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September 1st, 2010 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know

     
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I grow weary of having half my net income go to my landlord’s equity. Could I get myself a camper (maybe even build it myself) and park it around town—either in somebody’s backyard, or even on the street in unobtrusive locations? Is this legal? I don’t expect a straight answer from the city. —Anonymous

Oh, I’m sure the city’ll give you a straight answer—it’ll just be “no.” But I suspect the question you’re really asking isn’t “Is it legal?” but rather, “Can I get away with it even if it’s not?”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that you can, but definitely not on the street. Portland’s anti-homeless ordinance—sorry, that should read anti-camping ordinance—forbids living in any “tent, lean-to, shack, or any other structure, or any vehicle” on a public right of way.

This law is strictly enforced by Portland’s finest, as the hippies who recently attempted to turn the park by my house into their own personal bongo pit can tell you. (Who says there’s never a cop around when you need one?)

Your chances improve on private property: If you’re parked at a renting friend’s house, you can still be rousted for trespassing at the landlord’s whim, but at least the cops aren’t actively looking for you.

A survey of newspaper accounts making reference to camper living suggests that plenty of folks do this successfully—either the landlord doesn’t know or he doesn’t care. (The survey also suggests that most people who live in campers get shot, stabbed, robbed, beaten or otherwise fricasseed by fate, but we’ll hope that’s just selection bias.)

Finally, if you can manage to park on private property with the property owner’s blessing—well, it’s still illegal, since you’re violating zoning ordinances and the housing code. But as long as the neighbors don’t complain, you’ll probably skate.

 
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