Owning a tiny house is very different from owning a traditional home. They both make great living accommodations, but choosing where to put your tiny house includes a few obstacles that you will have to overcome.
Many people who begin their tiny house journey are more focused on the building and parking of that tiny house than they are of the zoning laws and building codes.
So where can you put a tiny house?
Tiny houses can be parked permanently or temporarily on plots of land that are legally allowed to house them. Whether that is a temporary campsite, RV spot, or a permanent piece of land that you own, there are a lot of places you can park a tiny home.
However, there are many other factors that come into play that need to be considered before deciding on a final location as to where your tiny house should be.
All Locations are Different
First, there is no standard set of laws that apply universally when it comes to tiny homes. Each area has its own laws and regulations that you need to be familiar with.
Countries, states and even cities will all have different ideas of what can be considered a “home” or “recreational vehicle”. Not all of them will be willing to work with you on this.
However, times are changing and tiny living is booming! With tiny communities, RV parks that are more flexible about what you can park and the ability to rent from private landowners, having a tiny house is more exciting than ever!
Popular & Legal Places for a Tiny House
There are two main types of tiny houses that you might have: Recreational and Permanent tiny homes.
Deciding where to put these is based upon your needs. For example, someone looking to live permanently in one location will need a legal plot of land, while someone looking to travel the country will need temporary permits or places to park.
Recreational tiny homes are not meant to be lived in full-time and usually, are only able to be “lived in” for a month at a time to be considered “recreational”. It is because of this that these tiny homes are for camping or vacation purposes.
If you go this route, you will need a THOW: a Tiny House on Wheels.
You can get these tiny homes Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RIVA) certified. With this certification, almost all areas will allow you to park your tiny home in any one of the thousands of RV parks, National Parks, and campgrounds across the nation.
NOTE: There are some places that don’t accept a Tiny House as a “recreational vehicle” – so be careful!
Other tiny-house residents will maintain a housesitting business and find that they can park their tiny homes temporarily at a location while they house-sit or pet-sit for someone else.
Again, the 30-day rule applies here: it is not recreational if you occupy a tiny home for more than 30 days in most states and areas of the country, and the laws will reflect that.
Basically, you’ll always want to check before deciding on any given destination. It can be very frustrating to arrive at a location only to be turned away because of some local regulations that you weren’t aware of.
Permanent Residence Locations:
Keep in mind that THOWs are not considered to be permanent residences.
However, there are plenty of places and areas to park your tiny home as a permanent residence. Without having to buy your own plot of land and pay for zoning permits, building certifications and checking with your local government, you could move into a tiny home community!
Tiny house communities are great because they either allow full-time parking of a tiny home, or you can buy units already built and hooked up to a small plot of land! Not to mention you have many like-minded neighbors who all live the same way you do. And, most tiny house communities are out in beautiful, natural areas!
There are even those who park their tiny homes in marinas! Using building methods of traditional houseboats, there are a select few who have found happiness on the water in their tiny homes.
Instead of wheels, you’ve got a floating-pontoon-tiny-house! Be sure to follow all regulations and building codes that a houseboat requires though. You don’t want to sink!
Remember, for all of these places you will most likely need to spend a little money, ask a lot of questions, and be sure to make it legal.
For more information on this topic, check out our article on the laws for building a tiny home! Even though laws are constantly changing, you will find this site to be an amazing resource that you can use as a starting point for finding tiny home friendly locations!
Cities That are Open to Tiny Houses
The challenge for any tiny homeowner is to find a location to put your home without skirting the fringes of the law. This is easier said than done.
Many beginners believe it is just a matter of choosing a spot, buying a few supplies, and a few weeks of hammering and hard labor.
In reality, there is a lot more involved behind the scenes when it comes to tiny home living. While you can easily get started building your tiny home, it pays to become as knowledgeable about zoning laws and building codes before you hammer your first nail.
Because if you are going to meet tiny home challenges, it most likely won’t be because of construction issues but rather in legalities of what you’re doing.
That said, there are a few locations across the nation that will allow you to build and park your tiny home in their cities; in fact, many of them are happy to welcome you into their fold!
Here are a few:
One of the first cities to endorse new zoning codes that were specifically designed to accommodate tiny homes. Their zoning codes eliminate the need for anyone to become a “caregiver” for residents in the primary home on the property in order to get legal approval.
