Virginia Landowner Fights County Over Right to Host Overnight Hunting Guest

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Isle of WightIn yet another example of a busy-body local government harassing a law-abiding citizen, officials in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, are trying to prohibit a farmer and Virginia landowner from allowing a disabled friend to stay overnight on his property in an RV.  The farmer wanted to give his friend and guest an opportunity to go hunting on his 86-acre farm.

County officials claim that the use of the RV constitutes an unauthorized “campground” in violation of local zoning ordinances.  An avid outdoorsman, farmer Joseph R. Ferguson frequently hosts hunting excursions on his heavily wooded property, which, like much of the surrounding area, is zoned agricultural.  Predominantly rural Isle of Wight County is located in southeastern Virginia; it lies to the west of Norfolk.

RV on Private PropertyFerguson thought nothing about allowing his disabled friend to park his Outback RV Trailer on the property.  After all, the parking space was located 170 feet from the public road abutting the farm, and Ferguson assumed that having a guest stay overnight on his farm and engage in the legal activity of hunting were covered under the rights of property ownership.  But he didn’t count on the bullies in the county courthouse.

“Pre-Revolutionary Era”

“Cases such as this one are becoming increasingly common across the country as overzealous government officials routinely enforce laws that undermine the very property rights that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution,” said John Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.  “Whether you’re talking about laws that prohibit A Government of Wolves by John W Whiteheadsomeone from smoking a cigarette inside one’s apartment, hosting a Bible study in one’s backyard, or growing organic vegetables in one’s front yard, the government’s ongoing disregard for private property brings us full circle back to that pre-revolutionary era when colonists had few to no rights whatsoever within their homes.”

In 2011, Ferguson received a letter from the county advising him that his property had been inspected in response to a complaint, and asserting that the presence of the trailer violated a county ordinance prohibiting the use of recreational vehicles as ”residences.”  Moreover, Ferguson was informed by a county official that the trailer could not be used a living quarters and that its use constituted maintenance of an unauthorized “campground.”

After appeals to the county Board of Supervisors went unheeded, attorneys for the Rutherford Institute intervened, filing suit against the county in circuit court on the grounds that Ferguson’s placement and use of the trailer did not violate the law because the noncommercial use of the trailer did not constitute establishment of a “campground,” and the temporary occupancy of the trailer did not constitute use of the trailer as a “residence.”  Rutherford attorneys are also seeking a declaration from the court that Ferguson has a right to use his property for occasional camping by himself, his family, and his friends.


Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

About Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT. He also serves as a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, a senior policy advisor with the Heartland Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.