Can I live in a tiny house on my own property?

​​Can I live in a tiny house on my own property?

Generally, yes, you should be able to live in a tiny house on your property. However, while tiny houses are not illegal in the US, everybody knows that some states are less likely to allow you to just move in a tiny home, and more likely to delay the process with all sorts of requirements and restrictions. 

Some of these requirements are:

  • There is a different minimum square footage requirement in each state, city and county. A minimum size requirement from 600 square feet to 800 square feet may be required.
  • In many states, tiny houses are considered to be accessory dwelling units and should be registered as such.
  • In other states, tiny houses are treated and subjected to the same laws as RVs and cannot be titled as regular houses.
  • Tiny houses must comply with all aspects of HUD construction and safety standards.
  • Some counties requiere for tiny houses to be placed on a permanent foundation and to be connected to public utilities.

The real issue is that, since most tiny homes are built on trailer axles, they are often initially registered as an RV. The reason for this is the lower annual fee to register and renew a trailer compared to other formats, for example, motorhomes. But this is just to keep towing legal, as many places require all vehicles and trailers to be titled. 

Unfortunately, it is up to the individual code compliance inspector to decide whether or not you live in a structure. If they say yes, it can be difficult to convince someone otherwise. However, that does not mean that there are not people living in motorhomes full time. Some places in America are extremely welcoming to this kind of way of life. 

New laws for tiny houses

Some people are pushing for a legislative change to introduce a new classification specifically for tiny houses. This makes sense since tiny houses don’t fit into any of the existing categories. While this approach is preferred by many, it is also the most challenging. The amount of work required to do is not a task that most government agencies are willing to take on.

 Now let’s take a look at some considerations and challenges that people sometimes face when trying to live in a tiny home.

Where to park a tiny house: minimum square meters

While international building codes tend to become increasingly flexible with minimum size requirements for homes, this does not mean that individual municipalities do not have their own size requirements.

The arguments in favour of these rules generally centre on safety and population density, but certainly lower tax revenues from smaller homes play a role. We see this better later.

If you want a tiny house built on a foundation, you may need to request an exception to the minimum square footage. If you build it on a trailer, the minimum square footage rules do not apply.

Tiny house type: mobile vs permanent

Most municipalities will only allow or inspect permanent structures. While mobility is one of the great benefits of tiny houses, those that are built firmly on foundations are the ones that are moving the most towards legislative approval. This is for good reason, as the mobile home is difficult to plan when it comes to infrastructure. 

If it is not in your plans to move your tiny house, you could consider building on a foundation. If such small houses are not allowed in your municipality, a tiny house on wheels may be your only option.

Living in a tiny house: inspections

If your tiny house is built on a fixed foundation, it is subject to all local building codes. These codes exist to ensure minimum standards of quality and safety. If you are building on a trailer, there is usually no governing body that needs or wants to inspect your home. However, that doesn’t mean your tiny house on wheels shouldn’t follow the rules.

Some details may play a role at this point. For example, it will be easier if your house does not connect to utility networks. If the municipality does not have the formal means to collect taxes from you, it will also not approve of you using the sewers and sewer systems. In the case of electricity and gas, it is different because measuring consumption is usually easier. 

Anyway, if your house does not generate impact and is disconnected from the networks (off-grid) you will have several arguments in your favour. Don’t forget that building codes are there to regulate good coexistence and keep you safe.

The reasons a local government may not want tiny houses can range from legitimate concerns to unfounded fears. Understanding what they are can help you prepare your arguments.

Tiny houses, square meters, taxes and tax revenue

We anticipated this topic before. The city, municipality or state needs to generate tax revenue. It is what allows them to offer services. Minimum square footage laws may be in place to keep those revenues high. If you build a smaller house, you will pay fewer taxes. Or, if you bring a mobile trailer onto a property, they can’t tax it at all (not a terrain improvement).

But skipping taxes shouldn’t be the goal of tiny house dwellers. After all, they use the resources provided by their community (roads, sewage services, schools, etc.) and it seems fair to them to contribute to the cost of those resources.

There are multiple solutions to take to the local legislature to figure out where to park a tiny house. Including paying taxes for your tiny house as if it were built on a foundation. Or perhaps agreeing to pay the minimum tax per square meter. 

For example, if the minimum square meters were 50, then you would pay the equivalent of that amount instead of the 28 square meters that (on average) a tiny has. While this sounds great in theory, we haven’t heard that many people succeed in this approach

If you are the type of person who is only comfortable staying exactly within the lines of the law, you will want to seek approval for your tiny house before you buy or build it.

This process will likely involve finding a parcel of land where you want to live and then approaching your local zoning department with your application. You will need to identify the specific rules you will violate, if any, and then request an exception. This is a multi-step process that will likely culminate in standing behind a podium to present your case to aboard. In addition, you should be prepared to allocate some money, since each stage has its own rate.

Living in a tiny house on your own property: staying under the radar

Most people who live in tiny houses have at least one unruly streak inside them. After all, tiny houses are anything but conventional. So when asked “where to park a tiny house” it should come as no surprise that most tiny house dwellers are doing so without the implicit approval of their local government. This may be easier to achieve and more successful in less visible suburban locations.

You will only want to consider this option if your home is on wheels, as in the worst case someone will force you to move. If your house has a foundation and was built without a permit, the government can forcibly remove it. And that’s not a good scenario for anyone!

The bottom line

A tiny home is a small transportable house attached to a trailer that can be towed by a passenger vehicle. Legally, it is considered a “land mobile residence”. The format of the tiny home is therefore similar to a caravan: it is limited by the maximum width and weight authorized for a vehicle as well as the maximum height allowed to pass under a bridge or a tunnel.

We get why you want to live in a tiny home, but before going ahead and investing in one, we recommend you check carefully the procedure for installing one on your land!

FAQ on Can I live in a tiny house on my own property?

Why are tiny homes illegal?

Tiny homes are not illegal in the US, but some states are known to be less open to the idea of regulating tiny homes when it comes to zoning and safety. Thus, you will have to work extra hard in some states to be able to live in a tiny home legally. By working extra we mean obtaining proper permits and safety regulations from the City Council. 

Can I live in a tiny home?

As long as you obtain all the necessary permits from your City Council and you find the land to place your tiny home, you are more than welcome to live in it full-time! Although building a tiny home may seem like a good investment at first, the question actually turns out to be a little more complex. It all depends on your lifestyle, the context, the choice of the land and the way your tiny house is built. 

References