Problem: Within the Town of Westerly there are three so-called Recreation Vehicle (RV) Parks with an aggregate of close to 500 sites. All of the sites are occupied by recreational vehicles most of which remain in place more than 30 days per year. The Town of Westerly does not assess or collect a personal property or property tax on any recreational vehicle located within one of the three RV parks except for recreational vehicles that are owned and registered to residents of the town.
Facts Bearing On The Problem: Rhode Island General Law, Title 31, Chapter 31-3-2 Vehicles subject to registration. - Every motor vehicle, trailer, semi-trailer, pole trailer, motorized camper, tent trailer, travel trailer, pick-up coach and pick-up camper, owned by a resident of this state when operated or drawn upon a highway within this state for a period of (30) days shall be subject to the registration provisions of chapters 3 - 9 of this title except: ... Title 31, Chapter 31-3-2 only applies to vehicles that are owned by residents of the State of Rhode Island.
R.I.G.L. Title 31, Chapter 31-1-7 Foreign vehicle. - “Foreign vehicle” means every vehicle, of a type that must be registered under chapters 3 - 9 of this title, brought into this state from another state, territory or country, other than in the ordinary course of business by or through a manufacturer or dealer, and not registered in this state.
Title 31, Chapter 31-3.2-2 Registration. - (h) The registration provisions of this section shall not apply to non-resident owners who have registered their recreational vehicles in compliance with the registration and licensing laws of the state, province, district or country of residence in which they reside...
The State of Rhode Island does NOT require foreign recreational vehicles owned by non-residents of the State of Rhode Island to be registered in this state regardless of how long the recreational vehicle remains in the State of Rhode Island.
The RI Department of Business Regulations (DBR) licenses Mobile and Manufactured Home parks. The DBR does not license Recreational Vehicle Parks.
Title 31, Chapter 31-3.2-5 Licensing by political subdivisions. - No political subdivision of this state shall require licensing or registration of snowmobiles or recreational vehicles.
Discussion: In Rhode Island residents of the state register their vehicles with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV notifies the 39 cities and towns within the state of the vehicles that are registered within each of the respective municipalities. The tax assessors in each of the 39 cities and towns then assess a personal property tax on each vehicle registered in the municipality according to the personal property tax rate established by that city or town. Failure to pay the personal property tax on a vehicle results in the revocation or non-renewal of the vehicles registration.
According to a former tax assessor for the town of Westerly a conservative estimate of the value of the recreational vehicles located in just one of the recreational vehicle parks in town is $8M. The actual value may be closer to double that amount. Most of the foreign recreational vehicles parked in town remain longer than 30 days (a.k.a extended stay) and are not subjected to verification of registration due to the fact that there is little or no enforcement of the vehicle registration laws as they apply to “foreign” vehicles. Consequently there is not much by way of empirical data on the matter of personal property taxes levied on out-of-state recreational vehicles parked/stored in Westerly for 30 days or longer.
The three RV parks within the town of Westerly more closely resemble mobile and manufactured home parks, as defined by R.I.G.L. Title 31, Chapter 31-34. The three “parks” provide extended stay amenities that includes sites for extended stay resort or destination trailers, full hookup utility connection assemblies for access to water, electrical power, septic system, phone/TV. In two of the parks the recreational vehicles remain year round, albeit, they are not occupied year round. Patio’s, decks, out-buildings and screened areas are allowed within the parks. The RV park season ostensibly runs from May through October.
Conclusion: With the exception of town residents, who register their vehicle, extended stay occupiers of rental sites within the three aforementioned RV parks enjoy all of the amenities offered by the town of Westerly along with police and fire protection while avoiding the obligation of having to pay a property, personal property or fire tax to the town/fire district. In addition, RV parks that cater to extended stay customers are not licensed by the RI DBR. This despite the fact that they more closely resemble mobile and manufactured home parks that are licensed by the RI DBR. The ambivalence in the legal definitions coupled with a lack of vehicle registration enforcement on private property constructively allows a tax loophole to be exploited thereby making it possible for RV owners to avoid paying a property, personal property and fire tax on vehicles that enjoy an extended stay in Westerly. This largess is provided through the generosity and indifference of the Rhode Island General Assembly with the knowledge and tacit approval of state and local officials.