HUD’s Proposed RV Rule Causes an Uproar as RV Sales Hit 39-Year High

By Barbara Hollingsworth | April 7, 2016 | 2:47 PM EDT

Retirees from Michigan living "semi-permanently" in an RV park in Texas. (AP photo)

 

(CNSNews.com) – In February, as sales of recreational vehicles (RVs) hit a 39-year high with 35,929 units sold, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed rule in The Federal Register to revise the definition of an RV as “designed only for recreational use and not as a primary residence or for permanent occupancy.”

The proposal garnered praise from the RV industry, which has been pushing for clarification of the regulations for the past decade.

But it has angered thousands of RV and tiny house on wheels (THOWs) enthusiasts.

Both RVs and THOWs are currently exempt from HUD’s Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards for mobile homes designed as primary residences that were developed by the National Fire Protection Association and the American National Standards Institute.

However, according to HUD, some park model recreational vehicles (PMRVs) – defined as being between 320 and 400 square feet – “are being produced with patio roofs, screened in porches, and other extensions that exceed the 400 square foot maximum exemption in the current regulations…[and] marketed as suitable for year round living.”

The proposed rule would “modify the current exemption for recreational vehicles” and re-define an RV as “a factory-built vehicular structure, not certified as a manufactured home, designed only for recreational use and not as a primary residence or for permanent occupancy.”

It would also require manufacturers claiming the RV exemption to “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.”

“This notice shall be placed prominently to ensure consumers are made plainly aware of the distinction between recreational vehicles that are not self-propelled and manufactured housing… to draw a clear distinction between the two products.”

HUD also “proposes to except Fifth Wheel Recreational Vehicles [‘a towable recreational vehicle mounted on wheels and designed to be towed by a motorized vehicle’] from regulatory oversight.”

According to a 2011 University of Michigan study commissioned by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), 8.9 million American households own an RV. However, permanent residency in an RV or THOW is not permitted in many jurisdictions under local building codes and zoning ordinances.

Airstream factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. (AP photo)

RVIA issued a press release calling HUD’s proposed rule “great news for the RV industry" that would give RV manufacturers, dealers and campgrounds “critical regulatory clarity.”

“The laws and regulations governing the use of RVs are set at the state and especially at the local municipal and county levels, not by HUD. So the new rule does not affect full-time recreational RVing in any way,” the press release stated, calling the proposed rule the result of “the RV industry’s 10-year effort to draw a brighter and clearer line between recreation vehicles and manufactured housing.”

“Under this rule, the modern RV lifestyle cannot be regulated out of existence,” the association stated.

But others disagreed.

"RV owners currently may reside in their RVs full-time and seasonally. This is a matter between the RV owner, local housing authorities, and other local and state officials...who are in the best position to address the regulation of the use of RVs," the Escapees RV Club said in a letter to HUD.

The proposed rule "takes HUD away from the regulation of housing and into the regulation of vehicles outside of HUD's authority....the unintended, but potentially substantial, damaging effect of HUD's language is a crippling limitation on the use of RVs," the letter added.

Tiny house on wheels in Graton, Calif. (AP photo)

HUD's proposal  “threatens ‘full-time RVers’ and further stymies those seeking to build their tiny house as a street legal home,” according to Timber Trails - which is seeking the “legitimization and legalization” of THOWs - characterizing it as “a punch-in-the-gut from big business to the bootstrapping tiny house industry.”

More than 4,000 people posted mostly negative comments on the regulations.gov website regarding the proposed rule, with some claiming that it would increase homelessness:

"Perhaps this is to protect people from unsafe living conditions, but they won't be too safe when they are homeless and on the streets."

"We don't need more restrictions on housing when so many people are homeless, living below poverty level and underemployed. This would just put more people living out of the streets or living illegally just trying to live day to day. Stop this nonsense and throw this out."

Other commentators objected to what they considered unnecessary and heavy-handed regulation:

"If you've ever wondered why there is so much backlash to government bureaucracy, it's this. I and many others, know how we want to live our lives much better than an un-elected regulatory agency."

 "Why is it when we the peope find affordable ways of living the government thinks they need to step in and have a say or intervene. We do not need laws to tell us how to live in every minute detail."

One commentator accused HUD of hypocrisy:

"It's not okay with HUD for you to live in an RV or tiny house over 400 SF, but for some reason, it's perfectly find for half of New Yorkers to effectively live in closets that are often well under 400 SF...This is not about living standards. This is about knowing where everyone is at all times."

The HUD comment period ends on April 11.