designated RV park.
The city of Las Vegas also has strict guidelines about storing RVs in residential areas inside the city limits.
If the RV is stored outside of an enclosed building, there are several regulations that vary according to how the residential property is zoned, what part of the yard the RV is stored on, and the size of the lot as well as the size of the RV.
What RV Zoning Laws Look Like in Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City makes clear distinctions between mobile homes and travel trailers. A mobile home is any moveable structure more than 8 feet wide and 32 feet long. A portable vehicle with a living area of less than 220 square feet is considered a travel trailer.
By these definitions, some larger travel trailers may be considered mobile homes under Kansas City laws, and subject to different regulations.
- Section 72-2 of the city’s zoning code says that travel trailers are only allowed within authorized travel trailer camps.
- Section 72-9 goes further to say that parking travel trailers on streets or other public places is also prohibited.
In other areas of the state, like Franklin County, Missouri, it was legal to live in a tent, camper, or motor home for up to 90 days in any land zoned “agricultural non-urban” prior to 2014.
The law was changed, however, after police received noise complaints in regard to people living in campers.
Franklin county noted that they do not typically cite campers for violations unless a complaint is received, which makes a good case for having a good-neighbor policy wherever you decide to camp.
Motorhome and Travel Trailer Zoning Rules in Hubbardton, Vermont
The town of Hubbardton, Vermont says that travel trailers can be parked and occupied for up to one month in a 12-month period within a residential district.
It also stipulates that unoccupied travel trailers less than 30 feet long may be parked for longer as long as the occupied period is less than one month.
The city code also designates travel trailers under the term “manufactured home” when it is placed on any site for more than 180 consecutive days.
How Naples, Florida Handles RV and Travel Trailer Zoning Laws
In Naples, Florida, the city code (section 56-42) states that travel trailers can get approved by the city manager for an overnight parking permit to park on private property for two consecutive nights.
It further says that the city manager can approve a travel trailer or motor home for a longer period of time if the RV has handicapped facilities that are needed for the occupant.
Naples also has residential areas that are specifically zoned for mobile home, modular home, and RV usage. If a plot of land that you purchase is zoned for RV use, then it is acceptable to set up your travel trailer as a residence.
Red Tape Saves RV Parking Hassles in the Long Run
There are lots of places across the country that are RV friendly. Letting local authorities know your intentions can make a huge difference in how travel trailer zoning laws affect you.
Some areas may prohibit parking on private land. But they may be willing to make an exception. For example, if you want to live in your travel trailer while you build or renovate a permanent home.
They may grant permission to rezone a parcel of land serviced by a well and septic system. You might be successful in a bid to live in an off-grid travel trailer equipped with a composting toilet and solar panels.
Motorhome and travel trailer zoning laws are developed for safety, and that includes yours. It may be annoying at times to go through governmental red tape to secure a permit or get approval. But doing so is worth it because it saves you a hassle in the long run.
The bottom line is this: abiding by regulations makes your experience more positive. Working with local officials shows your good faith and allows both sides to more easily help one another.