Whether you’re passing through in your RV and looking for a great parking spot, you’re in town on business and don’t have the energy to find a hotel for the night, or any number of other reasons, you might have found yourself considering sleeping in your vehicle on the streets of NYC.
But can you sleep in your car in NYC?
Well, kind of. There is no actual law against sleeping in your car in New York, primarily because it was deemed to be unfair to homeless people to have such a law.
However, that does not mean there are no roadblocks to catching a few Zs in your vehicle.
For example, private property owners (such as retail companies with large, inviting parking lots) can place restrictions on what you can do on their property.
And it is illegal to park your vehicle in many places throughout NYC.
All in all, if you pay attention to signs and are careful, you should be fine sleeping in your car in NYC. And if you get caught somewhere you shouldn’t be, it is doubtful that you will face anything more than a stern request to move along.
Although, on that last point, we have to say that your mileage may vary, and it’s best not to rely on the goodwill or apathy of private property owners.
Still, there is a lot more to this topic than a simple yes or no, so let’s dive a little deeper.
Sleeping in Your Car in Parking Lots
As there is no law against sleeping in your car, you are not inherently breaking the law by sleeping in your car in a parking lot.
However, the reality of the situation is a little more complicated than that.
If the owner of the parking lot—be it a small business or a global franchise—has decided to specifically prohibit sleeping in your car on their property, then they are entirely within their rights to ask you to leave.
The instant you are asked to leave private property, you become a trespasser on that land, and that is breaking the law. Refusing to go at this point could land you inside a courtroom, so it’s most definitely best to move on without starting any trouble.
If you find a parking lot that does not have any signs expressly prohibiting sleeping in your vehicle—and you could also check the companies website if you want to be extra thorough—then you should be safe in theory.
However, it could be that the owner does not want any urban camping on their land, and it has just never occurred to them to put up a sign. In that case, they may still ask you to leave, and you would still be legally obligated to comply.
For this reason, you should be as stealthy as possible when sleeping in your vehicle in NYC. Unless you have the express permission of the property owner whose land you are parked on, just assume that you will be asked to leave if you are found out.
The rule here is to not draw attention to yourself, and that is a rule that typically applies to sleeping in your car—or camping —in any location where you do not have the explicit permission of the owner.
Examples of things that can draw attention to you are cooking outside of the vehicle, running a woodburning stove inside your RV, carrying out any kind of bodily function in public (indecent exposure is illegal in NYC, by the way), and generally being active in and around your vehicle.
Sleeping in Your Car on the Street in NYC
This one is a little more clear cut. As there are no laws against sleeping in your car in NYC, there is no legal reason you can’t park your car up on a public street and have a nice, long nap.
You need to legally be allowed to park there.
This rules out a lot of places in NYC, especially when you factor in both areas where parking is not permitted, and streets where it is allowed for a limited amount of time.
It’s all well and good being permitted to park in a specific spot, but you won’t get a very good night’s sleep if you have to move on within the next hour.
Things get a little more complicated when you factor in the locals.
You see, while you might not be breaking any laws by sleeping in your car on an NYC street, residents are also not breaking any laws by calling the police to report a “suspicious” vehicle in their neighborhood.
In other words, you probably won’t get arrested for sleeping in your car, but you might get a knock on the window in the middle of the night from a police officer. I don’t know about you BUT that is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
The best way to avoid this is not to pick a spot in a residential area, even if you are confident you won’t be fumbling around or getting in and out of your car.
Remember, the people who live in that area know their neighborhood very well. Just seeing a strange car parked up overnight might be enough of a reason for them to call the police.
And if you are getting in and out of your car, or giving clear indications that there is someone inside the vehicle, you are far more likely to raise suspicion.
Stick to streets where there will be few prying eyes through the night, though it might be best to avoid buildings of interest.
Don’t park outside a bank, for example.
As for the rest, keep to the same guidelines we mentioned for sleeping in your car in a parking lot. Don’t draw attention to yourself, and don’t inadvertently do something illegal, like urinating on the sidewalk.
Sleeping in your car might be legal, but you can still break the law in other ways while you’re doing it.
Can You Live in Your Car in New York?
Perhaps, for you, sleeping in your car is more than just a one or two-night thing. Perhaps it is a way of life, either through choice or forced by circumstance.
If that is the case, how would you go about living in your car on the streets of NYC?
First and foremost, you need to keep moving. You can’t set up camp in a particular spot and stay there for weeks on end, because you will attract attention, and someone will undoubtedly report you to the authorities, who will probably ask you to move along.
Which is not to say you couldn’t stay in the same spot more than once, just don’t stay there for consecutive nights for weeks on end.
The next thing to make your life easier is to be polite and respectful to those you encounter, especially if they live in the area you are hoping to stay in.
People are more likely to make your life difficult if you are a nuisance to them. Being rude to them on the street, playing loud music, and leaving garbage lying around on the streets.
Things like this upset people and upset people are more likely to try and have you removed.
Of course, even the most respectful of city campers will eventually encounter someone who can’t be bought with kindness if they are visible enough, so it’s best to keep as low a profile as possible.
If your vehicle isn’t private (such as a cargo van, or a car with blacked-out rear windows), then make it private. If you’re sleeping in the back of a vehicle with regular windows, no amount of staying low-key will stop a random passerby from noticing you hanging out in the back seat.
Blacking out your windows may work, although it’s not ideal for getting a good night’s sleep during the summer months when the sun rises at 6 in the morning.
You might prefer some form of a curtain, or completely covering your windows so that no light gets in or out. That way, you are not only hidden from the prying eyes of passing pedestrians, but you are also protecting yourself from those early morning rays waking you up too soon.
What do we take away from all of this? Can you sleep in your car in NYC? Yes. From a legal standpoint, there is no reason you cannot park up somewhere you are legally allowed to park and have a good night’s sleep in the comfort of your trusty car.
Practically speaking, you need to take a lot of things into account if you want to avoid awkward situations and potential run-ins with the authorities. And you should be especially careful if you are living in your car in NYC.
Regardless of your circumstances, try to draw as little attention to yourself as possible. And, remember, there may not be a law preventing you from sleeping in your car in NYC, but there is no law granting you the right to do so. Which is to say, you won’t get arrested for doing it, but you might get repeatedly hassled.