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Do I need a permit to put in an rv hookup in my backyard?

Original post made by daughter, Downtown North, on Jun 22, 2009

My mother is traveling around the country in her 30 foot rv. She is comin gout here in August and wants to stay with me for several months, which will be great. I have room behind my driveway gate, in the area in front of my garage, that is big enough for her rv. I would like to put in rv hookups so she can be more comfortable while she's here. I searched the City of Palo Alto website, where I see information about storing an rv, but nothing about installation of hookups. Does anyone know if this is possible, what kind of contractor would do it, and how much it would cost?

Comments (21)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Actually, I think it may be illegal. If your Mother intends to live in her RV while it is parked long term on your driveway, it will be a second home on your property. Will you or your Mother be paying property taxes for this second home on your property?

Having said that, I'm aware of at least two RVs which are permanently parked in backyards, where in-laws live. These seem to exist under the City's radar.

There is an RV park in South Palo Alto behind Blockbuster, where she could probably park her RV while she stays with you.

Posted by Dave
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Palo Alto only selectively enforces its codes. Just go ahead and do it. Even if it is out in the open, like those strawberry vendors on our street corners, or the gas-powered leaf blowers or the sit-lie ban, nothing is done to enforce the codes.

Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2009 at 10:12 pm


What you say is so true, unless your neighbors turn you in, in which case the City will make your life a living hell.

"Daughter", please be aware of this, and make sure your neighbors won't rat you out.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2009 at 5:33 am

I personally would be very wary of this. Daughter may be just thinking about occasional short overnight visits, but if this was allowed then how could we prevent having people living in RVs as second homes on their property all over the City. I honestly feel that this should not be allowed and if someone is doing it, I commend the neighbors for reporting it.

Posted by daughter
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 23, 2009 at 8:20 am

My lot is actually large enough that I could legally put in a granny unit if I chose. The Palo Alto website mentions rv's, and refers to a second document (which has no link, and I cannot find it anywhere), and also refers to living in it, but is not at all specific when it is allowed. Here is the quote from the Palo Alto website:

Recreational vehicles (other than a pickup truck with a camper mounted on it) may not be stored in driveway or front setback. The only locations that these may be legally stored would be in a garage or accessory building, or in locations where an accessory building or principal building of equivalent bulk and height would be permitted. However, they can be located in the driveway or front setback for up to 72 hours in a 96 hour period. (Note: RV complaints are handled only if the complaint comes from a next-door or other very close neighbor who is directly affected by the RV). History of this policy can be found under "RVs" in our general files.


* Inoperative, unlicensed, unregistered vehicles not stored behind a fence or in a garage.
* Working on vehicles (unless behind a fence or in the garage) for more than 72 hours.
* Living in a motorhome (unless permission has been granted by the building official).
* Storing any kind of RV (including motorhomes, trailers, boats, boat trailers and similar things) unless they are kept where a building of equivalent size, height and bulk could be located.
* This means thay can't be stored in the driveway.
* Truck-mounted campers are considered the same as cars. RVs can be stored in a driveway for up to 72 hours in any 96 hour period. This means they can keep them in the driveway for 3 days and then drive them to another location for 24 hours, and then bring them back again.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2009 at 8:34 am

The links on the City website are broken, but here's the relevant codes from PAMC 18.42.070.

(f) Limitations for Sleeping in Recreation Vehicles

Subject to securing a permit therefore from the building official and otherwise complying with applicable law, the use of a recreational vehicle, as defined in this title, may be permitted for sleeping purposes only for a period not to exceed thirty consecutive days in any calendar year for not more than two nonpaying guests of the occupant of a single-family dwelling in accord with all applicable regulations governing parking and storage of vehicles.

(g) Vehicle Visibility from Public Streets

Except in the OS (open space) and AC (agricultural conservation) districts, no person shall store, place, or park any of the conveyances designated in this section, whether disabled or fully operative, in any areas visible from a public street unless it is parked or stored upon either permeable or impermeable paving surface.

(h) Parked Vehicles shall not Obstruct Traffic Views at Intersections

No person shall store, place, or park any of the conveyances designated in this section within the thirty-five foot triangle of property at the intersection of streets improved for vehicular traffic.

(i) Parked Vehicles Maximum Coverage of Front Yard

No person shall store, place, or park any of the conveyances designated in this section in a manner that they cover more than 40 percent of any required front yard.

(j) Each Day of Violation a Separate Offense

Violation of this section is a misdemeanor, punishable as provided in this code. Each day of violation constitutes a separate offense and may be separately punished.

(Ord. 4934 § 4 (part), 2007)

Posted by daughter
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 23, 2009 at 9:41 am

Thank you, anonymous, that is very helpful (why can't I find that stuff on the website?). So, the way I read that, it would be okay to have my mom do this, as long as it is not more than 30 consecutive days? Does that mean she could live in her rv on my property for 30 days, spend one day sleeping in my house, then spend ANOTHER 30 days in the rv? I'm not so great at reading the legalese...

