State laws, local ordinances, and even neighborhood deed restrictions can affect whether you are able to park and use your motorhome at your residence.
By Tony Wiese, F178480
Member, Legislative Advisory Committee
Like other FMCA members, I own a motorhome. I’m also a real estate developer, so, I’m well aware of the many different rules and laws that can affect where we park our motorhomes.
I’d like to discuss some tips and topics for motorhome owners to consider before they buy residential real estate. Even if you’re a full-timer, the ever-increasing limitations on parking motorhomes may affect you.
If you are going to buy a single-family home or condominium, it’s critical to consider parking and storing your motorhome. Even if you plan only to load and unload your motorhome at your house and then park it in a storage facility elsewhere, you still need to ensure that you will be allowed to do so.
First, it is good to measure the driveway to make sure your motorhome will actually fit on it. In addition, with larger and heavier motorhomes, a concrete driveway should be 6 inches thick, rather than the typical 4 inches used by most builders. And a little steel rebar rather than mesh goes a long way toward making sure that the concrete stays together.
If a suitable driveway is not available, make sure you have ample space to park on the street, as some streets are narrower than others. Many motorhomes are now much longer than townhouses are wide. If the home, condo, or townhouse is already built, bring your motorhome over to be sure that it will fit on the driveway, that the streets are wide enough to maneuver on, etc.
Some condominium or townhouse developments have a spot that could be designated as a boat and RV parking area; many developments already may have such areas.
Several trends have emerged over the past 10 or 15 years that have basically collided with the interests of motorhome owners. The first trend is the ever-growing population of RVs, since a number of new ones hit the road annually. In addition, thanks to long life cycles, many previously built RVs are also still on the road. Another trend is that the average length and width of RVs has increased, with many motorhomes now measuring 40 to 45 feet long and 102 inches wide.
On the real estate side, there has been an increase in the number of large and small “planned developments” that have very strict controls and deed restrictions on the property. Condominiums or townhouses are extremely popular in many areas; they typically come with a list of rules for which compliance is mandatory. Add to this a reduction in the average lot size of single-family homes, and you now have the recipe for major motorhome parking problems.
Whether we want to believe it or not, those of us who have the opportunity and pleasure to be motorhome owners are a very visible group of people, as our vehicles range in length from 20 to 45 feet. In addition, most motorhomes are, in effect, rolling billboards: they’re tall and nicely painted — not easily hidden from view. And that is where the problems begin.
Many uninformed folks don’t like motorhomes and put them in a category with all other RVs, or even mobile homes. The point here is that what is one person’s fancy may be another’s disdain. And in today’s society, right or wrong, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. A number of these uninformed folks seem to have a way of creating problems for those of us with big motorhomes or large, trailerable boats.
Political entities that may affect you and your motorhome are the state, the county, the city or township, the neighborhood community association, and the architectural control committee. In these examples I am assuming that you reside in the United States; Canadian neighbors can consider their equivalents.
The biggest impact the state may have may be the initial sales tax, and then the annual registration fee(s) for the motorhome. If the state is your primary residence, then driver’s license requirements also come into play, and state income tax (if any) is also in the equation.
In rural areas, the county controls zoning or building requirements. This includes minimum lot sizes, if any, and building setbacks for different sizes of property as they pertain to a residence. The county building code typically will delineate fire safety requirements (motorhomes can carry a large amount of fuel) and required easements or rights-of-way for roads, utilities, drainage, etc.
After the county is the city or township. Their zoning and building requirements typically supersede whatever the county may have in place. This is because a city or township is perceived as having a higher population density. With this higher population density come more requirements and regulations, and higher costs for all involved.
One of the many cases FMCA’s Legislative Advisory Committee has addressed was a parking issue that took place within a city. This city was fairly rural, however, and the smallest lot size was 1 acre. The mayor in the community took exception to one thoughtless RVer who parked a fifth-wheel trailer in excess of 35 feet long on the driveway in front of his house. The trailer took up the length from the house to the curb and blocked motorists’ line of sight on this particular road, yet the owner refused to move the RV. In response, the mayor created an ordinance that lumped all RVs together and banned them from residential parking.
An FMCA member who lived in the town called our committee for assistance. This member had been parking his motorhome on his property on a paved driveway for 15 or more years without a single complaint and felt he should be grandfathered. Our committee is made up of volunteers, so we provide guidance, and the affected members actually do the legwork. We gave the member a copy of “FMCA’s Legislative Handbook.” Since this occurred in Texas, my home state, I spoke with the individual several times and also provided him a “sample” piece of legislation to introduce as an alternative to the mayor’s ordinance.
