Is It Illegal to Live in Your Car? Know the Laws

According to the latest national point-in-time estimate in January 2017, around 553,742 people are homeless. Many of these people may live in their cars permanently or for a specific period. Is it illegal to live in your car? Living in a car is not an ideal lifestyle for many reasons, but it’s necessary to know if you’re breaking the laws by doing so.

The Problems of Living in a Car

Living in your car may sometimes be necessary for survival. It could be your temporary shelter when you are trying to overcome a rough patch. There is no way to prepare food or clean yourself in the car and it has limited storage, but it still offers a semblance of shelter.

living in a car
Living in a car is not ideal but necessary sometimes. Cre: AP/Ted S. Warren

The main problem is finding a place to park. There are so many restrictions regarding where you can park and where not. Many people choose parking lots, the parking space of retail shops like Walmart or Costco, and truck stop diners. However, the owners of that space can tell you to move along or worse, police can harass you for parking there.

Is It Illegal to Live in Your Car?


Yes, you’ve read that right. You can legally live in your car.

Then, what’s the problem? Well, you have to be careful about not trespassing when living in a car. You need to park the car somewhere for the whole night and a greater part of the day. But the space your car is occupying may create a legal issue.

There was a time when living in the car was illegal. But life on the road became easier after the U.S. Supreme Court had annulled a Florida municipal vagrancy law in 1972. Now, you can legally stay in your car as long as you understand and obey the rules.

There is no legal obligation as long as you park the car in your driveway or in a private property upon taking the permission of the property owner. Be careful about spending the night in the parking lot of a shopping mall or grocery store. If you are staying there without permission from the authority, the owner can get you arrested on the grounds of trespassing.


Another option is parking in a neighborhood or on a public street. It depends on the parking laws of that particular jurisdiction. You should know the rules because some places don’t permit at all and some have hourly limits. Breaking the rules may not get you arrested but can get parking tickets.

Which are the Safe Options for Staying in a Car?

Is it illegal to live in your car? You’ve already got the answer.

So, how to do it safely?

Is it illegal to live in your car
Find a safe place for sleeping at night.

The first thing is you need to know the rules and don’t break them. Then, always try to find a safe place for parking the car at night. Parking near a truck stop diner or restaurant is safer since many people including salespeople spend the night there in their car. Some Walmart or other retail shop outlets allow overnight RV parking. Ask the shop manager if they provide the facility.

These are the safer options for parking when living in your car.