Living on someone's property in an RV?
December 23, 2008 9:24 PM   Subscribe

I want to legally live on someone's property in an RV and pay them rent.

This has been covered before to some extent, but I have a more specific question that will almost certainly vary wildly based on location.

I'm trying to go further and further off the grid and live in a trailer, towed by a pickup truck. I'd be going to parks frequently -- maybe with increasing frequency -- but I'd like a home base, where I can leave the trailer and go tootling about. Some houses have RV pads in their backyards with hookups, etc. I'm wondering (mostly) whom to ask about my rights to live thusly.

I want to live in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles suburbia, so I have many choices, as the independent cities have grown until they press directly against each other: Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre, Temple City, San Gabriel, Arcadia, El Monte (ugh), Monrovia, Duarte.... There's even unincorporated county land there. What I don't want to happen is to arrange with a property owner to do what I'm intending, only to find out that I've asked the wrong authority, and the right one sends someone to cite and evict.

posted by quarantine to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've only finished the first quarter of my real estate sequence, but from what I gathered from that what you need is a written -- that's important -- license agreement to use the owner's land. This avoids the risk to the owner of your usage over time giving you ownership rights. IANAL, but I believe the license agreement just needs to list the parties, describe what is being exchanged at what terms, and (optional but recommended) by what terms the agreement it can be terminated. Nolo Press should have a licensing kit you can DL, print, and get signed by the owner of the land you are using.

Now, you may come up against zoning other public ordinances forbidding what you want to do, but I can't help you there.
posted by troy at 9:53 PM on December 23, 2008

If you wanted to live in Vermont I'd say "hey call me!" but a lot of this depends on zoning as you seem to know. Most of the prohibitions that I know about are for parking your RV on a city street or for living in a trailer or temporary dwelling on a city lot (the issues have to do with not being on the septic system and etc). I'm not aware -- and this is as someone who tried to figure out if I could buy a lot in Seattle and put a yurt on it (answer: not easily) -- of a prohibition on living in a trailer on land that someone else is living on in a house. I'm sure other people more knowledgeable than me will chime in on this subject, but if you decide to switch coasts for part of the year, I've got space in Vermont.
posted by jessamyn at 9:54 PM on December 23, 2008

If you wanted to live in Vermont I'd say "hey call me!"

Damn. My heart is in Vermont, and always will be -- not to mention that I'm 99% certain this is less of a weird idea to your average Vermonter than to an Angelino (I had someone tell me, "Save up your money, you can get something nicer than a trailer. Not the point, genius.)

But: my wife left me, and took my son to Orange County. She's been showing a vindictive streak I never knew she had and hired a shark, so maybe I won't get to see my son regardless of where I live. On the plus side, I could then call you and live on your land. I bet we'd get along like a house on fire.

Where in Vermont, just for my fantasies this evening? MeFiMail me IYP.
posted by quarantine at 10:56 PM on December 23, 2008

I'm not aware -- and this is as someone who tried to figure out if I could buy a lot in Seattle and put a yurt on it (answer: not easily) -- of a prohibition on living in a trailer on land that someone else is living on in a house.

That's usually (though hardly always) legal -- the less-than-legal part in most places would be charging rent in that situation. As in, legal to let a friend stay in the RV on your property temporarily, illegal to be a landlord and use the RV as a "mother-in-law" apartment on wheels. (And not to condone illegality, but why would the local authorities need to know whether you are Mr Smith's long-lost buddy, versus the person who is paying him some cash every month? Keep it cash, and keep it quiet, and you are probably ok.)

But this is the kind of thing where the law is going to be hyperlocal (ignored in one place, and forbidden five miles away), and where questions of legality and enforcement are going to be entirely separate questions. The more rural the area, the less likely this is to be an issue at all.
posted by Forktine at 11:00 PM on December 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

With all the foreclosures these days, maybe you can buy a house, put your trailer in the back yard, and then rent out the house!
posted by delmoi at 11:34 PM on December 23, 2008

Check craigslist- people advertise spaces for RVs quite a bit on there.
posted by fshgrl at 1:33 AM on December 24, 2008

We had some people who tried to do something similar after the hurricanes in Texas (let relatives live in RVs in the backyard temporarily) and the city wouldn't let them due to zoning ordinances. I'd say you'd better check on that.
posted by tamitang at 2:22 AM on December 24, 2008

The problem with doing this on property owned by someone else is that zoning restrictions in residential areas frequently restrict the ability of unrelated people to live in a single plot unless that plot is zoned for multi-family housing. You can usually get away with two unrelated people (or a married couple and a roommate, etc.), but there are issues.

But as Forktine suggests, enforcement is actually a big issue here, because zoning is almost always enforced by complaint rather than by prosecution, i.e. the government usually waits for someone to lodge complaints about non-conforming uses before doing anything about it. So though it may be technically illegal to, say, keep a chicken coop in your back yard, unless the neighbors complain the odds of receiving a citation are vanishingly small.

The same will probably hold true for your hypothetical use. What you need to find out is what local government controls a particular piece of property and how that property is zoned. Unincorporated areas usually don't have any zoning ordinances, so you can do pretty much whatever you want. Zones within municipal boundaries are subject to more exacting land use controls, but all you really need to do is check up on the zoning ordinances for that particular municipality. Municipalities usually have an official in charge of code enforcement; call their office and ask.
posted by valkyryn at 6:59 AM on December 24, 2008

Check local laws; then post an ad on Craigslist. I think it's a great idea.
posted by theora55 at 7:30 AM on December 24, 2008

What valkyryn said. Master's in urban planning here. IANAL.
posted by desjardins at 8:00 AM on December 24, 2008

I don't know about the legality, but I do know that Altadena still has some neighborhoods with older homes on big lots. I grew up in a house like that, and actually, our down-the-street neighbor had a broken-down trailer in his backyard where my BF stayed for a week or so IIRC. (Back in the early 90s.)

Which repeats Forktine's point: that neighbor ended up getting in trouble about some other things (newspapers on the porch? goat?), but only because he was embroiled in a dispute with another neighbor. (She called in the code guys because she thought his place was an eyesore, and they said that she had to take a couple of feet off of her hedge for driveway visibility. Fun times.)

Also, the closer you get to the San Gabriel Mts, the more rural-esque the neighborhoods get, IMHO.
posted by epersonae at 12:14 PM on December 24, 2008

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