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Petitioners rally for B.C. family living ‘unlawfully’ in RV on family farm

A petition for the city to allow the family to live in a fifth wheel on a family farm has eclipsed 4,000 signatures
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A petition to allow a Vernon family to live on a farm in a fifth wheel has garnered 4,121 signatures as of Friday, Nov. 3, 2023. (change.org photo)

A Vernon family is trying to keep their home in a fifth wheel trailer on a family property, and people are standing behind them in their battle with the city.

Lee and Sondra Watkins started an online petition in an effort to stay in the fifth wheel, despite bylaw telling them they can’t.

The Watkins were put in a tough situation in April 2022 when the house they were renting was put up for sale. Both their businesses had taken a hit during COVID and their wedding was coming up July 1. Given the tight housing market and high rental rates in the area, they decided to think outside the box and moved into a fifth wheel on Sondra’s parent’s four-acre farm in the Bluejay neighbourhood of Vernon.

But within two weeks of them living there, they say a neighbour sent a complaint to bylaw about the fact they were living in the RV.

“Since August of 2022 we have dealt with the City Council and bylaw and have been able to extend and push our stay here as long as possible. After countless emails and letters to City Council and bylaw over the last year and now receiving multiple fines from bylaw over the last few months, we wish to continue to fight this for many other properties and people in the same situation,” the Watkins said in the change.org petition, which has garnered more than 4,100 signatures since it was launched Oct. 12.

“We did everything right and by the book from the septic holding tank, to professionals installing the electrical, propane being installed correctly, to professional insulated skirting, to creating a safe environment for our animals within the field, our horse, two goats, two rabbits, two cats and a dog.”

The family thought there would be no issue since the property is zoned ALR, which allows for a secondary residence.

However, City of Vernon communications officer Josh Winquist says the city’s zoning bylaw does not consider an RV to be a dwelling unit and prohibits the use of an RV as a permanent year-round accommodation.

“RV’s are manufactured in a way that does not comply with BC Building Code regulations and standards,” Winquist explained.

He added the city has been working with the property owner to find a resolution to the “unlawful occupation” of an RV on the property since May 2022.

Lee says the fifth wheel can be stored in the exact same spot, but they’re not allowed to live in it.

He says he wishes neighbours would have spoken to him before calling bylaw.

“We will continue to work towards a solution and fight this as best we can for everyone dealing with a similar situation. We want to put the pressure on Vernon City Council to look into this further and change the zoning bylaws and allowances for ALR land within the city limits,” reads the petition.

The city’s planning department notes that a variance for the RV to remain and be used as a permanent year-round dwelling is contrary to the Local Government Act, which does not permit variances to use or density.

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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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