Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

HUD Proposes That You Can’t Live My Lifestyle

It’s no secret that Federal, State, County and City governments do not like people to live in homes under 1,000 square feet, nor outside of conventional homes or apartments, and that laws are being increasingly passed to “help” those in economic distress by preventing them from taking advantage of unconventional living arrangements. They do this to “protect” their communities, and while they note that large numbers of people in this country are homeless, they act to prohibit what they consider substandard housing, yet at the same time fail to offer alternative housing arrangements or housing programs for the poor. The usual reason cited is lack of funds. The end effect is to hope and say, “be poor somewhere else”.

The same problems and community reactions that served as the inspiration for the classic story The Grapes of Wrath, which was intended to be a snapshot of a past place and era when compassion was at a low ebb, is coming back on us once again. In many towns, if you are found to be sleeping inside your vehicle, you’ll be in violation of local ordinance, and cited. Should that vehicle be disabled and you’re saving up to have it fixed, it will be towed and impounded with daily fees, and you’ll be out on the street with only what you can carry. Given that recent studies have shown that medical treatment costs are the principle driver for personal bankruptcies, this is a message to not get cancer or other costly illnesses, or else.

In fact, I recently read newspaper accounts of one city where a volunteer organization built and provided “tiny homes” to homeless families, only to have the city confiscate and destroy the bunch, putting the families back on the street after searches of the homes indicated that “one or more” of the units might have been used to house a dope dealer. The organization pleaded to be allowed to remove and store the homes until the situation could be resolved, and the city refused, citing the need to protect those people and the community at large from substandard housing. Just for your info, “tiny homes” are small houses mimicking freestanding, classically-styled homes , but are built on small flatbed trailers. This mobility usually exempts them from local residential building codes, since they are essentially a form of Recreational Vehicle. A whole movement has formed around them, since they make affordable housing a possibility where no other solution is legally allowed.

The Federal government has always been uneasy with people who do not have a fixed residence: a home to mail IRS forms to. The general perception is that such people are inherently suspect and have something to hide, or are on the run. Something is wrong with them. After all, many most-wanted criminals don’t have residences. Terrorists could be roaming the country in RVs, hiding and planning their next attacks! Thus, anyone living in a vehicle or reduced to living in the bushes is probably up to no good. We may romanticize the old-time cowboy lifestyle and American freedoms that grant us the right to live in the pursuit of happiness, but the reality is that while many prohibitions have served us well, our various governments at all levels have also been relentlessly and simplistically chipping away at those freedoms over time, as if to save us from ourselves, all in the name of making us “safer”. Bureaucracy knows best.

Now HUD has proposed FR–5877–P–01 “Manufactured Home Procedural and Enforcement Regulations; Revision of Exemption for Recreational Vehicles” as a new regulation. Regulations are not laws, but are meant to serve as the basis for creating and enforcing laws. In this case, should this regulation be adopted, it will serve as the framework to prohibit using a “factory-built RV” as a full-time residence. Granted, most of the RVers I see have homes somewhere and return to them after a time. There are heaps of proud Canadians RVing down in Yuma, escaping the difficult winters of their own provinces. But many RVers have found the costs of home ownership to be prohibitive, and have sold their homes to tour full-time in their rigs. HUD’s proposal would not make this “illegal” per se, but would drive the creation of laws that would make this prohibition legally enforceable. “Sir, do you own or rent a permanent residence elsewhere?” could become the cause for citation, or worse.

A summary of the proposal is: “This proposed rule would modify the current exemption for recreational vehicles in the Manufactured Home Procedural and Enforcement Regulations.  Under the current exemption, questions have arisen regarding whether park model recreational vehicles are regulated by HUD’s manufactured home program. These park models are being produced with patio roofs, screened in porches, and other extensions that exceed the 400 square foot maximum exemption in the current regulations. Additionally, some of these models are being marketed as suitable for year round living. HUD’s proposed rule would permit recreational vehicle manufactures to certify that a unit is exempted from HUD’s regulations. Specifically, HUD’s proposed rule would define a recreational vehicle as a factory build vehicular structure, not certified as a manufactured home, designed only for recreational use and not as a primary residence or for permanent occupancy, and built and certified in accordance with either the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1192-2015, Standard for Recreational Vehicles, or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A119.5-15, Recreational Park Trailer Standard. In addition, to provide consumers notice regarding the manufacturing standards used to construct the unit, HUD’s rule would require that units claiming the exemption display a notice that identifies the standards used to construct the unit and states that the unit is designed only for recreational use, and not as a primary residence or permanent dwelling.

