When it comes to building your dream tiny home, you must make sure that the entire procedure is legal.
Living illegally in your tiny home can come with some serious costs and risks, so you must know how to avoid some common pitfalls. Complying with your local building codes and ordinances can be confusing, but they are an absolute necessity.
What can happen when people live in tiny houses without a permit?
If you are found living in an illegal tiny house, you could be facing eviction and serious fines. In some areas, the fines are upward of $750 per day for each day that you live in an illegal home. It is paramount that you comply with all building and zoning codes when building your tiny home.
Furthermore, make sure that you are asking questions and getting advice from your local government offices to make sure that you are doing everything right. This will help prevent disaster later!
What Can Happen When People Live in Tiny Houses Illegally?
Many areas are banning tiny houses because of the difficulty with regulations and zoning.
Cities want to ensure that their citizens are residing in properties that are built to certain standards. Understanding the city you live in and their unique regulations is key if you want to avoid some of these major consequences.
Each state, city, and county will have its own consequences for those who live in their tiny home illegally.
First and foremost, you may be required to move your tiny home. The county you live in may have the right to evict you from the premises if it is found to be illegal according to the local codes and ordinances.
This could spell problems for those who built their tiny home on a permanent foundation.
There are also some hefty financial implications of illegally living in a tiny house as well. In some areas, you could be facing fines of up to $750 for each day that you remain in the house past your eviction notice!
Other areas could impose even greater fines.
How Do I Make Sure My Tiny House is Legal?
Unfortunately, many states do not have specific and consistent rules that apply to tiny homes.
Most of these state-to-state restrictions will apply to the building process, but some do still apply when it comes to the placement of your home. Before you even start building, be sure to check how these tiny homes are categorized in your state, or even your specific town.
Regulations will often vary in each state, town, city, and even county.
To make sure that your home is legal, you first need to know how it is categorized in the eyes of the law.
Categories of Tiny Houses
Some states like California will view tiny homes as accessory dwelling units that people place in their backyards or in the backyards of others.
Other states can categorize them more closely to an RV or a motorhome – and often, most states will consider them hunting cabins or vacation homes.
The biggest variation in legality comes down to how your tiny house is built. Does it reside on a permanent foundation, or is it built on wheels to allow for flexible travel?
A tiny home built on a permanent foundation often requires the same permits and procedures as a traditional stick-built home. However, those that are built on wheels may have more lenient standards.
Some areas will have laws that apply to the overall size of the home as well. For example, some counties in Florida require the tiny home to have minimum square footage.
For more information on the specific laws across the nation, be sure to view our more detailed article: Where Can I Build a Tiny House? (Laws by State).
How Do You Get a Permit for a Tiny House?
If you live in an area where tiny houses require a building permit, you may be wondering how to begin the process. The first step is to make sure that your area is zoned for a tiny home building.
Contact the local planning department to see what their definition of a tiny home is and whether you can build one on your property. Once you have cleared this with the planning department, it is time to start considering the permits required for your house.
Building codes must be followed to ensure safety and construction standards for the occupants of your new tiny home. They enforce minimum standards that must be met, regardless of the size of your potential home.
Depending on your area, you may or may not be required to have building permits. However, you are more likely to need a permit if your tiny home is built on a permanent foundation.
The best way to determine what paperwork you need to file is to take a trip down to your local building department and speak with a building official.
They can guide you through the appropriate process that is expected of you in your particular county.
Do You Need a Permit for Tiny Houses in ALL States?
Not all states will require a permit for you to live in your tiny home. It will vary based on the state, city, and even the individual county. Most of the time, it depends on whether your house is built on a permanent foundation or a portable trailer.
Many states will require the use of a building permit when the home is built on a permanent foundation. Remember that the specific location of your tiny home is going to be the major factor in these situations. Zoning regulations can be prohibitive when it comes to filing for your building permits.
Building on a privately-owned property is one way to get around the need for building permits.
Current states that do not necessarily require building permits include Oregon, Massachusetts, California, and Michigan.
Permits are designed to keep you safe in your new tiny home. They may add an expense to your experience, but they are ultimately there to help your tiny home be the best it can be. Try to view them as a positive thing instead of fighting against the process.
See our article Are Tiny Houses Illegal in Your State? For more information on the legality of your state!
How Do People Get Around These Obstacles?
One of the ways you can get around a required building permit is by building your tiny home on wheels.
Only tiny homes that are built on permanent foundations are typically subject to following the local building ordinances.
Keeping your home hitched to a vehicle is a great way to ensure that your home is always ready to be relocated and to head off the need for permits.
Another way to get around required building permits is to build your home on privately-owned property. Some cities will not allow for tiny houses to be built on certain locations due to zoning requirements. However, you can often get around this by moving your tiny home to a property owned by a friend or a family member.
Living in a backyard or on a farm in this way is typically less of a violation.
Another way to avoid some of the laws is to live in your tiny home just part-time. Because it is not your full-time occupancy, most states will categorize your tiny home as recreational. It gives you a chance to test the waters of living in a tiny home while also giving you more legal flexibility.
Some zoning and construction laws don’t apply to recreational spaces, so you could also try moving around the country from campground-to-campground with your tiny home!
Other Things You Should Know Before Building a Tiny House
Complying with the local building codes and ordinances can sound pretty scary. Understanding what your county requires of you can be complicated and confusing, but asking questions and talking to the right officials can help you get where you need to be!
In addition to the other things discussed in this article, here are a few things you should know before building a tiny house:
RV Park Tiny Homes
If you are having a difficult time finding a place to keep your tiny home, you might want to consider an RV park. Many people park their tiny homes here for the short-term or long-term. Make sure that you select a park with paved lots so that your tiny home doesn’t get stuck in the mud, though!
Parking in an RV park comes with quite a few perks for those living in tiny homes. Consider all of the amenities that they might have.
RV parks typically have on-site laundry machines, a sense of community, and they offer a way for you to immerse yourself in nature.
Many people enjoy the feeling that they get from living in one of these parks long-term.
Tiny Home Floor Plans
Keep in mind that you might run into specific building codes that are a challenge to work into a tiny home floor plan.
For example, some counties require you to have a room with certain minimum square footage. At least one room must exceed one hundred square feet in some areas. You also have to have a certain level of headspace, and sometimes your trailer can factor into the “length” of your tiny home when it is in transit.
While it can be a bit of a challenge, it is necessary to follow these rules if you want to have a legal tiny home.
Making sure that your tiny home complies with all of the local building codes can be a real challenge.
There are quite a few loopholes that you might be able to take advantage of if you are determined to make tiny house living work without the cost of filing for building permits.
Make sure to do your homework on what your state and county require before you get a head start on the building process of your new tiny home!
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Maria is the founder of GoDownsize. While studying architecture in Denmark she became fascinated with designing living spaces for boats, tiny houses, RVs, and other small spaces.
She mainly writes about space optimization, interior design, and downsizing. She’s also in charge of our YouTube channel. Read more about Maria here.