Shopping malls have massive parking lots so it seems like the perfect place to park your car overnight. Will your car blend in with the crowd or is there a better place to park overnight? Is overnight parking allowed at a shopping mall?
Overnight parking is rarely allowed at a shopping mall. Most shopping centers have signs posted stating “Customer Parking Only During Business Hours”. Shopping malls have a large security teams patrolling the area for cars remaining after business hours.
Most cities have strict laws and ordinances in place prohibiting overnight parking. The only people that can stay in the lots overnight are employees with hanging tags on their cars. Parking overnight in a shopping mall can lead to your car getting ticketed, towed, and impounded as an abandoned vehicle (at the owners expense) for parking after hours.
Don’t Park Overnight At A Shopping Mall
I have left my car parked at the mall overnight, but I don’t recommend it. I’ve had a few too many beers at the bar located in my mall and had to order an Uber to get home. Leaving my car overnight has never been an issue in those situations, but I wouldn’t want to press my luck.
I was more than willing to risk a small fine (possible tow) versus driving home from the bar drunk. Every time that’s happened, there’s been a sticker left on my window stating that if my car was left overnight again it would be towed.
It’s never came to that, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to leave a car in a shopping mall parking lot overnight. Mall parking lots are heavily patrolled and it’s very obvious when there’s a car that doesn’t belong.
Most Shopping Malls Have Security Teams Patrolling The Lots
Most of the shopping centers I’ve visited have a sizable security staff patrolling the lot. You can almost always spot a security car or off duty police officer sitting somewhere on the lot. If they see a car or RV parking along the outer edges of the parking lot they will easily remember it and put it on their radar.
You don’t want to leave your car unattended overnight or try to sleep in an RV or stealth camper van. There’s a good chance an abandoned car will get ticketed or towed, and you’re almost guaranteed to get a late night knock on the window if you’re sleeping in the vehicle. They probably won’t give you a ticket, but they will make you leave.
Most Cities Ban Overnight Parking At Shopping Centers
A city relies on its shopping mall to become a premium shopping destination. With so many shopping centers going under, cities are going to great lengths to improve the customer experience. The last thing they want is abandoned cars and a small community of RVers and Vagrants sleeping in their parking lot.
On top of that, most medium-large sized cities have laws banning overnight sleeping in vehicles within city limits. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a million dollar RV or 20 year old beat up Chevy Camry. The same laws apply to everybody.
You can not park overnight in public areas (private or government owned). These laws are applied city-wide, but law enforcement pays particular attention to shopping malls and large retailers. They probably won’t catch you sleeping in a stealth van in your local Planet Fitness, but you won’t go unnoticed after business hours at a shopping mall.
Shopping Centers Aren’t Like Walmart, Sams Club, Costco, Home Depot etc.
There’s a reason why so many RVers get away with parking overnight at Walmart, Sams Club, Home Depot, etc. These stores aren’t “tourist destinations” that attract people from the surrounding communities.
Local residents come to these stores, but they go there for a set purpose. They need groceries from Walmart, lumber from Home Depot, and who knows what crazy things you’ll find at Sams Club or Costco.
It doesn’t matter if there’s an RVs sitting at the edge of the parking lot and a random guy sleeping in a Schoolie or camper van. People will still show up even if they see unsightly RVs and campers sitting in the parking lot out front.
You May Get Away With Stealth Camping At The Mall
There’s almost always a better place to camp than at a mall, but you may be able to get away with stealth camping. If you have a van that doesn’t look like a camper you will probably get away with a single night at a shopping mall.
I don’t have a decked out stealth camping van, but I do have a junky cargo van for work. I’ve been able to get away with sleeping in that van almost anywhere. There’s a cheap air mattress in the back, between my tools and it looks just like every other random work van in a parking lot.
My advice is to park alongside all the other cars so you don’t stand out and keep the lights off with shades over the windows. Stay inside the van all night long and try to keep noise levels down.
If you get caught, there may be a 3am knock on the window telling you to clear out of the parking lot. The worst case scenario will be a citation for “camping” which is usually $150-$300. I guess they could arrest you for vagrancy and impound your vehicle, but that’s highly unlikely.