After getting a divorce last year, Josh, who asked only his first name be used for privacy, needed a place to live that was affordable and still close to his two young children in Vancouver. With high rents for apartments in the city, he opted to buy a used 21-year-old Pace Arrow RV.
Eight months ago, he called Vancouver Mall RV Park to inquire about month-to-month stays — he needed a stable place to live before he could have his kids stay with him on weekends.
But the park said Josh’s RV was too old. Only RVs 10 years old or newer can stay more than 30 days. The RV was in good condition, he argued, but he was still turned away.
“It was like a blow to the gut at that point,” he said.
Josh’s experience is not unusual. All RV parks in the city have restrictions on how old an RV can be to stay over a month, the most common cutoff being 10 years.
“It’s a major issue,” said Jamie Spinelli, the city’s homelessness response coordinator. She helps run the city’s Safe Parking Zone, a place where people living in their vehicles and without other shelter options can stay. Without limiting how long people can stay, the Safe Parking Zone has a wait list and typically doesn’t have openings for RVs, Spinelli said.
Many of the units at the Safe Parking Zone would be unable to stay at local RV parks because of their age.
“We’ve had at least a handful of RVs that are here currently or have been through here that are perfectly fine or they’re in great working condition, but they’re 11 years old,” she said. “There’s just no options.”
Dale Moon lives in the Safe Parking Zone in his 1985 Ford motor home. He said it is in good shape after the last owner made repairs before selling it to him two years ago. He thinks it’s wrong that his motor home would be rejected simply due to its age.
“It’s judging a book,” Moon said. “You don’t know what the book’s about until you read it.”
The closest RV park to the city that doesn’t have age restrictions for RVs renting monthly spots is Piper RV Park, formerly Sam’s Good RV Park before it changed ownership last year, located in Hazel Dell.
It’s been that way for at least the last two years that Bill Lawer has been manager.
About 85 percent of the RVs at Piper are older models, but Lawer said the vehicles still have to look good and be fully functional. He believes the RV park’s lack of an age restriction fills a gap in the community.
“There are so many of the older models that are out there and these people have had them for years,” he said, “And to say, ‘You have to buy a new one’ — most of them are older retirees or new families just starting out, and they can’t afford to do that.”
So far, the lack of an age restriction hasn’t been an issue for the park. Lawer has only turned away two motor homes in his time as manager.
“People keep their motor homes up because these are their homes. When they have a problem, they get professional help if they can’t fix it themselves, just like you would on a regular home,” Lawer said.
But other parks say the restriction helps maintain their parks. Vancouver Mall RV Park Manager Aly Edwards said the park turns away older RV models every day.
One reason for the age restriction is older motor homes have a higher chance of having electrical issues, leaks and other problems, Edwards said.
The other reason: Aesthetics.
Josh left a Google Review for Vancouver Mall RV Park after he was turned away.
“Joshua the age restriction is there to protect the infrastructure of the park, the residents, and help keep the park from looking run-down or like a junk yard,” Vancouver Mall RV Park responded to Josh’s Google Review.
Josh said the response was frustrating, since he considers his RV to be one of the nicer ones. It’s 36 feet and had no issues that hadn’t been repaired, he said.
“I’m not riffraff. I own my own business. I have two kids. I’m clean. I take good care of my RV. It looks nice. I just didn’t understand it,” Josh said.
Unable to find any RV park in Vancouver without the age restriction, Josh made a plea on Facebook Marketplace for someone to allow him to pay to stay on their property. For several months, he was forced to park on the street, moving to a different spot each night.
Finally, he found someone who offered to let him park his RV on their property in exchange for around the same rent he would have paid at an RV park. He’s been there ever since.
Josh said he understands why RV parks have standards, but he thinks the RVs should be judged on a case-by-case basis instead of having strict rules around age. He suggested parks have interested renters send pictures of their vehicle to see if it’s up to the their standards.
With most parks not allowing older RVs and apartment rents in Vancouver averaging more than $1,500, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, many people are forced to live in RVs and park on the street, he said.
“We can’t afford rent. Rent’s just absolute insanity right now,” Josh said. “I just wish there were more RV parks.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.