When it comes to size, most places have a 1000 square foot minimum for a primary residence. In Fresno, the minimum space requirement is only 100 square feet for the first floor of the home as long as they have specific areas designated for sleeping, cooking, and a fully functioning bathroom.
In addition, Fresno’s regulations for THOWs is also a lot easier to meet. THOWs are treated like any other RV and are usually accepted in any place where motor homes, campers, and trailers are kept.
This small town is located only a half hour’s drive from Cocoa Beach. Initially, Rockledge had a minimum housing size requirement of 1,200 square feet of living space.
However, after a long list of meetings with regulators, planners, and a host of public hearings, the City Council eventually adopted new regulations which are quite impressive when compared to the zoning laws of other nearby locations.
The city has set aside two zoning districts specifically set-up for tiny homes. These planned communities have plenty of room for these tiny little residences. They also have another area that is zoned for a mixed-use district too.
So, whether you’re planning to park your THOW or you want to set your home on a permanent foundation, you can settle down in Rockledge.
Still, there is a minimum housing space of 170 square feet with a minimum house width of 8.5 feet. If you plan to park your THOW, you will have to register it with the local DMV and it must be equipped with a bumper hitch so it can be towed if need be.
This tiny town is perfect for the tiny house family. Just on the other side of the New Mexican border, it is ideally located near a host of recreational areas for those who are in their THOW.
Close to Mesa Verde National Park, San Juan National Forest, and Chimney Rock National Monument, anyone who loves the great outdoors will want to stay in this region.
To help tiny house owners, the city added some amendments to their building code that makes it possible for anyone owning an ADU to legally build in the backyards of single-family homes as long as they are settled on a permanent foundation.
This does not apply to THOWs though.
Your home cannot be classified as an ADU but there are more than enough manufactured home parks where you can set-up for the time you’re there. There is at least one area, Escalante Village, where THOWs are allowed to park right on the riverfront.
Over time the city has approved new neighborhoods where this is possible. As of the time of this writing, there are six zones within the city where ADUs are allowed with the potential for more in the future.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville has historically been known for its acceptance of alternative living conditions. While the city has yet to approve THOWs outside of a campground or an RV park, it is more than welcome for those who plan to use their tiny home as a permanent dwelling.
In 2015, Asheville revised its regulations regarding ADUs in an effort to deal with a growing housing shortage. The restrictions now are lessened and do allow for property owners to build and permit an ADU just as long as they meet specific building requirements for the area.
Whether you already have a tiny home or you’re planning to build one, Asheville is open to the changing trends springing from micro-living lifestyles.
Which Permissions do I Need Before Building a Tiny House? (and Who to Ask)
Because there are no set regulations that apply to all tiny home construction, it can be difficult to know where to go or who to ask when you are planning your new home.
A lot of things can determine what you are legally able to do including purpose, size, and location. So, the question is not ‘can you build a tiny home’, but ‘what kind of tiny home will you be allowed to build’?
There may be minimum standards that apply to electrical installation, plumbing, and waste removal, and even how kitchens and bathrooms are built. Depending on the location and how you answer the list of questions, different regulations may apply.
So, it is important that you talk to the right office to get the information you need.
Building Codes and Zoning Laws
If you’re planning to make the tiny home your permanent place of dwelling, in most cases you will have to meet the same building standards of a traditional size home. A Building code regulates how you build your house and zoning tells you where you can build your house.
Zoning regulations usually take local conditions into account and they will tell you how small your tiny home can be based on location. For this information, you need to visit the local zoning or planning department.
The building codes for homes of any kind are imposed so that construction meets very specific safety standards for occupancy. All regions have their own building codes, but most of them are based on the International Building Code (IRC).
While this code does not specifically apply to tiny houses, you can get a grasp of the type of regulations you could expect to come up against in your area.
Where to Go?
Once you have a copy of your local building codes, head down to your local zoning or government building or association. Here, you can talk to someone in your local office to help you understand the legal jargon in your building code.
You should always verify any information you get. You want to make sure you ask every question you can so that everything is legal.
Feel free to ask them tiny house specific questions regarding occupancy limitations, building requirements and/or restrictions, minimum size requirements, type of construction allowed, foundation requirements, utilities, entrances, parking, and style.
