Last Update: 1/26/2018

Is Living in Your Van Illegal?

Protesters at the September 15, 2007 anti-war protest in Washington, D.C., including a man holding an American flag with corporate logos substituted for stars

Yes, you can legally live in your car, van, RV, tent, clay pot, or cardboard box. But the reality is that doing van life without hassle is much more fucking complicated. Here's why.

Why Van Life Is Legal

No U.S. federal, state, or local law absolutely requires American citizens or residents to have a physical address, that is, to either own or rent real estate.

Vandwellers have all the rights and obligations as any other American.

We must pay taxes and obey laws. We have the right to vote, get federal and state benefits, own personal property, and generally pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

We can live in a van down by the river if we goddamn well please!

Why Do People Think Vandwelling Is Illegal?

For a good reason. Plenty of laws and regulations make being "homeless," not having and sleeping at a physical address, a pain. These laws make living in your vehicle illegal in effect. Wankers!

What? Am I contradicting myself?

No. We still have the absolute right to live in our cars, vans, RVs, tents, whatever. We're just presented with certain problems that curtail our goddamn freedom. Big fucking time.

Problem 1 – Bureaucrats Require an Address

Try to get a driver's license without an address. Try to get government benefits without an address. Try to register to vote without an address. It's tricky.

Yes, you're entitled to these things without an address. In the case of voting and federal benefits, such as Social Security and SNAP, the government specifically requires the states to find ways to accommodate those without addresses, i.e., the homeless. Usually states do so by allowing the homeless to use the address of a relative, shelter, or social services office.

Nomads with more means – vandwellers, OTR truckers, retired RV lifestylers, traveling salespeople – usually fudge by using the address of a friend or relative. Or we use the address of a private mailbox service, like a UPS store or a mail forwarder, e.g., Traveling Mailbox.

But of course, using a fudge address is technically illegal. There's always the risk some fucking bureaucrat will put your balls in the vice over it. Not likely, they usually don't check, but it's enough to make you nervous.

Problem 2 – Cities Don't Let You Park Overnight

OK, most of us fucking get that we can't park on private land without permission. But shouldn't we be able to park on public land, "the commons"? After all, we're co-owners.

That's where we get fucked over again. Plenty of cities have laws forbidding you to park overnight on particular bits of public land:

  • Can't overnight in parks
  • Can't overnight on busy streets and highways
  • Can't overnight in front of businesses
  • Can't overnight in neighborhoods
  • Can't overnight in government parking lots
  • Can't overnight by rivers and under bridges

So where the fuck are the public lands where you can park overnight? And with this fucked-up patchwork of laws, varying from town to town, how are you supposed to know when and where you can park? You've also got to worry about other laws, like no loitering.

Even when you're parked legally, the cops sometimes fuck with you anyway because ... because they can.

Yes, most national forests and many state forests permit dispersed camping, but that does you no good if you're in town or an urban vandweller. Not a lot of jobs in the forest.

Problem 3 – Parking Lots Are Usually Private

Most big parking lots are owned by stores or landlords. Huge mall and strip mall parking lots might feel like public space, but they're not. End of story.

Some, like Walmart and Cabela's, have van-lifer friendly policies, but that's rare. You can stealth, but you're always chancing getting chased out or worse by security or cops.

What About Our FREEDOM to Live in a Van?

Dictionary definition: "Freedom: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint."

So while we have the right to pursue van life, we too often are legally hindered and restrained from doing so. A freedom is no goddamn use if you can't exercise it.

From a practical, everyday perspective, while vandwelling is legal and our right, we have to break a lot of petty laws and regulations to do so. Exercising our freedom is being criminalized. And that's bullshit.

Federal, state, and local governments are unreasonably tramping on our legal right to live in a van down by the river. But the governments' unreasonable constraints on van life won't change without a lot of lobbying and court battles.

Cover of "All the Whores I Knowed Before" a book by Vanholio! For sale on Click through.

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  1. Noela22.9.17

    Was wondering if I own a piece of land can I sleep in my van there

    1. I looked into this a bit before, but don't take what follows as gospel. Do your own research if you're serious ...

      It depends A) on city, county, and state codes, and B) how much enforcement is really goin' on.

      Most places in the country, various laws make it so that you CAN'T live in a van in your land. People into doin' this, or other alternative-type housing, have to go for unzoned, unrestricted land, usually out in remote, rural, poor areas.

      That said, I seen folks livin' in shacks, RVs, teepees, yurts, vans, and all kindsa shit around the country. I suspect that they ain't legal in all them places, but no one is payin' attention.

  2. Actually, in tgevus, there are 2 sets of laws that are v often conflicting. There's constitutional law and then theres the beautmrocrats statutory laws. The conflict. Most cops only know statutory law. They are the actual law breakers, who are against constitutional law.

    1. Pretty much. The inland Border Patrol checkpoints are a good example.

  3. Anonymous28.11.17

    Yeah but my buddy tried this and they told him he must have running water or some source so he just went out an bought bottled water got one over on them

    1. Petty solution to a petty problem. Vanholio approves!

  4. Anonymous18.1.18

    Can you install batteries to run an ac/heatsystem off solar? What are your thoughts on those mini motor homes?

    Do you maintain a metal frame building some where in the central us in order to maintain the van?

    1. Running an AC/heating system can be done, but it's damn expensive and you need a big roof. Saw a video with a guy in Phoenix who did it, but it was like $11,000 or some crazy number.

      No thoughts on mini motor homes other than most campers are crap. Only a few high end manufacturers and customizers do a good job, IMHO.

      No, don't have a metal garage anywhere. Been able to do most of what I want in the field. When we did the build, it was in my buddy's driveway.