Thursday, September 29, 2016

Q: We’ve been looking at some lower priced waterfront that is listed as “recreational” property.

We get mixed messages from people about building on it.  We’d be happy to just camp out or put an RV there for summertime camping.  Do you have information about that?

A:   According to King County code you cannot camp in King County except in King County “approved campgrounds.”  It’s possible to create a campground but, again, according to the County it must be on property of at least five acres, and must be permitted and strictly managed. They would also require an approved water source and an approved septic system.  These rules can be found in the code, 21A.08.040 in various sections.  

Limited camping is allowed on the property where you have your home for up to 60 days a year, but only with a temporary use or conditional use permit.  That's for your kids to camp in the backyard or friends to camp while visiting you, for example.

You’ve no doubt seen property with small trailers, tents, or even small camping cabins, etc. if you’ve been looking.  These are not legal.  However, if no one has complained to King County Code Enforcement, they just stay where they are.  That seems arbitrary, I know, but that’s how it actually works.  Code enforcement has so few personnel and time that they only work on specific complaints.

We have many “illegal” dwelling units on Vashon.  People here have often just done what they want and not worried about permits or what’s allowed.  That works OK, actually, until you get caught.  I’ve heard of many code enforcement cases, and you never know what the outcome will be.  Depending on the County personnel you’re dealing with, you could pay a fine, have to remove a part of your illegal structure, tear it down altogether, or pay fines and get retroactive permits.

I caution all buyers against buying unbuildable property.  For the same price you pay for these properties you and your family could have many years of vacations in one of our waterfront vacation rentals.