Who Else to Ask?
Other tiny house owners, especially those who have already gone through the process, have a lot of great tips and knowledge on this subject.
While they can’t tell you exactly what permits and legal steps you need to take (regulations are often changing) they can tell you where to go to find out the information you need.
They can also steer you away from the common pitfalls and setbacks they may have experienced during their own building projects.
Finally, you can visit one of the many tiny house communities online. Join any of their forums to find out the latest changes in tiny house regulations. They can be a valuable resource that will give you up-to-date and practical advice about where to go to get the information you need for your tiny home.
Should I Rent or Own Land for My Tiny House?
For many, the whole idea of going tiny is to get away from expensive monthly payments in order to live a less burdensome lifestyle. However, owning property comes with its own share of challenges.
So, should you rent instead?
The Cost of Buying
Saving money is a huge reason to go tiny, but depending on where you want to live, the cost of acreage could easily eat up the money you are hoping to save.
If you choose to purchase land, you will want to be very sure right away that the area you are going to live in allows your tiny home and has friendly zoning laws, or else lose a lot of money.
Not to mention, living in rural areas to get out into nature requires more money to be on the grid. Getting access to basic needs, water and power will require things like digging a well, installing a septic tank, running power lines.
On top of everything, you have to pay taxes!
Owning land is a great thing, but you may not be ready for the financial commitment.
The Cost of Renting
Renting, on the other hand, can be quite affordable.
Instead of owning your property, you can rent many places or just one place without having to worry about the setup costs and maintenance fees. Even if you rent the land with nothing on it, you can still save money, especially in rural areas.
You can even use the money you save to do the things you really enjoy doing and avoid the burdens of property ownership, especially if you have a THOW.
Rather than be responsible for owned land, you can rent from place to place, traveling the country and spending much less on a permanent residence (if you budget your travels wisely).
Whether you rent or you plan to build, it will take a major investment in time and money to get your new home set up. If you are younger and just starting out, you may prefer to go the route of purchasing. You’ll have plenty of time to recover your investment if you do.
However, if you are older and looking at living off of a retirement pension, the idea of shelling out that much cash to get the house built and settled may not be worth the added effort.
Only you can decide what will work best for you.
Can I Build a Tiny House on My Own Property?
If you already own a property you may be thinking of parking your tiny house out back. This can save you a lot of time and money, while also keeping you close to your hometown!
If you’re thinking of going this route, it could be one of the best decisions you can make. Financially, you will save on space or lot rentals and you won’t have the mortgage bills that can easily add additional costs to your living expenses.
Easy, right? Well, that depends on where your property is located.
If you live in a town or city and own a piece of property, you may run into a lot of laws and regulations that stand in your way.
Homeowner’s associations and city or town laws that are in place can prevent you from doing what you like with the land you own – even if it is 100% your land.
There may be a lot of red tape preventing you from doing what you like with your own stuff, so make sure you do plenty of local research first. Check with your local municipality to make sure there are no restrictions. Many areas have zoning laws that have a minimum building size, regardless of whether you own it or not.
Most of the time, you can avoid the local zoning and building laws if you plan to situate your home outside of populated areas.
If you don’t mind being further away from the mainstream, rural areas can be an excellent choice for living tiny, but even here you may come across some restrictive regulations.
Most rural areas don’t worry too much about building codes but will require you to have basic amenities. For example, you will need at least a well or another reliable water source for the house and a septic tank for off-grid locations. Otherwise, you’ll have to be close enough to public utilities.
Look up the by-laws or zoning laws in your area. Most locations will have them posted on their website. It will be smart to take the time to look these up to find out where you stand legally before you proceed.
If you’re having difficulty understanding them (they can be quite complex), then call up and ask someone to help you so you don’t end up making a costly mistake when it comes to parking your new house.
The reality is that if you’re serious about going tiny, you need to get creative about making it happen.
This minimalistic lifestyle still has a lot of hurdles to climb and therefore will present quite a few challenges before it’s all said and done.
Still, there are excellent ways to live the tiny life, all of which can be very rewarding for the right person. Especially the person that does their homework, asks questions and obeys the law.
Hopefully, that person is you!
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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.