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August 12, 2021

Is it illegal to camp in your own backyard or driveway?

Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation.

Cousin Eddie empties the RV's "sh*tter" while parked in Clark's driveway for the holidays in the movie Christmas Vacation. Copyright: 1989 Warner Bros. Pictures

BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF — Remember the shear novelty of sleeping in the relative outdoors for a memorable night in the "wild."

Well, it might just be illegal to do that under today’s bylaw restrictions. In recent decades, many municipalities have enacted bylaws that have made it illegal for people to live in any vehicles on streets, in parking lots, and even on private property. Those innocent childhood staycations you remember so fondly may have been unwittingly swallowed up in these all-encompassing regulations.

Generally speaking, recreational vehicles, campers and motor homes used as temporary accommodation are not permitted on any residential property within the bylaws of any Grey County municipality, except if the trailer is being used as a temporary home while construction of a permanent residence is underway. The purchase of a license for this usage may also be required. This remains true in all of Grey Highlands, Southgate, West Grey and Chatsworth municipalities.

The stark reality of these rules was recently put on full display during an accommodation crisis for a Eugenia couple who suddenly found themselves homeless after fire took everything from them last week.

While it’s generally not a problem if you are accommodating someone for one night, it will be a problem if someone is camping in your trailer for weeks or months. It’s an even bigger problem if you are earning money, renting your backyard or driveway to campers. (This was not the case in the Eugenia example which was an act of compassion by the property owners.)

Neighbours can complain about routine traffic of campers moving in and out of their community. They often don’t want to hear noise at night, and are constantly worried about their property values dropping. When someone suspects that a violation of the bylaw is being committed, they can call the municipality to lodge their grievance. Bylaw enforcement officers are obliged to respond to any complaints made against residents suspected of hosting temporary campers.

The Eugenia couple who lost their home in a fire, were given the generous donation of a trailer and a spot to park the temporary home at Hawthorn’s Cottages. However, the use of a trailer in this capacity was technically, a violation of the existing bylaw.

The Grey Highlands municipal bylaw states:

No person shall, in any Zone, use any travel trailer, motor home, mobile home, park model trailer, truck camper, truck, bus, coach, streetcar body, railway car body, or similar structure of any kind, for the purpose of a residence. No such structure shall be considered a dwelling unit, or be used for human habitation, whether or not the same is mounted on wheels or other form of mounting or foundation.

Grey Highlands CAO Karen Govan said that, “...a MGH by-law enforcement officer received a complaint on Friday (August 6) and attended the Hawthorn property to follow up. When the officer became aware of the situation, she contacted the municipality and was asked to stand down at that time due to compassionate reasons. The municipality was not aware of the situation prior to the officer attending the property.” There was no formal communication between the property owners, such as a request to the municipality for permission to host the couple in a trailer, nor permission given in an official response before or after the event.

Although the Municipality of Grey Highlands has not pursued enforcement of the bylaw, the unfortunate couple have since found alternate accommodation and their temporary housing problem seems to have been resolved.

Despite this, bad feelings about the situation continue to be aired on social media. Many people are angry with the municipality and the complaining neighbour who may or may not have been aware of the nature of the trailer’s occupancy at the time of the complaint. Many local residents are surprised that according to the bylaw, friends or family are also prohibited from occupying any camping vehicle or structure on their own properties.

Although the matter was resolved for the Eugenia fire victims, the bylaw still stands. But, not only does the regulation exist in local municipalities, it is a common feature of property and planning act bylaws across the country. Is it time to amend these bylaws? Should a homeowner be allowed to have temporary guests stay in a trailer on their property?

For a PEI resident who was forced to remove a trailer from his property back in 2019, the answer is "Yes!" As was reported in the July 26, 2019 CBC News story by Steve Bruce, Argyle Shore's John Seller was upset when he and two other property owners had to remove trailers from their lots because they were in violation of the province's Planning Act. According to Seller, the trailers were used for extra accommodations when friends and family visited. "I think if enough residents and property owners become aware of this legislation, there'll be a small outcry," he said.

Truck Camper magazine calls it "moochdocking," a fresh take on the term "boondocking," which means to comfortably-camp overnight without services such as electricity or water hookup. "We moochdock every time we visit friends and family. We love the comfort of our own bed, coffee in the morning, and a refuge when large family gatherings get a little too rowdy for us," said one RV enthusiast on the Truck Camper website. However, this practice of free camping in someone's driveway is not yet widely accepted in Canada.

Some municipalities in Ontario have attempted to amend their rules against temporary accommodations in residentially-parked RVs and trailers but neighbours are often split on the subject.

Donations to help Ted and Ruth Turner, the Eugenia couple who were rendered homeless after fire burned their house to the ground, are accumulating. Contributions can be made to the TD Canada Trust account #2984-6277400. Any donations will be used to help them rebuild their lives and purchase some some much needed items like clothes and food and pet supplies.

A community yard sale will be held to benefit the Turners on August 21, from 7 am to 3 pm at the Eugenia United Church, 159 Canrobert Street in Eugenia.


At South Grey News, we endeavour to bring you truthful and factual, up-to-date local community news in a quick and easy-to-digest format that’s free of political bias. We believe this service is more important today than ever before, as social media has given rise to misinformation, largely unchecked by big corporations who put profits ahead of their responsibilities.

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