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Is It Legal to Live in Your Car?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

For many Americans who are down on their luck, their cars have become a permanent home away from home.

But not all localities are welcoming of what some lawmakers are calling "vehicle vagrants."

For those who intend on making their car a very cheap hotel, take these legal issues into consideration before living in your car:


For the most part, spending an extended period of time in your car isn't a problem -- you can sleep in your parked car in your driveway if you'd like. Rather, it's the fact that your car is in one spot for at least as long as you're sleeping in it.

Parking your car on someone's private property can get you arrested for trespassing, unless you have the owner's consent. And if you do, you might as well as to just crash on a couch.

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. Remember that while an area may not have an hourly limit, cars that remain parked in one area long enough will draw the attention of law enforcement.

Vagrancy Laws

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 struck down a Florida municipal vagrancy law for vagueness, and since then most jurisdictions have abolished their general vagrancy laws.

However, your city may have specific laws relating to "vehicle vagrancy," which may make it a criminal offense to live in your vehicle without a permanent residence, even if you have permission to park there.

For example, lawmakers in upscale Palo Alto, California, are attempting to curb vehicle-dwellers in their city with a new ordinance that would make sleeping in cars a citable offense and would rely on citizen tips for enforcement, reports the San Francisco Examiner.

Indecent Exposure and Loitering

Although most vagrancy laws have been put to rest, the practical necessities of living out of your car -- like 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. But in general, exposing your genitals to the public, even while changing your undies in the car, can potentially be considered a misdemeanor.

Loitering laws in different cities and states make it illegal for a person to remain in a public place for too long. New York law, for example, makes it illegal to sleep in a metro station; police or antagonistic citizens may try to use these laws to hassle you for spending the night in your vehicle.

Keep these laws in mind before making your car a temporary or permanent place to live.

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