There are plenty of reasons to know whether it is illegal to live in a camper van, chief among them being the tax deductions that come with your camper being your residence. So, is it illegal to live in a camper van?
It is not illegal to live in a camper van. There are no countrywide laws against living in a camper. While the zoning laws change from state to state, RVs and mobile homes qualify as homes to the IRS. It is legal to live in a camper in the US if you follow the protocols and live in a permitted space.
Okay, so we know that it is possible to live legally in a camper van. In this article, we’ll give you a broad overview of the laws surrounding camper van residency. Let’s get into it!
Can You Claim an RV as a Primary Residence?
Yes, you absolutely can. As mentioned above, RVs and campers qualify as homes to the IRS. Depending on where you want to park the RV (campground, private grounds, or street) and which state you live in, it should be fairly straightforward to claim your RV as your primary residence.
The main thing is that the RV needs to have designated sleeping areas, a designated cooking area, and bathroom facilities.
The first thing to say is that you need to check your state’s zoning laws since these apply to which types of properties can coexist in the same area (or zone). One common law is that it is illegal to sleep in your van within city limits. Others include that you must have a valid driving license from the state, have lived in the state for 30 days or more, and be gainfully employed in the state.
The primary benefit of claiming your RV as a primary residence is the opportunity for tax deductions. However, you can only reap this benefit if you itemize your deductions rather than using the standard deduction.
Even in this case, your itemized deductions must be greater than the standard deduction that you are eligible for to actually save money. Also, to deduct the loan payments used to buy the RV, you must put up the vehicle as collateral.
Can a Child Live in a Camper?
Again, there are no specific laws against children living in camper vans. There will, however, be a few hoops to jump through. You will, for example, need to make sure that the child has access to a doctor.
It is also important for children to be able to make friends and keep them. Stability is essential in a child’s development. If you plan to live in a camper with a child, it is probably best to keep the van in the same spot, for example, a campground.
Another challenge is making sure your child has access to education, which can be tricky if you are always on the move. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to education options on the road:
The major issue with choosing a public school when you live in a van is that these schools require you to have an address within the school district. One way around this is to go to a ‘mailbox store’ to purchase an address.
However, this will require you to remain in one place, so it is not really an option if you want to always be on the move. One option is to switch schools between terms, but this is a laborious process.
You do not need to be a certified teacher to homeschool your kids. Homeschooling is an attractive option for many vandwellers since it does not require you to stay in one place.
There are problems, however, when it comes to socialization. If your kid lives in a van all the time and doesn’t go to school, they will have trouble making friends, which can seriously affect their social and personal development.
This has become a much more attractive option since the beginning of the recent pandemic. Still, there are problems with socialization. Another problem is that this option requires you to have a reliable and strong internet connection, which isn’t always possible when living in a van.
However, if you can make it work, this is a good way to make sure your child gets a proper education without having to commit to living in one place.
What States Allow You to Live in an RV on Your Property?
When it comes to living on your own property, there are a few options available. First, you can purchase a designated lot in a mobile park home for this purpose. This is definitely the most clearly legal option.
You can also park your RV on the grounds of a property you already own and declare it as an ‘accessory dwelling unit’ (ADU). Again, state laws vary when it comes to ADUs, so check your state’s rules before applying for ADU status.
Here’s a website to help you find your specific counties contact information so you can verify the requirements: ce.naco.org
Declaring your RV as an ADU is probably the next best option after declaring it as your primary residence. Another option is that you can also declare your RV as a second home. You can still get the tax deductions if your RV is listed as your second home, although again, you will need to put up the RV as collateral for the loan if you want to benefit from the tax laws.
Here are some of the best states for RV living:
- South Dakota
- South Carolina
Does Canada Have Similar Rules for Living in a Camper Van?
Again, the simple answer is yes, they do. There are no countrywide laws forbidding living in a van, but certain municipalities or provinces have regulations. Essentially, it boils down to whether you have a legal place to park your van.
If it is on private property or in a campground, then there is no problem to live in your camper van. Like in the US, the government’s main problem is with people roaming around with no permanent address for tax purposes.
What Is Stealth Van Living?
Stealth van living is simply sleeping in your van in a place that allows overnight parking but not overnight camping without being noticed. This definitely is not legal. People do this because they want to be able to sleep in a city for work reasons but can’t afford the incredibly steep rent for urban areas these days. Since it is illegal to live in a camper van in most cities, many people resort to breaking the law.
Many stealth campers black out the windows of their van to make themselves less conspicuous. One big issue with stealth camping is that it is difficult to make a home that is both comfortable and stealthy. Solar panels and vents, for example, can make it more obvious that someone is living in the van.
There are loads of great reasons to live in your van full-time. The freedom it affords is hard to beat. Plus, with the right tax deductions, living in your van full-time is usually much cheaper than a mortgage. For many, it is the only viable option.
Check the zoning laws for your state before committing to living in your van. There will be some spots where it is legal to live in your van and others where you will get in trouble. Usually, it is legal to live in your van provided you are in a campground or private grounds.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.