The Legal Issues Of Living In Your Car

Traffic law, Crime, Rights

Camper vans parked with doors openIt’s not (necessarily) anybody’s dream to live in a van down by the river, but for many, life on the go renders a permanent home pointless. While life without rent is frugal, one must consider the drawbacks of lacking a permanent address.

What’s Legal?

Whether you’ve been evicted, are between living arrangements, or simply can’t find a cheap hotel–you may find yourself sleeping in your car. Unfortunately, you could run into some legal problems as a car dweller.

Parking, Trespassing, Loitering

You can’t get a loitering ticket for sitting in your car for an extended period, and you can sleep in your parked car in your driveway. However, parking somewhere that isn’t your own property — for as long as you need to sleep — often causes issues. Many areas allow you to remain parked in a city street for 72 hours before you get a parking ticket.

If you park on a public street or in a neighborhood, you’ll need to obey the parking laws, unless you want to continuously fight parking tickets. Even if you are not violating parking laws, be prepared to answer to curious police officers that find your snooze spot suspicious. In short, stay off of private property, roadways, or places with parking time limits — unless you want to wake up in a tow yard. Look for a drive-in camp site or other areas that will permit you to sleep in your car or in a tent.

Loitering laws in different cities and states make it illegal for a person to remain in a public place for too long. Even if you’re not parked illegally, you’re likely to attract local law enforcement, and they’ll have questions.

Indecent Exposure

Getting dressed in your car may get you cited for indecent exposure. The level of exposure necessary for indecent exposure varies from state to state; in general, however, exposing yourself to the public — i.e. while changing your undies in the car — can potentially be considered a misdemeanor.


Remember that getting behind the wheel — or even sitting in the back seat — while intoxicated can get you busted for driving under the influence. Definitely sleep somewhere other than the driver’s seat, but also take the keys out of the ignition and turn off your headlights. Still, any indication that you’ve been driving drunk — or intend to — could get you in trouble. You may want to sleep it off in a hotel on a cold night.