Is Sleeping in Your Car in a Church Parking Lot Illegal?

Whether looking for a place to camp in your car or RV camper, friendly parking lots are always welcome. Some vanlife enthusiasts swear by church parking lots. This may be because we think of churches as places of refuge. In addition, most places of worship maintain large parking lots that are used one day a week. But is sleeping in your car in a church parking lot legal?

It is illegal to sleep in a church parking lot without permission

This is a photo of an empty church parking lot. Some vanlife enthusiasts have suggested the parking lot at a place of worship is a spot you won't get kicked out. | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Empty church parking lot | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

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There is no federal law against sleeping in your car. That said, many towns and neighborhoods have passed laws against sleeping in your car or RV in an otherwise legal parking space. In addition, some tourist destinations such as beaches and hiking trailheads expressly prohibit overnight camping.

Whether you are camping out or not, it is always illegal to trespass in a private parking lot. Private lots range from Walmarts and malls to churches. If you plan on sleeping in your car or RV, you need permission from either the owners of the lot, or whoever they have designated to secure and manage it.

If you do not have permission to be on private property, you are trespassing. If you are sleeping in your car and RV while trespassing, you are breaking the law.

Wherever you end up parking, shut off the engine while you are sleeping. Dangerous fumes can permeate an idling car. Read more hacks for sleeping in your car comfortably.

Many churches allow you to sleep in your car or RV

This is a photo of an empty church parking lot. Many RV enthusiasts wonder if they sleep at a church in a pinch. | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Empty church parking lot | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

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Some religions seek to make their places of worship into sanctuaries for all people in need. For this reason, some churches–and other places of worship–allow people to sleep in the parking lot.

Sometimes, finding out if you can sleep at a church is tricky. First, you need to contact a representative of the building’s congregation or a property manager they have hired. Then you need to ask permission and for specific rules.

Other times, it is easy to find out if you can sleep at a church. For example, if a religious leader lives on the church’s grounds, you can stop by and ask permission.

Finally, some churches and other places of worship are listed as safe places to stay. For example, many cities run a “Safe Parking Program.” In this program, the city maintains a list of lots where people can park and stay for the night. Some of these lots are city-owned; others belong to business owners or nonprofits. If a church is listed, it may include guidelines such as maximum vehicle size or the number of vehicles. If you are following all the guidelines, you are not trespassing while parking on a listed lot.

Alternatives to a church parking lot

This is a photo of a full church parking lot in Europe. Many people worldwide wonder if it is illegal to sleep in your car in a church parking lot. | Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images
Church parking lot| Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images

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There may be no open church parking lot in your area. But there are other places where you can sleep in your car or park your RV for free.

Many RV enthusiasts swear by Walmart parking lots because they are often open to campers and include stores worldwide. Others sleeping in cars or campers prefer casino parking lots. Casinos that allow overnight campers offer excellent security and amenities. But with either option, you will want to call ahead and ask permission to spend the night.

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