Is It Legal to Live in an RV in California?

California, the Golden State, is a popular destination for vacationers, and often a dream destination for those looking to move somewhere new and exciting. Property in most areas of California, especially in the cities, is some of the most expensive in the country though.

On average, in 2021, the median price for a home in the state is $648,760, and in many areas home prices are reaching record levels. Apartment rentals are expensive too, and a housing shortage in many areas of the state – especially around the tech companies in Palo Alto and other parts of Southern California – isn’t helping matters either. All this leads to a question; is it legal to live in an RV in California?

The answer is, if you do things right, yes, you can live in an RV in California. The state itself has very few statutes on the books regarding full-time RV living, leaving it up to local municipalities to set the rules. These do vary widely, and that is just one of the complications we will be taking a closer look at here.

A camper RV in California
38% of the 40 million people who own a recreational vehicle are Millennials.

Where To Live In Your RV in California?

RV living does seem appealing to many who want to live in California but have either been priced out of the standard housing market or simply want to be free to move around what is a beautiful state that is both very large and features a variety of climates and scenery.

After making the big decision about which RV to buy you will need to figure out just where you are going to park your RV in order to live in it. Simple street parking is almost never an option, especially as parking a car in California can be enough of a challenge!

Those who want to live in their RV in the Golden State have some basic options.

Ensuring that such things are permitted by the local municipality – and this is not always the case, especially in big cities – you could ‘borrow’ or rent land from a homeowner. If this is not an option, you could consider a residential RV park, a campground, or an RV resort.

Living at a Residential RV Park

If you choose to live at a residential RV park in California, you will be responsible for paying a monthly lot rent, but should have good access to the amenities you need, including electricity, water and access to Wi-Fi. This may not, however, be as inexpensive as you hoped but will almost always be cheaper than renting an apartment in a similar location.

Residential RV parks vary greatly from area to area, but most have onsite amenities like grocery stores and playgrounds.

Living at an RV Resort

RV resorts are just what they sound like, resorts designed for RVs. Many are very luxurious, and your lot rent might include things like an outdoor kitchen, a bar or a pool. Full time living is not allowed at all resorts, but many do not mind how long you stay as long as you pay the rent. Often lots are rented out by people who have chosen to purchase a lot within the resort, and so you may be able to get better rental terms via a private agreement.

Living at a Campground

Full time RV living is not permitted at any State Park campground in California, and the same is true of almost all private campgrounds too. If you prefer not to stay in one spot for too long however a few weeks parking your RV at a campground rather than just a few days is usually not a problem and such slots are easily booked.

Full time living family RVing in family camper motorhome
There are well over 600 campgrounds in California.

Is Living in an RV in California Really Cheaper?

There’s no simple answer to this question, but as a general rule the answer is often yes. In addition to exorbitant property purchase and rental prices in the State of California, there are all the incidentals to consider, like homeowner’s insurance and utilities.

Some areas of California are obviously cheaper to live in than others. Northern California tends to have the lowest home purchase and rental prices, but the average home there still costs over $450,000 in 2021 and the average apartment rental price is still $1,084 for a one-bedroom apartment.

There is more to RV living for some people than saving money of course. For many it is a way to experience life in a new state without making a completely permanent move. Want to try living in California for a year? RV living is a way to do that, while still leaving you with the option to move somewhere else later. After all, there are fifty states to choose from!

RV Parking Rules in California

Parking in general is not easy in California. There are no statewide laws or regulations about parking an RV, they are set by municipalities individually but for RVs they are usually as strict, or stricter, than they would be for parking a passenger car or a truck.

The ongoing homeless crisis in California, which has even seen engineers working for the big tech companies like Facebook and Google out on the streets, does mean that many municipalities have cracked down significantly on where, and how long, an RV can remain parked anywhere that is outside a designated RV park, RV resort or campground. Therefore, it’s a must to check local regulations before parking your RV anywhere for longer than a few minutes!

In years past some people have advised parking RVs in big retail parking lots belonging to the likes of Walmart or Target. This is no longer an option in California, as the housing crisis has also led to a major crackdown on such things, and you risk your RV being towed, significant fines or even arrest in some areas if you try. The companies themselves also now frown on the practice where they once tolerated it, as they too are subject to fines if they allow longer term RV parking in their lots.

RV Insurance Rules in California

If you own or are thinking about buying a recreational vehicle (RV) to live in for the long term, you’re probably wondering if you need RV insurance. Coverage for your recreational vehicle, like auto insurance, is required in California, as is at least minimum liability coverage if the vehicle is driven on the road.

You should also consider RV home insurance. If the RV you choose is financed that will almost certainly be mandated by your lender, but even if it is not if you will be parking your RV in a long term lot it’s certainly advisable. There are a number of different policy types available, many that can be combined with the basic coverage we just discussed.

RV Towing Laws in California

Camper RV travel trailer towed in the Redwoods in California
Camping in the Redwoods.

If you are going to move an RV that needs to be towed behind another vehicle, another consideration you will need to keep in mind is the specific towing regulations that you may be subject to as you move along California highways.

There are some statewide regulations that govern all highways in California. Except for passing, you must tow in the designated lane, which is usually the right-hand lane. You must pass in the lane immediately to the left of the designated lane and your speed should never exceed 55mph, whatever the stated speed limit for passenger cars might be.

Usually passengers are not permitted to ride in towed trailers, except for some 5th wheel trailers under 14 feet. Not all fifth wheel trailers are permitted to carry passengers however, as local regulations may prevent this, so you will need to check the regulations for the areas you intend to pass through. It’s usually better to be safe than sorry and have all passengers ride in the vehicle that is towing the RV, rather than risk a ticket.

Happy RVing!