Federal Way contemplates emergency exception to RV code

Federal Way will re-evaluate a code that makes it illegal to use a recreational vehicle as a temporary dwelling on residential property.

A suggested amendment would make it possible for residents to reside in their RVs on a temporary basis during times of emergency. As it currently stands, city code 22-1177 prohibits the parking or storage of recreational vehicles measuring more than 9 feet in height and 22 feet in length on residential lots. There are no exceptions for emergency situations.

This past October, a Federal Way couple addressed the code at a city council meeting. The woman and her husband were living in an RV on their property while their home was repaired of damages caused by a substantial fire. The couple received a ticket for their "junk vehicle" and were upset with the city's inability to recognize that exceptions should be made for those facing unusual circumstances. The woman told the council how stressful it was to see her home destroyed, worry about her living situation, care for her injured husband and manage to abide by all the city's code compliance rules.

The city council and staff paid attention to the couple, who could not be reached for comment, and the amendment to the code was suggested this month. The amendment comes, in part, because of the couple, planning manager Isaac Conlen said. The city attempted to reach the couple by phone and through a personal visit to make them aware of the possible change. The city was unable to locate the residents, he said.

As the code is now written, recreational vehicles smaller than 9 feet in height and 22 feet in length can be used as temporary dwellings on a person's private property for up to 14 days, Conlen said. Any vehicle larger than this violates the code, and any stay extending two weeks is not allowed. The code is not designed to produce further hardships for residents in emergencies. Before now, staff and council simply did not recognize there may be a need to make an exception for emergencies situations, such as fires, windstorms, earthquakes or other disasters.

"The notion of using that type of vehicle for emergency shelter was not communicated in the code," Conlen said.

Before any final changes are made, the issue must go before city council sub committees. It will then be brought before the full city council, and the language of a revised code will be adopted. Any residents wanting to weigh in on how a revision could affect them or their neighborhood may do so through an appeal process after the city has adopted new code language. The closing date on an appeal is March 2, meaning the council will see the issue before that time.

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City code 22-1177 also makes it a citable infraction to store a boat exceeding 9 feet in height and 22 feet in length on one's personal property. Those violating city codes are subject to tickets, which begin at $100 per violation and will be contested in court if not paid.

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