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LA's Homeless Are Relying On RVs For Shelter Via 'VanLords'

A Wild West network of largely unknown owners rent their RVs out to the city's unhoused population for hundreds of dollars a month and a mighty profit

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Image for article titled LA's Homeless Are Relying On RVs For Shelter Via 'VanLords'
Image: Damian Dovarganes (AP)

Los Angeles has the unfortunate distinction of having the largest homeless population in the U.S. According to a report done in 2022 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, just over 65,000 individuals are homeless in LA. Some have attempted to find means to get a roof over their heads, and one option — RVs — exploded. Just one area of the city has over 500 RVs in just six square miles. While it seems like a viable solution, the “vanlords” providing the homeless with these homes, severely unsweeten the deal.

According to LA’s ABC 7, “vanlords” buy these RVs for pennies at local auctions and towed to a location of choice where the homeless can then rent them out. LA City Council Member Traci Park describes more of the sketchy ordeal to the ABC 7:

They’re often parked illegally, are hooked up to rogue power systems, and are in the “Wild West” of rental agreements, with neither landlord nor tenant protections.

“A lot of times, the inhabitants of the vehicle don’t know the name of the person who rented it from, they don’t have valid contact information, a lot of these vehicles are not registered, they’re not adequately insured,” said Park during a conversation in front of an RV encampment in Venice.


Despite the risk for the homeless, the owners behind the RVs are making money. The rent isn’t cheap. One individual shared with the outlet that they pay $400 a month, but only because this particular RV is owned by “a friend of a friend. 

ABC 7 spoke with one Greg William, who was actually homeless at one time. He’s been making a decent living renting out the 15 RVs he owns to the city’s homeless for over a decade — charging between $600 to $800 a month. Sure, that’s cheap for LA, but still relatively expensive for anyone. But Williams says as an advocate, he tries to help on the rent expense:

“I work with them and I almost always do sliding scale, so basically whatever you can afford is what I work with you on,” said William, who finds most tenants on Craigslist, Airbnb or through word of mouth.

He told ABC7 each RV costs between $2,000 to $5,000 upfront, and requires roughly $200 to $400 a month of maintenance. He estimates he profits between $2,000 and $8,000 a month.


While Williams takes all those profits in, the tenants are left to the city ordinances, and when LA tells Williams the camp has to move, they pick everything up to move over again. Although it might be better than sleeping in the elements, this is not a permanent home. Add to that LA’s inability to provide any regulations or laws to protect these people to make matters further messy.

But LA is working to change that. Park and the city are working on changing the municipal code to protect the sale and renting of RVs, which would require RV owners to adhere to strict standards before they’re sold or rented. This could be beneficial to protecting both owners and the people renting them. Hopefully it has more positives than negatives.

Until then, many of LA’s homeless will continue to enter into these lawless rental agreements for the simplest of comforts: Having a roof over one’s head.