Last Update: 1/19/2018

What LA Federal Case Means for Vandwellers

cop writes ticket to van driver

No, it sure as hell didn't guarantee your rights to live in a van unmolested. Desertrain vs. City of Los Angeles only made the city rewrite their anti-vanlife ordinance. Now they fuck with LA vandwellers in new ways.

What Was Desertrain vs. City of Los Angeles About?

Los Angeles had an ordinance on the books since 1983 worded that it was illegal to live in your vehicle on LA city streets or city-owned parking lots.

In 2010, the city started getting a lot of complaints about folks living in their vehicles in residential and business districts who were making a mess. So the city started enforcing the ordinance.

A few cops went too far and fined folks who weren't doin' shit. Some were legally sleeping in their vans in private parking lots with permission. Some just looked homeless because they had lotsa personal belongings in the vehicle.

Homeless advocates helped a bunch a these cases come together and make a federal suit that ended up in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Read a lawyer's breakdown here.)

What Did the Ninth Circuit Court Decide?

It found the LA ordinance unconstitutionally vague. Basically, they thought the wording was too flimsy. No way cops or vandwellers could figure out what was and wasn't allowed.

Plus, the court found the LA cops were using the law as an excuse to harass anyone who looked like they lived in a van. And I'll add, looked like they was poor.

What Does the Court's Decision Mean for Vandwellers?

So we're cool now, right? No. The decision hardly meant shit for vanlife.

Cities can still make ordinances that you can't sleep in your vehicle or park too long wherever. Just like they can make you have plumping on a land and house you own outright.

That's what LA did. In 2016, they passed a new ordinance making it illegal to "live" overnight between 9 pm and 6 am in residential neighborhoods. They also made illegal to vandwell at any time "within one block, or 500 feet, of schools, pre-schools, daycare facilities, and parks." Think they got some rules about parkin' in fronta businesses, too.

Two other points:

  1. The Ninth Circuit Court's decision only applies in its district, which is basically West Coast.
  2. Redneck towns and asshole cops will still fuck with you. Might be illegal of 'em, but you got money and time to sue?

So … Is Living in Your Van Legal or Illegal?

As I wrote about in another post, living in your van is legal in principle. No law says ya gotta live in sticks'n'bricks. You're "free," so they say.

Federal land boondocking is still cool and easy. But cities? All kindsa petty ordinances and laws make everyday vanlife practices illegal in cities. It's fucked up and confusing if ya don't know the local laws. Just try dancin' around all them rules! Or if you're dealin' with asshole cops.

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  1. Meanwhile, you might get hassled less if you slept on the sidewalk.

    1. That's where the property owners put down the spikes.

  2. I am complating purchasing a van and living in it in Oceanside California anybody have any suggestions