Also, back to my original question, does anyone know how to install rv hookups in a backyard?

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2009 at 10:01 am

Ms D, Find your sewer clean out. This is where you will want to hook your Rv's septic to. Hope it is close to wher you will park your Rv.

A water connection and extension cord and MOM is living in Palo Alto.

Check to see if you need to pay a tax of fee. You will get the Fine later... Welcome mom.

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2009 at 10:41 am

Ms D, I will show you how to do it. If your clean out is too far away it will be a big deal. You will have to dig and get a slope for your wasteline.

1/4 inch per 10 feet is a common number. You can always use it later as a clean out for you sewer if you want to get into a bigger project.

Talk to me at a City Council meeting, I will be there every monday for life. Other meetings also. You can talk to me at Nanny Joe's Sidewalk Office, June 27 ,10am until noon. @ the Farmers Market behind the post office. Come see Joe's dog and pony show.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2009 at 10:44 am

My read is you need a permit and it's limited to 30 days total per calendar year. So your scenario won't work unless she arrives on December 1.

I don't believe the sewer hookup is allowed because the only allowed purpose is "sleeping." No kitchen, no showers, no toilets.

Posted by Eric
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 23, 2009 at 10:56 am

Good luck if you can get away with this. Meanwhile, watch out for your neighbors they may have something to say about it.

Posted by crescent park dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm

The sewer hook up will be the problem. Obviously you can run a hose and an electrical cord to the RV. Have your Mom use her black & gray holding tanks ... you can probably arrange to dump the tanks at a local RV site (for a fee of course).

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Best course of action: apply for the permit ASAP and ASK if a hose, power cord or sewer connection are allowed. If the answer is "no" then ask for code references to back up the answer. My read is water and sewer will not be allowed. Cooking will not be allowed. Power is probably ok if it's ancillary to "sleeping purposes only" AND you use the right kind of UL listed outdoor cords and you don't overload your electrical service. If the RV has AC make sure it complies with the local noise ordinance.

Follow the letter of the permit and you'll be fine for 30 days. Be understanding if you upset your neighbors: you're stretching the edges of neighborliness.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Make absolutely certain that the electrical connection has a ground fault interrupter [GFI] and the water hose connection has a backflow prevention device. Grey water, drainage from sinks and showers, can usually be disposed with in small quantities by surface spreading, but toilet discharge and garbage disposer drainage is not a do it yourself project.
The above recommendations are independent of any code requirements.

Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2009 at 7:58 pm


It's your property.

From everyone's comments, I think that you can see it really isn't yours, that you have no property rights, except obligation to pay for the property and the taxes.

Yes, what a wonderful government that prevents a parent to stay with her children, while such action has no negative impact on others.

Posted by And the inside observation
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jun 23, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Yes, Outside, you are right.

Lately I've come to realize that we don't actually own property here. We lease it from the government at a very low rate (about 1.2% of value/year increasing about 2% per year). And the rules about what we can do with our property are far more stringent than preventing the outrageous. We must follow someone's architectural taste in house shape!

It sometimes feels like we are in a feudal society.

It certainly doesn't feel like our local or state governments are there to provide service to the people they "serve." They seem to feel they are there to drive their ideological dreams.

And we are here to serve them!

Posted by Jose
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:26 pm

How cost for pay for Property taxes?

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:44 pm

My neighbor had a fifth wheel in his driveway for months with someone living in it. But it only had electricity and maybe a hose connection.

People live in RV's all the time but they are required to move them every 72 hours (or when asked).

Posted by Neighbors are affected
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2014 at 9:58 pm

@outside said
-government that prevents a parent to stay with her children, while such action has no negative impact on others.-

Not true. Parent can stay with her children. The question is whether a huge RV can ugly up a neighbor's environment for a long time. Nobody will complain about a few days. RVs are great for travelers but they are an eyesore to the public.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2014 at 11:58 am

RV living at a residential property or driveway...

I don't know the RV rules...but suffice it to say that any electrical or plumbing work should be permitted. If you get caught or someone reports you about the electric or plumbing additions, you will be fined and most likely forced to tear out any improvements. Especially since you're considering bending or breaking the existing RV rules (at least according to the input above)...I think there's a high probability that one of your neighbors will report you to the city.

We had a neighbor live in a rented trailer on their front lawn while they remodeled their house. But they didn't tie into the sewer and took the trailer down to an RV dump station now and then. We knew it was a temporary situation so there was no need to get all rule book about it.

Posted by sauce for the goose
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Unfortunately, there is a vehicle habitation ordinance in Palo Alto so your old mother can't live in a camper any more than can a homeless individual. Think about that next time the issue of homelessness comes up in the City Council.

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