Can I Legally Live in My Car in California?

These days, it seems like everyone is living in their car. TikTok is full of videos featuring people living in vans that are basically exquisite little houses on wheels to sleeping full time in their sedan that also doubles as their daily commuter.

These videos make living in a car look fun, somewhat glamorous, and more affordable than trying to find a place in California to rent. But is living in your car something you can legally do in California?

As far as federal laws go, there is nothing preventing you from living in your car, but things change when it comes to city and county laws. While the state of California doesn’t seem to care that you call your car home, many California cities, including some of the biggest ones, do have laws that are designed to discourage people from calling their vehicle home.

Three cities that have laws that prohibit people from living in their cars include:

  • Berkeley
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco

Each city has different rules and consequences connected to living in your car. For example, in San Francisco, you aren’t allowed to sleep in your car from the hours of 10 pm to 6 am. If you are caught sleeping in your car during this time frame, you could be ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and/or spend up to six months in a county jail.

The good news is that many California city officials have started to seriously look at the local housing market and have started to realize that many people, particularly adults in their 20s, are running out of options. There simply isn’t enough affordable housing to go around, which forces people to turn their vehicles into their homes. This has prompted many cities to lighten up when it comes to laws about living in cars.

If you are someone who feels that living in your car is your best option, it’s important to make smart choices while doing so. The first thing you must do is make sure you’re safe while sleeping in your car. This means making sure the car is properly locked, that you are able to cover the windows, and that you always park in an area that is safe.

The next thing you should do is check local ordinances and find out what the local laws are when it comes to living in a vehicle. If you’re in an area where you aren’t allowed to legally sleep in your car, it’s in your best interest to move on until you reach a city that does allow you to live in your car.

The next thing you need to consider is where you’re parking for the night. Some businesses, such as Walmart, are extremely tolerant when it comes to people parking overnight in their lots so they can get some sleep. Other businesses are less accepting and will either contact the police or will arrange to have your vehicle towed. Make sure your parking in a lot that’s well-lit, in a safe neighborhood, and allows overnight parking.

It is possible, and even legal, to live in your car in California, but it is important to know how each city and county you go through feels about the prospect and to respect that in some areas, you could face stiff fines and even jail time if you’re caught sleeping in your vehicle.