News / Vancouver

For some, living in a camper is the solution to Vancouver’s high rents

Some Vancouver residents have spent years living in motorhomes as a way to avoid ever-increasing city rents

Ryan, a 38-year-old arborist, hauls water to the 1981 GMC Empress he’s called home for three years.

Rob Kruyt/For Metro

Ryan, a 38-year-old arborist, hauls water to the 1981 GMC Empress he’s called home for three years.

You can find them in most Vancouver neighbourhoods: near the University of British Columbia, on side streets in Kitsilano and Grandview Woodlands and in industrial areas in East Vancouver.

Of a certain vintage and often a little worse for wear, camper vans and motorhomes are home to some Vancouver residents who say they would rather live this way than spend thousands of dollars on housing in the city’s pricy rental market.

“The beauty of what I have is, I can change my view whenever I want, and if I don’t like my neighbours I can just leave,” said Ryan, a 38-year-old Vancouver resident who works as an arborist. He’s been living in a 1981 GMC Empress motorhome for the past three years.

“I love the freedom of it.”

Craig, a 60-year-old highrise window washer, has lived in his camper for two years.

“I’m not paying $1,200 a month for an (apartment), it’s as simple as that,” he said, shortly before accepting delivery of a Domino’s pizza he’d ordered to his tiny mobile home.

An apparently abandoned camper van in an industrial part of Vancouver.

Rob Kruyt/For Metro

An apparently abandoned camper van in an industrial part of Vancouver.

“I know they say we’re homeless, but I’m not. I just like to be by myself.”

Ryan and Craig both said living this way on city streets is safe — and cheap. After spending an initial $2,700 to buy his used motorhome, Ryan pays around $50 a month on gas and $50 a month to pay a city parking ticket he said he usually gets, like clockwork, on the third week of the month.

A long-lasting battery powers lights inside the motorhome. He drives the vehicle only short distances to reduce the chance it could be damaged, because that would be a serious setback. He estimates he’s saved tens of thousands of dollars by living in the recreational vehicle.

“I own my own home in Vancouver,” he said.

Not everyone is thrilled about the motorhomes on city streets. The tickets Ryan receives are usually the result of someone making a complaint to the city. City bylaws state that oversize vehicles (taller than seven feet three inches, or longer than 21 feet) cannot be parked for longer than three hours next to a business. Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., oversized vehicles can’t park at all unless the user has a street-use permit.

Similar rules apply to oversized vehicles parked beside a home, school, church or park.

Camper vans and two cars that were also being lived in parked on a Vancouver street.

Rob Kruyt/For Metro

Camper vans and two cars that were also being lived in parked on a Vancouver street.

City staff don’t know whether the number of motorhomes on city streets have been increasing lately. But statistics provided by the City of Vancouver show the number of complaints about oversized vehicles (which include vehicles like limousines or delivery vans) have risen in the last four years, from 865 complaints in 2012 to 1,312 in 2015.

Ryan, parked across the street from a food wholesaler, argues the street in the industrial area where he’s parked isn’t being used “for anything.”

“The street’s used for dumping garbage,” he said. “I’ve stopped people from dumping here, like couches and beds. I’m actually saving the city work, but they’re still fining me.”

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