British Columbia

B.C. village residents aren't allowed to live in RVs on their private land

It is prohibited to live in a recreational vehicle in Alert Bay, B.C., and residents say council should amend an old bylaw in the midst of a housing shortage.

‘It irritates me to no end that someone can dictate what I can do on my own property,' says one resident

Alert Bay resident Dean Laar is violating local bylaws by living part-time in his RV, seen here, on his own privately-owned property. (Submitted/Dean Laar)

When Dean Laar is not away at a logging camp he lives in a recreational vehicle on a piece of property he bought in Alert Bay, B.C., a village of about 400 people on Cormorant Island, northeast of Vancouver Island.

Technically, his temporary abode is a violation of local bylaws and he is one of several residents who says this needs to change.

It is prohibited, according to village bylaws, to use a tent, tent-trailer, van, RV or converted vehicle for residential use and this includes doing so on personal property. Mobile homes are only allowed in mobile home parks.

Village Councillor Larry Hill wants council to amend the bylaws so people can live in tents, RVs or vehicles while building their homes, and be allowed to rent them to others or use them as guest accommodations.

Hill said there is a shortage of housing on the island and changing the bylaw would make it easier for people who work on and off the island — such as ferry workers and nurses — to find a place to live.

"I think we should accommodate people to come here, we shouldn't be putting up barricades," Hill said Wednesday in a phone interview on CBC's On The Island.

Eric Gregory also owns property in the village and allows a friend to live in an RV on his property. He said she is homeless with mental health and addiction issues and has nowhere else to go.

Gregory said he submitted a petition to council two weeks ago signed by about 100 people who support a bylaw change after he received a letter from council that said he was violating the bylaw. 

'It's a crisis'

"People can't find accommodation and it's made it impossible to stay and build," said Gregory, adding it was standing room only at council when he presented the petition. He said he received a letter Friday saying council would not penalize him while they discussed the bylaw. 

Hill put forward a motion at the last council meeting on Oct. 15 to stop telling people they could not live in RVs while those discussions are happening. There are four other village councillors and no one seconded Hill's motion. 

Mayor Dennis Buchanan said people violating the bylaw were issued letters in August because council was concerned about what people were doing with the sewage in their RVs. He said at this time it doesn't appear there is a health and safety issue and no one will be penalized while council staff researches bylaw options.

He said people are having a hard time finding housing in Alert Bay because many residents have converted traditional rentals into Airbnb accommodations. 

Councillor Lisanne Granger said council has concerns about letting people live in their RVs because the village needs permanent housing and is working on a bigger housing plan.

Village staff are speaking to other municipalities and collecting information on regulating RVs and short-term rentals before considering possible changes.

"I'm not that interested in what people are doing in other places," said Hill, adding he cares about what is happening in his hometown where he says people are struggling to find a place to live.

"It's a crisis really," he said. "I see no reason why somebody moving onto their property here couldn't put an RV on it and live in it."

And for Laar, who is doing just that, a bylaw change would mean having more autonomy over the land he pays the mortgage on.

"It irritates me to no end that someone can dictate what I can do on my own property," said Laar, adding the "ridiculous" bylaw forces people to live beyond their means.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28.

With files from On The Island