By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Would you rent an RV for $300 a month?
It appears that many are willing to do just that, in an underground economy that’s springing up across the U.S. But there’s a bit of a catch to the cheap rental – you won’t be going too far in your $10-a-day special, unless somewhere in metro Los Angeles is your destination of choice. And most of us in the RV lifestyle probably wouldn’t give any of the low-end-rent rigs a second glance – but make no mistake, there are plenty of customers ready and waiting.
Blame it on the economy. Blame it on high rents. Blame it – maybe – on “Rob,” an entrepreneur who may be just another member of the growing army of slumlords on wheels who, depending on your viewpoint, is either a sinner or a saint.
The high cost of hulking out unwanted and abandoned RVs is also part of the equation. Every day in LA, police call for tow trucks to haul away motorhomes and trailers that have been hanging out on the streets. One of the big players in the tow-away market is an outfit called Pepe’s L.A. Tow, who, by virtue of the size of some of their tow rigs, can actually tie onto a large rig and haul it off.
Once it gets to Pepe’s impound lot, a couple of things can happen. The owner may come in and redeem it. Or not. In the latter case, because the company says it can cost upwards to $1,000 to have the unredeemed rigs dismantled – far less than they get from the tow fees paid them by the city – the tow company will put the rig up for auction. In a sale, most of those unwanted RVs move across the block for no more than $50. In a few, rare cases, they might realize a bid of $200 or even more.
Those high bids often come from our man Rob. In some cases he’s been known to plunk down as much as $1,000 for a particularly nice rig. After payment is made, Rob (who tells reporters he needs to remain anonymous) moves the rigs away from the impound yard and invests labor and perhaps some material to bring the rigs into a condition where he can rent them out, mostly to homeless people.
No, he doesn’t have an RV park full of homeless folks. Rob’s territory includes some of those same downtown streets where the rigs may have originally been hauled out by Pepe’s. Oftentimes, Rob’s “tenants” pay him $10 a day for their new home. They also get a card with the name and number of a guy who does drive-by holding tank pump-outs – another part of the Big City underground housing economy. If it works out for the RV tenant, after a few months they may have the opportunity to actually buy their rented RV outright, a “rent-to-own” plan on a grand scale.
While the homes they’ve rented have been scrupulously cleaned with bleach, there’s no doubt that the living standards in the previously abandoned RVs come nowhere close to where you and I would accept for fulltime RVing, or even short-tripping. Does that make Rob a slumlord, taking unfair advantage of folks down on their luck? There’s always the other side of the coin: Is living in a down-on-the-heels motorhome a better situation than trying to stay warm in a cardboard box under an interstate bridge?
It’s not just an issue of Rob and the seven RVs he’s presently renting out. Drive around Los Angeles or any other big city, you’ve probably driven past other “rental homes on wheels,” and never even had a clue they were residences. Apparently “cube vans” and “box trucks” are becoming favorites of this quiet but growing economy. The rents for homes and apartments get higher, making ends meet gets harder, and people like Rob will have plenty of folks on waiting lists.
It’s not difficult to see that there’s something seriously wrong with the world in which we live … and to give us room to be grateful for what we have – at least, for right now.
For a fuller view on this matter, see the story that was the basis of this article on 89.3KPCC.