In other words, HUD generally left recreational vehicles alone until a manufacturer or two of so-called “park models” – those with a very limited capability of being moved more than once – started tipping over the 400 square foot limit and boasting that they could be lived in year-round, which hints at being full-time. This drew the attention of HUD, which regulates “manufactured home” construction standards. Manufactured home construction is more rigorous than RV construction (more hoops to jump through), and rather than wanting to impose manufactured home standards on RVs, it seemed much simpler to HUD to “allow” RV manufacturers to affix stickers to their products which state that they are exempt from HUD’s construction standards and are therefore not suitable by design as a “primary residence or permanent dwelling”. No full-timing for you! And no more hitting the road for seven or more months a year, quite possibly.

Thus it opens the gate for those enlightened few who feel it’s their duty and obligation to lead us onward to a better way, on their terms…via laws and law enforcement. We’ll MAKE them safer, dammit! Knock-knock, “Miss, I see here that you have a mailing address, but our data shows that’s a business and is not a residence, and so does not qualify as your primary residence. This motorhome is not legal as a primary residence either, so I’m going to have to cite you for violation of local ordinance, and you will need to provide proof that you are not permanently dwelling in this vehicle. You can do this by providing proof to the court of valid primary residency elsewhere, and failure to do so will subject you to a fine and possible confiscation of your vehicle. Your court date is on the citation. Have a nice day.” So Mary, a disabled widow who lost everything during and after a nip and tuck battle with cancer, winds up on the street with all of her personal belongings in a large bin in an authorized storage facility that charges fees well above the going rate. At least the judge advised her that she had the option to get on the waiting list for subsidized housing, should she decide to stay long enough to qualify as a resident. The American Dream becomes the American Nightmare.

Me personally? I probably won’t be affected because of the odds that the regulation will involve dates of manufacture. I’ll likely be grandfathered in. But I’m not mentioning this proposal for me. It’s for you and – dare I say it – for your children, who will likely not have the legal right to get a small RV and take a couple of years to see this country as it really is before buckling down and building a career and/or family on more informed and self-aware terms. As for you, you like to think about living on the road once you retire? Or you can do your job at home and would like to roam while you’re earning your keep? Doing so would, somewhere along the way, become a criminal action subject to enforcement and prosecution. For a bucks-down student or grad trying to find their footing, or for a disabled vet or senior trying make ends meet, it would no longer become a legal option. This HUD proposed rule is only open for public comments until April 11. Should you decide to make a comment for consideration on this proposal, go to regulations.gov and look for the “FR–5877–P–01 Manufactured Home Procedural and Enforcement Regulations; Revision of Exemption for Recreational Vehicles” under What’s Trending, or simply go directly to the proposal to read it and make your comment.

Naturally, emotional Amerika rants won’t help in HUD’s evaluation of public response. I first learned of this issue from the advocacy arm of the Escapees RV Club, who says, “We firmly believe that HUD should not regulate the building or usage of recreational vehicles. In addition, the RV manufacturing industry believes that HUD should not be involved in the regulation of RVs. Therefore, we posted a letter to HUD’s website advocating for RV owners’ rights. If you would like to read our letter to HUD, please view it here.” I suggest that you read the portions of that letter which ring closest for you, and consider them when forming your own reaction to the proposed rule.

How this proposal might affect home-built travel trailers and even self-converted vans and box trucks is anyone’s guess, but the overall theme is for HUD to get involved in regulating factory-built RVs, and state governments are then free to take a look at that intent and take it from there.