The sample law was based on what I have used in deed restrictions, with some modifications to fit this situation. It reads as follows:
Storage of Boats, Trailers and other Vehicles and Equipment on a Lot
No boat, trailer, recreational vehicle, camping unit, bus, truck, or self-propelled or towable equipment or machinery of any sort shall be permitted to park on any Lot except behind a gated fence. Exceptions include: First, a 72-hour window to the above to facilitate the loading and unloading of a person’s boat, trailer, or recreational vehicle. Second, the above does not apply to automobiles or passenger trucks (less than one ton) that are in good repair and provided that these vehicles are parked on an improved driveway. Third, where a property owner has previously been parking a boat, trailer or recreational vehicle on his property on an improved surface for more than five (5) years, they shall be grandfathered and allowed to continue to do so.
Our member then rallied a great deal of assistance and support from fellow motorhome owners in the community. They attended city hall meetings as a group and all met with various city officials, making their case and cause known. The result was that the mayor’s ordinance was sent back for review, where it was deemed to be off base. To save face, the city’s attorney then introduced an ordinance to merely restrict parking on easements, which, in this case, is no big deal because of the large 1-acre-minimum lot size in the community.
So, the effort paid off. However, the individual with the fifth-wheel who caused the problem to begin with could no longer park his unit on his driveway, because he was parking in the 15-foot easement that cities usually retain beyond the road.
Remember, we all need to make sure we are being good neighbors when we park our motorhomes.
Another political entity that can affect motorhome parking is the subdivision or neighborhood, which typically has deed restrictions. They are great if they work in your favor, but the catch here is that when you buy a home in a neighborhood with deed restrictions, those rules come with the property. Even if you never were aware of them before you bought the house, townhouse, or condo, you are bound by them.
Along with deed restrictions are the community associations and architectural control committees that enforce them. The architectural control committee is the entity that interprets the deed restrictions and provides approval for basically anything new. They may have control over your choice of landscaping design and materials, driveway design and materials, fence design and materials, and exterior house colors. The community association’s rules may also include limits beyond the deed restrictions. Sometimes, different sections or phases in the same residential development may contain extremely different deed restrictions.
Before you purchase a piece of property, I suggest that you drive around the area you are interested in to see whether boats and RVs are parked there, and if so, where they are parked. Try checking on a Sunday evening or Monday morning, after the weekend warriors have come home. You may want to go back to that neighborhood several times and note how long the RVs stay. Deed restrictions can provide limits, but there can be exceptions and it is good to make note of them. Call some of the local RV and boat dealers and ask whether they have heard about any problems with an area or community.
My point is that it pays to do your homework before you purchase that real estate. After you’ve moved in, stay proactive in your community or neighborhood association. It also helps to stay abreast of the local politics. FMCA members are the eyes and ears of FMCA. The sooner we can be apprised of pending problems, the easier they are to avert. Once a law or ordinance is on the books, it is much more difficult to get it changed.
The laws pertaining to motorhome parking on your property also can change if the land is annexed by a different town or city. Annexation is increasingly causing problems, as more and more cities try to increase their tax base by swallowing up rural areas. If your area is being annexed, be sure to get everything you want grandfathered (parking rights, etc.) in writing. Otherwise, rest assured that all bets are off.
I hope this overview has been helpful. Please let members of the Legislative Advisory Committee know if a parking problem or political situation exists in your area that you think needs to be addressed. And if you see a fellow RVer who is not being a good neighbor, please take the time to let him or her know that he or she may cause problems for everyone in the future. That small effort may save many people a lot of time and work down the line.
If after reading this article you have questions, or if you would like to learn more, please attend the Government and Legislative Affairs roundtable seminar at FMCA’s 68th international motorhome extravaganza in Hutchinson, Kansas, in October; or contact the FMCA Membership Services Department at (800) 543-3622 or (513) 474-3622, e-mail: [email protected].
Motorhome Parking Etiquette
- These notes from FMCA’s Motorhome Parking Etiquette letter pertain to overnight parking at establishments that permit dry camping on their lots.
- Obtain permission from a qualified individual.
- Park out of the way. Leave a buffer between your RV and perimeter residences.
- Avoid using slideouts if at all possible.
- Do not put out awnings.
- Do not use your leveling jacks on asphalt.
- Limit your stay — one night maximum! Do not abuse your host’s generosity.
- Purchase fuel, food, or supplies as a form of thank-you when feasible.
- Always leave the area cleaner than you found it.
- Practice safety precautions.
- Avoid providing a theft potential.Make sure your RV and compartments are locked if you leave your RV.
- Do not place personal items outside your RV Barbecue grills, chairs, or pets.
The Legislative Advisory Committee invites FMCA members to attend a seminar during the FMCA motorhome extravaganza in Hutchinson, Kansas, this October. Attendees can learn more about laws that affect motorhome parking and other aspects of motor coach ownership. As of press time, the meeting was to take place Thursday, October 3, at 12:15 p.m. Check your extravaganza program for the seminar’s location.