Is It Legal to Live in an RV in California?

Is it legal to live in an RV in California

California has everything: Beautiful beaches, gorgeous mountains, star-filled desert skies, and lush forests. With such varied topography and enviable weather, many people dream of driving their RVs to the Golden State and laying down roots.

But… Can you live in an RV in California?

Generally, full time RV living in California is illegal. However, there are options to live full time by staying long-term in RV parks, boondock in campgrounds, or utilize BLM land. California has become increasingly strict in its laws and regulations, so before you start driving to the Golden State’s sunny beaches to start a new RV life, there are a few things to consider…

Living in an RV in California: Everything You Need to Know

California has a lot of perks, making RV living in the state very tempting. Here are some reasons why people choose to live in RVs.

➢   The overall cost of living is cheaper than paying rent even for a small studio in California cities.

➢   You still have the option to move your RV from one location to another. It’s cheap and easy to travel whenever you want to.

➢   An RV allows you to experience living in different locations in the same state. You can move from a private land lot to a state park quickly.

Living in an RV as a Permanent Dwelling

In short, it’s illegal to live in an RV as a permanent dwelling in the State of California (unless you’re full-timing in an RV park). There are other states that are more RV-friendly like Texas, South Dakota, and Florida, but in most cases, you won’t be allowed to live full time in an RV because it’s considered a vehicle, and not a home. 

Although you can own an RV, park it on a friend’s property, or on your own, it can’t be considered as a permanent legal residency, and you can’t rent it to others.

However, in some cases, you may be able to live in your RV if you own the property and have a building permit to build a house within a certain amount of time. If you live in an out of zone area or the homeowners association doesn’t mind, you might be able to live permanently in your RV without any legal issues.

(If you’re interested in buying your own plot of land, check out our helpful guide on how to purchase property here!)

You can always trying living in your RV while parking in an RV park, campground, or BLM Land; Otherwise, your ability to live in an RV depends on the county or city’s laws, so you need to look into those before you try to hunker down in any California city.

Zoning Laws

Zoning laws dictate what kinds of dwellings are allowed in certain areas within a county or city. Zoning includes rules for housing size, number of rooms permitted, how many dwellings are allowed on a particular kind of property, whether or not you can have farm animals, and even dictates if you can live in an RV part-time or full-time.

These laws can get complicated, and are enforced by the county, so don’t think you can skirt them! To understand how complicated these are, take a look at our Land Guide here.

As a Transitional Residence

Often, counties will allow you to live in an RV if you’re planning to build a permanent house. In most states and cities, you will be allowed to temporarily live in your RV on your own land if you’re in the process of building a traditional, sticks-and-bricks home.

Typically, home builders can live in an RV for a period between 6 months and a year. In this case, although you haven’t built a permanent home on your land, your RV would still qualify as an Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU. 

Homeowners Associations

Even if you’re not violating any state, county, or city laws, you still need to check the rules of the homeowners association you’re part of. More often than not, HOA’s in California have rules against parking an RV or using it for residency.

HOA’s in California are notoriously strict and, unfortunately, many people are becoming increasingly hostile to RVers. Avoid HOA’s if possible.

Living in an RV as a Temporary Dwelling

How much do RV parks cost

If you own a piece of land and already have a house built, you may be able to park an RV on your land and rent it out. This also means that a member of your family, a guest, or you yourself can use this RV as an ADU or an Accessory Dwelling Unit, but you can’t sell it to anyone.

According to the State of California code, this ADU should contain permanent provisions for living, sleeping, cooking, and sanitation for one person or more.

However, things can get a little complicated as several factors can affect whether your RV is considered as an ADU or not.

➢   The size of the land lot and whether it’s big enough for an ADU.

➢   If the land needs special utility metering.

➢   Whether the ADU is taking more than one parking space.

➢   Ability to run utilities across the land you own. If this is not possible, you will need to get written permission from your neighbors to let you run electricity across their property.

In some cases, you might need to get legal help to qualify your RV as an ADU. Most states don’t classify RVs as ADU’s and some states don’t allow any ADUs at all. However, generally speaking, states and counties will treat RVs and ADUs case by case, so you might have a chance to live in your RV peacefully.

The RV’s ability to move can deprive you of getting it qualified as an ADU. You might need to remove the wheels permanently or even use a permanent foundation to prove that it won’t be used as a recreational vehicle.

Other Alternatives

If you’re not interested in purchasing your own land in California, there are other some options available so you can live in an RV full-time:

  •      RV parks allow you to live in your RV full time (many have options for Daily, Weekly, or Monthly stays).
  •      Campgrounds allow you to park and live in your RV for different periods. You should check with this specific campground to understand how long you can stay. Some offer extended stays.
  •      BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Land: Many retired RVers utilize the beautiful, open BLM lands in California to live on in their RVs. Typically, there is a two-week stay limit, then RVers need to move 10-20 miles away from their old campsite to a new one. Living on this land is cheap (typically only a few dollars a day!)

What to Think About Before Taking your RV to California

pismo beach, california, pier


Getting a building permit on your own land can be quite expensive. If you choose to live in an RV park, you might need to pay more in the long run; California RV parks can run from $15/night to $65/per night! Although RV parks often give a slight discount for long-term stays, the money spent will add up quickly.

You can boondock (park/camp in areas without hookups), for free- just know that in California, you’ll need to move around daily, in order to not draw attention to yourself, and avoid making the locals angry.

RV Length

RVs and motorhomes are limited to a maximum length of 40 feet in RV parks, if that’s where you decide to live. Know that the larger the RV, the more expensive your stay might be.

And if you’re planning on boodocking, the larger the RV, the more difficult parking and moving around will be. If you’re going to try drycamping in urban areas, your best bet is travelling in a smaller RV: an 18′ or a converted van. This will (hopefully) keep you “stealth”.

Wrap Up

Before you decide to move into an RV, you need to know the state, county, and city laws. California is beautiful, but the state is notorious for ever-changing, numerous laws- especially when it comes to RVers in the city.

Know that each city will have its own regulations governing your ability to living full time in a RV, so make sure you do your due diligence and understand the local rules.

And remember, if all else fails, you can always camp long-term in California’s campgrounds, or even buy your own land, and still enjoy living in your RV.

As always, Happy Travels!

Recent Posts