The oddity I’ve found with freedom is that it is never granted as a gift – it is always hindered or removed. That is the trend of people having won or seized power over others. The Marines like to say that “Freedom is never free”, the implication of which is that it costs lives and sacrifice on a battlefield. In this case, the battlefield is right here, and the cost is the inconvenience of taking an hour to read and consider, then making your opinion known to HUD by going to a website and writing a comment, brief or long. If you lament the work of bureaucracy and the recent clutch of politicians, nearly all of which promise subtractive “change”, then it would be a good time to step up and have your own say to this planned “improvement”. Finally, please also note that the effect of public statements or advocacy is greater than the actual numbers of people involved. The American Revolution did not have the backing of even close to a majority of people living here at the time, yet it occurred despite lack of support and even brutal citizen opposition, particularly in Philadelphia. Many laws have been changed and rights expanded due to the outcries of very small groups of people without the support or involvement of the bulk of citizens. Heck, even the Mustang sporty car is still in production today solely because of a letter-writing campaign by a few enthusiasts. This time, it’s HUD. Speak, and they will listen. Do not speak, and they will assume that it’s just fine by you.

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12 thoughts on “HUD Proposes That You Can’t Live My Lifestyle

  1. Thanks for passing this along, HUD does not need to be dealing with RVs.

  2. Paul K on said:

    Love your country, fear your government. Semper Fi!
    Paul K

    • Right back atcha, Paul! “Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.” ~ John Basil Barnhill, 1914.

  3. Linda Sand on said:

    Thanks, Doug, for bringing this to my attention. I filed my comment about my RV being registered as a vehicle not housing thus is not subject to property tax. Among other things, I added that my DMV would not like having their power to tax and license my RV being called into question. I hope someone out there actually reads and considers the comments.

  4. Bob Robeky on said:

    This is truly insane. Where are we headed? Not in the right direction.

    • I feel we’re headed well down the primrose path. When bureaucracy looks around for more to do/control, well. When FDR did it, it helped those worst off. Nowadays, HUD proposes to clip the few options of those at the bottom end of the income scale, without offering a realistic alternative. Perhaps tents are next?

  5. Thanks for posting this. I will be reading all the links you provided and will also be writing a comment. I look forward to seeing your comment. As someone who lives in my camper full time, this is very important to me personally. My son is one of those young people who wants to travel America in his camper. I heartily approve.

    I know that staying two weeks in the national forest is already problematic. I, myself, have been told that I cannot “live” in the forest. That I must have a permanent address and just visit the forest. I do have a legal address. Now. But it could be called into question if these regulations go into effect.

    I hope we can get enough people involved to stop this before it starts.

    • The link between this proposed rule and your home-built rig is virtually nonexistent, at least until states begin extrapolating it to accomplish their own agendas in the future. But it has to pass, first.

  6. Richard Merry on said:

    Hello Doug seems to be some confusion here RVbusiness.com has a much different view http://www.rvbusiness.com/2016/02/joint-statement-hud-move-critical-to-industry/. I have also read HUD memorandum on this which indicates this is strictly about Over sized Park Models. Lets hope that is where this is going
    Richard

    • Thanks, Richard. I think they have a different view because the sole interest of the crash-surviving mega-conglomerates is to manufacture, ship and invoice profitable units to dealers. HUD’s proposal potentially clarifies for them which models must be HUD-stickered and which can be exempted. That’s all. This industry rag does its best to insist that the proposed ruling changes nothing for end users, making soothing assumptions that no fallout could possibly occur. In the end, the proposed ruling describes how a travel trailer of any type may and may not be used by its owner, based on “not suitable for use as…”.

      My problem with it is its influence on law and policy makers. When states and counties create laws, they are restrictions, not new freedoms. In terms of housing laws, they do not cut and paste text from HUD memorandums to craft their own, but from HUD rules, verbatim. If HUD must try to clarify its rule wording in a separate document to avoid confusion, then what is most likely to happen when our more local overlords start cranking out new restrictions to try to keep out the riff-raff that our economic policies have created? HUD will make it a point to specify that any trailer exempted will not be designed or intended (or acceptable, by rule) as a permanent residence. With the “not in my backyard” outlook of homeowner groups, widespread local activism to harass the homeless into leaving for the next town, and exercising “eminent domain” against low-income senior homeowners in a consequence-free environment, I think HUD may intend only to do one small thing, and in so doing provide others the motivation and license to work their own agendas. Those agendas are hardly a conspiracy, but do range from simply wanting to clear out professional panhandlers and grifters, to reflecting some rather ugly biases in our natures that don’t merit being put into law.

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