People living in RVs parked on vacant lots, at existing residences, or on public streets have come to symbolize a perplexing regional homeless crisis in California, and Williams may not be immune to the problem as long as property owners look to make a few extra dollars by capitalizing on the shortage of affordable housing.
“It has been brought to the city’s attention that we have property owners that have brought recreational vehicles onto their property and are allowing or renting those vehicles to be used as permanent dwellings,” said City Planner Monica Stegall. “These dwellings have been found to have illegal connections to city services and unsafe electrical connections.”
While city officials have never considered it appropriate for campers, camp trailers, tent trailers, and motor homes to be used as permanent homes, city code currently does not have specific language that would make it a citable offense, Stegall said.
The new law, which would go into effect 30 days from final passage, would ban the occupation of recreational vehicles that are parked on public or private property for more than seven consecutive days.
“We wanted clear language in the zoning code so we can go forward with the rule,” Stegall said.
The Williams Planning Commission approved the code amendment in May and recommended the ban to the City Council, who will likely adopt the regulation at their regular meeting in July.
Officials do not know how many people, if any, would become homeless and forced onto the street when the ban is enforced.
Williams Police Chief Jim Saso believes the occurrence is small and not necessarily a homeless problem, but only a few homeowners taking advantage of lax regulations by placing abandoned recreational vehicles on their property for the purpose of renting them out.
“They are making a profit,” Saso said. “It’s causing blight; it’s a dangerous situation. They are a fire hazard and anything else you can think of. These vehicles don’t move. They are parked, they are stationary, and they are hooked up to electrical and probably sewer. I don’t think there will be a huge population that will become homeless. I just think it is a code enforcement issue.”
The ban would not target RVs with working self-containment functions (water and septic) in which no outside services are needed, such as those used by temporary visitors and vacationers.
While city officials suspect only a handful of recreational vehicles are being used or rented out as permanent homes, they said they want to curtail the practice before it becomes prevalent because such living conditions are largely unsafe and unsanitary.
“I don’t know how long it’s been going on, but it’s not OK,” said Mayor Alfred Sellers, Jr.
While the ACLU is fighting ordinances in California that attempt to ban people who live in self-contained RVs from parking on public streets, the Williams ban targets only the use of motor homes, campers, camper shells, travel trailers, and vehicles as a dwelling for living or sleeping purposes beyond seven days.
Once the ordinance goes into effect, people living in RVs beyond seven days will receive a notice to vacate or risk the city removing the vehicle at the property owners’ expense, officials said.
The new ban also restricts the use of RVs as cannabis dispensaries. ■