On Your Side: 'Boondockers' work around housing crunch with legal loophole

Boondockers living off the land north of Sun Valley

Kami Magoon said she can't afford to pay rent in the Reno-Sparks area so she's found legal loophole to cut her housing cost dramatically.

"The price of rent, it's expensive. It's really difficult to be on social security to be able to afford anything. I make $750 a month for social security," she said.

She turned to the internet for cheaper rent options -- asking anyone for advice.

"A lady said there are places up here that it's free, they don't charge you, and you can stay for a certain amount of time," Magoon said.

Magoon is talking about public lands where you can stay for limited amount of time for free. She borrowed an RV from her brother and parked it north of Sun Valley in the hills. She's staying on Bureau of Land Management space.

Ranger Scott Fischer with the BLM, Carson City District said people can stay on BLM land for up to 14 days. Then they have to move at least 25 miles away. Over the past year-and-a-half, Fischer said he's seen an increase in so-called boondockers who stay on public land for free.

"We'll have people that will come down here to the Carson area and they'll stay here for 14 days. They go to Sun Valley they stay there for 14 days, then come back down and they bounce all over the place," Fischer said. "It's definitely an issue from a land management [perspective]."

These people who are living on the taxpayer dime are from all walks of life -- even families with kids. They come in campers, RVs, and tents.

Tyler, who didn't want to give his last name, also stays on BLM land north of Sun Valley. He putters his 1997 Honda Civic up into the dusty hills for free living.

"It's temporary. Once I get a job, I'm going to try to find a place," Tyler said. "I usually set up a tent, camp. Sleep in the car if I get out here late."

Both Tyler and Magoon had very clean camping spots. But that's not always the case. Some campers leave behind their trash, human wast, and trample the ground.

Rangers do ticket people who overstay their 14-day limit. But they've been working [with] non-profit groups and the Department of Health and Human Services to help get them their basic needs while transitioning off public lands.

"The tools that we have to get someone to not occupy federal land is write them a citation. What good is that going to do for a homeless person? They don't have the money, it's going to hurt them," Fischer said.

The tight housing market has also pushed people to live in their RVs around the side streets of Reno and Sparks. News 4 found RVs in industrial areas that hadn't moved for more than a month. A couple of RVs have been enjoying lake front living at Virginia Lake.

Three men are living in the parking lot of a Sparks casino. The men said the casino allows them to stay because they chase off the shady people who just want to cause trouble. They said they've been living off-and-on together in the parking lot for about two decades.

"It's better than living under somebody else's roof. It's very enjoyable. I can pick up and go whenever I want," Steve Joseph said.

His 1978 Southwind RV wouldn't be welcome at most mobile home parks where they usually only allow newer model mobile homes.

Joseph's buddy, Joe Dean, said he doesn't want to risk parking on the street because he knows police will crack down.

"I think it stinks because it can ruin, it can.. there's a lot of disabled veterans like myself that live in RV and it could run their life if they got arrested or their RV towed," Dean said.

The Sparks Municipal Code says Sparks Police can cite an RV if it sits longer than 48 hours.

Within areas designated as commercial or residential districts by the city council, it is unlawful for the owner or driver of any vehicle, trailer or vehicle and trailer having an overall length of more than twenty-four feet to stand or park the same at any time on any public street, highway or alley, except immediately in front of the property of the owner or driver thereof, while goods or passengers are being loaded or discharged. In the case of recreational vehicles, trailers and boats, a forty-eight period will be allowed for loading and unloading provided all vehicle and traffic regulations are otherwise compiled with. -- Sparks Municipal Code

In Reno, police will issue a citation if the vehicle's tags are expired; but parking on the street is considered a public nuisance if the vehicle is left overnight. Officers work with Reno's Code Enforcement to get a handle on these cases.

"This year we haven't had to cite anyone; but we do issue citations, if necessary. These citations start at $100, they are civil citations and they go up to $1,000," Alex Woodley, Reno's Code Enforcement Manager, said.

Using any mobile home, recreational vehicle or vehicle for sleeping purposes outside of a mobile home park, mobile home subdivision or recreational vehicle park -- Reno public nuisance Municipal Code violation
Both Reno Police and Code Enforcement Officers say they'd rather offer people help with services like food, shelter and clothing than issue a ticket.

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