Sleeping under the stars is fantastic and can get you a little closer to nature, but how much closer will it get you to jail? Jokes aside, plenty of people wonder about the legality of sleeping in outdoor areas. Although spending the night in public areas is obviously illegal, can you legally sleep in your own backyard?
It’s usually completely legal to sleep in your backyard. However, it can become a crime under certain conditions, such as when you are:
- Attempting to live in your backyard because the house itself is condemned or unsafe
- Trying to live in your backyard full-time, or renting it to others to live in
While sleeping in your backyard is legal, there are some minutiae that we need to address. We’ll discuss when it becomes illegal, how safe it is to sleep outdoors, and we’ll give you a few ideas to step up your backyard camping game, so read on.
Is Sleeping in Your Backyard Legal?
The answer isn’t as simple as it might seem since it depends on your intent. If you set up a tent in the yard for your children to camp in, that’s completely legal. On the other hand, if you set up a tent in your backyard for someone to live out of for an extended period, then what you’re doing is illegal.
Taking a nap or passing out on the swing outside is completely fine. What’s illegal is setting up a living space and living in the backyard of a house, with no power nor running water. Every home must be considered “livable” for you or anyone else to legally reside there.
So, if your property is not considered legally “livable” because it lacks running water or electricity, you can’t sidestep the issue by living in your backyard. Similarly, it’s illegal to try and rent your backyard to anyone else to live there, since, again, it is not a legally “livable” shelter.
The intention of laws that stop people from sleeping outside or setting up tents and camping for long periods is to prevent people from setting up tent cities in their yards and allowing others to live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Backyard camping is a great activity to spend time with your loved ones and relieve stress. Plus, it can help you create bonds with family and friends. If this is your first time to do this activity, read our guide to camping in your backyard before you get started.
Is It Safe to Sleep Outside in Your Backyard?
As we’ve established, you can legally spend a fun night or two out in your backyard with your kids (or alone!). The next obvious question is: how safe is it to do so?
The answer heavily depends on several different factors, so let’s break them down piecemeal.
Is Your Neighborhood Safe?
Any area with a high crime rate isn’t an ideal place to be sleeping outside. Local crime is definitely something you need to consider, especially if your city has a high violent crime rate, as sleeping out in the open would put you at a greater risk.
Do You Live in a Rural Area?
Even if your neighborhood isn’t violent, you’ll need to consider the wildlife in the area. While many animals will leave you alone, some other animals are naturally curious and may come to investigate (or look for dinner).
Waking up to a gigantic moose looming over you won’t end nicely! So, keep in mind the local fauna in your area and wonder whether or not your backyard is secure enough to prevent them from trespassing.
What Is the Bug Situation?
While criminals and bears are frightening, they aren’t the only things out at night. Your yard could host numerous different bugs that spread diseases. Bugs such as ticks and mosquitoes, for instance, are quite common and can both transfer potentially life-threatening conditions, such as malaria and Lyme disease.
Is it a major risk? Probably not, but it’s a good reminder to make sure you have shelter, such as a tent, even in your backyard. Bugs don’t care about laws and it’s no fun to wake up to a body covered in bites.
Sleeping with a Fire in Your Backyard
Fire is a nice element to have if you are planning on spending a night outdoors. It can greatly improve the ambience of your backyard, it allows you to cook and enjoy hot meals, and it keeps mosquitoes away. If you’re going to have a fire, you’ll want to make sure that you take the necessary safety precautions:
- Ensure that it’s legal in your area. Not all places allow outdoor firepits, especially during seasons with high fire risks.
- Make a fire pit either out of gathered stones or by digging a hole.
- Don’t make a fire too close to anything that might catch on fire.
- Don’t make a fire under any low-hanging trees.
- Have a water hose or fire extinguisher on hand at all times.
- Make sure to put the fire out before you go to sleep.
That last point is, arguably, the most important one. Never leave a fire unattended, even in residential areas. Following those guidelines will ensure that you are safe and won’t wake up to sirens.
Tents are suitable shelters used when sleeping outdoors. They are typically used for camping, but you can also use them if you want to sleep in your yard. If you are planning to live in a tent full-time in your backyard, rethink your plans because it is illegal to live in a tent in your backyard. Read our article for more information about this topic.
The Overhead Dangers and Widow Makers
“Widow makers” are old dead branches that have snapped and are ready to plummet to the ground at any moment. These guys are a hazard anywhere there are trees. So, make sure to inspect any tree that is near where you are planning to sleep to prevent any (literal) headaches.
Make Your Backyard a Napping Paradise
Maybe you’ve decided that your backyard is your new room and want to give it a cozy, welcoming feeling. Here are a few ideas that could make your backyard adventure a little comfier.
- Get a hammock. It’s probably the best sleep you’ll ever get. There is an assortment of different types of hammocks, but you don’t need to go too crazy. You could opt to hang one from the trees or get one with a frame. Some even come with bug nets!
- Get a fire pit and some nice cushioned outdoor furniture. You can pick up a furniture set at any department store. Just make sure it is weather-resistant.
- Install a water fountain for nice, serene background noise. It’s nice to hear the sound of running water. Besides, it helps most people fall asleep.
- If you do use a tent, make sure to get a sleeping pad. It’ll make your night more enjoyable.
- Use bug repellent or candles that repel bugs, so you do not get eaten alive in your sleep. It’s also a good idea to use tick spray depending on your area and the time of year.
With just a few upgrades, you can create a peaceful and comfortable space in your backyard to make your “staycation” just that much more enjoyable.
Can you legally sleep in your backyard? Yes. It’s legal to sleep in your backyard. It will only become an issue if you’re living in a tent on a property with no electricity or running water or if you attempt to have someone else live there for an extended period of time.
Even though camping in your yard is legal, you still need to take proper safety precautions. Use this cheat sheet of questions to make sure you are prepared for your night outdoors:
- Are there any ants, flying bugs, snakes, or other small critters in your area?
- What is the rest of the local wildlife like? Are there bears, elks, cougars, or any other large animals that could sneak up on you and cause issues?
- Are fires legal in your area, and are you prepared to make one safely?
- Are there any dead trees in the area that could be a safety hazard?
Don’t worry, it sounds like more work than it actually is. If you live in a safe area with a fenced backyard, you should have no issues spending a warm summer night outside in your yard!