Regional district chair calls flap over RV bylaw a 'broad misunderstanding'

The chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District says there is no crackdown on people using recreational vehicles as permanent dwellings in B.C.'s Interior, despite complaints. 

Ken Gillis, chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, says there's been a "broad misunderstanding" with respect to a bylaw preventing people from living in their RVs year-round.

"Quite frankly, if we wanted to implement a crackdown we couldn't, we don't have the staff to do it," Gillis said. "We have one bylaw enforcement officer for the entire regional district."

Gillis was responding to complaints from RV dwellers who say they have been unfairly targeted by the bylaw. 

In mid-August, a news release from the regional district said the use of RVs as permanent, year-round, and seasonal dwellings in rural areas within the regional district had been increasing.

It reiterated that using an RV as a permanent home, even in the short-term, is not allowed under the district's  zoning bylaw and building bylaw regulations.

Angie Smith and her husband live in an RV just outside of Barrière on land they purchased in May this year. They were planning on living in their RV until they built a house on the property, but were told they weren't allowed to do so until they obtained a building permit. 

People who have a building permit can live on their land in their RV up to the duration of their permit — usually three years. 

"We were blindsided by it completely," Smith said. Since moving onto the property, they have received two infraction notices, with the latest one stating they must remove the RV completely from the property as of Sunday.

Smith said they have everything in place to get the building permit, but it will take six weeks to two months to get approval. 

"We've lost sleep over it since May since all this started," she said. 

Thompson-Nicola Regional District

Smith is not alone. A Facebook group called Thompson Nicola RV Rights has attracted hundreds of members.

Tom Coles, spokesperson for the group, said while he's not personally affected by the issue, he has compassion for people like Smith.

"It's specifically targeting RVs and people of lower incomes that are using them, and that to us is a criminalization of poverty," Coles said. 

But Gillis said there are concerns about people living in their RVs year-round, namely the impact on the environment from the lack of septic systems and the risk of electrical overload or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Even then, Gillis said the regional bylaw officer cannot evict someone from their RV.

If people own the land on which their RV is parked, he said the district might, "if necessary and only in the most outrageous situations," initiate legal action and get a court order saying the RV must be removed. 

Gillis says that's happened only two or three times in the past 10 years.

He said the district will talk about the bylaw and reaction to it at a meeting Thursday. He says it will consider the possibility of reviewing the policy then.