How To Turn Your Tiny House Dream Into Reality

Pre-planning: 2 Things To Think About:

If you’re pondering building (or buying) a tiny house, it’s likely that you’ve already thought about it a lot. You may have thought about the very things in this post, but for those of you who haven’t, I’m going to highlight 2 major considerations to be as as realistic as possible in determining if a tiny house would work for you.

1. Can you roll with the responsibilities of living in a tiny house?

It’s not just condensing your belongings that comes with moving into a tiny space. It’s being responsible in a different way for every aspect of your home. If your water is going to go back into the ground, are all your products biodegradable? If your living situation requires it, are you ready to dispose of your trash offsite?

If your toilet is composting, are you prepared to follow the steps to make it work properly? If it’s an RV type, can you transport your tank to facilities at regular intervals? These things aren’t a big deal breaker for some people, but are for others, and they are a major part of living tiny.

2. Can you deal with bending the rules?

This is a big factor. The bottom line is that if you are going to build and live full time in a tiny house, there will be laws you’re going against. Unless you plan to live in an RV park or travel semi constantly, it is technically illegal (90% of the time) to live in one. People often ask how I comply with this and that law, or how I am legal in this and that way. For the most part? My house doesn’t comply, and I likely am illegal.

It’s not to say that tiny housers are vindictively out there with the intent of breaking health and safety laws and laughing the evil laugh. Jay Schaffer refers to it as ‘civil disobedience’, and rules don’t get changed (in the common man’s favour) if there is no one standing up for the cause. I believe that, perhaps an inadvertent way, living in a tiny house IS standing up for a cause.

Without a formal complaint, it’s a tricky thing to police and you can live a long and happy time parked in someone’s back yard but you should know what you’re up against.

So there are 2 considerations for your pre tiny house planning. Do you think you’re up for it?



Ella is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings. She built and lives in her own tiny house on wheels based on the Tumbleweed Fencl and is an active participant in the tiny house community. You can learn more about her through her website at littleyellowdoor.wordpress.com.

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22 Comments → “How To Turn Your Tiny House Dream Into Reality”


  1. Angela

    Oct 01, 2012

    Good points to consider, thank you for taking time to write about them.

    Also your tiny house is very nicely done.

    Reply

    • Ella

      Oct 01, 2012

      Thanks, Angela!

      Reply

  2. J

    Oct 01, 2012

    Hmm…what sort of rules/laws are we talking about here?

    Reply

    • Ella

      Oct 01, 2012

      As I understand it, tiny houses are put in the same category as RV’s by the law. Living in an RV is considered camping and you are generally not allowed to ‘camp’ on your land.

      This is especially true if you buy a plot of empty land and try to park and live in a tiny house or RV there. I’m not sure you’re allowed to park and store one on your own land even if you aren’t living in it. A neighbour of mine got in trouble for that not long ago.

      On property with a house on it, things get a little fuzzier. You are allowed to park an RV or tiny house there, you just aren’t allowed to live in it. It usually takes a neighbour’s complaint before any investigation goes under way though, and even so it can be hard to prove that you are indeed living in the tiny house and not the main residence. Lots of red tape!

      Reply

      • PazB

        Mar 03, 2013

        i mean, but there are higher chances of getting away if say, said land was in the outer skirts of town…in the countryside/…..right? (crossing fingers you say yes lol) we are planning on buying land and tiny home living soon….

        Reply

  3. SonjeB

    Oct 01, 2012

    Your home is so beautiful and cozy, I love it! You’ve done an amazing job, Angela.

    Reply

  4. David

    Oct 01, 2012

    There are some states that say; if the tiny house, cabin, trailer is not on a foundation then it’s not a permante dwelling. You can live in it though as one. But it cannot be tied to a foundation. I have looked into it when I lived in up state Maine.

    Reply

  5. unu

    Oct 01, 2012

    Technically it is not a house at all, but a storage shack. They are legal and tax free in most places, if they are under a certain square footage. You don’t brake any laws if you have one. Unless you make it obvious it’s a house and you use it openly as such. Building it inside a fence, far away from the main road and from nosy neighbors might be a good idea. Make sure that there aren’t any well pumps, water pipes that can be seen, unmade beds or anything else that can prove it’s a house. In case you are caught, don’t admit you live there, and that is a house, only that you come over to “check things out” at your storage. Most county officials don’t work after 5 p.m. or so anyways, so they will need to set you up to prove you’re on the wrong side of the law.

    Reply

  6. alice h

    Oct 02, 2012

    My tiny house is going to be a bit too close to the road for absolute comfort (only possible site I can use) but all of my neighbours are cool with it and I’m planting a big fat blackberry hedge to help screen it from more casual observation. Vegetation makes a great fence. It’s officially “recreational property” so you’re not supposed to live there full time. I’m planning it the other way around and my “recreational” time will be when I’m away. Lots of other people in my area do something similar and as long as nobody complains the officials don’t feel compelled to do anything. Very good advice about being responsible for waste materials. One thing to check out is how water flows underground at your location and what’s nearby that may be tainted by your setup. Setting up a good rainwater collection system can help minimize or eliminate the need for more elaborate and expensive well drilling, though you may have to buy drinking water, depending on your filtering system. WIthout a proper drainpipe “bucket and chuck it” works well enough in some cases but you really should have a decent greywater system for dishwashing and bathing water disposal. You could also close curtains on windows that are easy to peek into when away so snoops don’t get all huffy about your living arrangements.

    Reply

  7. Kelley Chambers

    Oct 06, 2012

    This is the first time I’ve heard of the legalities. This is INSANE! Why can’t people just butt out and be an American… just leave people ALONE! Good lord…

    Reply

  8. signalfire

    Oct 06, 2012

    I find it utterly astonishing that the bureaucrats we pay for with our tax dollars are now the very people we have to be afraid of lest we do something ‘illegal’. While I understand codes were originally for health and safety, they’ve now often become harassment, pure and simple.

    Watch the video ‘Garbage Warrior’ on YT for a good example. There’s a man in Oregon serving time in jail for collecting rainwater (of which we have more than enough!) off his own roof to store for the dry season.

    Tiny homes and the curtailment of a consumption endless debt lifestyle that they imply are long overdue and that should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. If I were to start living in a tiny house and someone knocked on my door and told me I was breaking X amount of laws, I would be tempted to tell them that any further visits barring a true concern for the community’s health and welfare (especially if I was on my own bought-and-paid-for land) would be countered with a personal lawsuit to the official involved as well as his employer. It’s time to start fighting this mindset of ‘them’ and ‘us’. We The People, not They The Government.

    Reply

  9. Eric

    Oct 08, 2012

    I’m building one, and I plan on living in RV parks. You pay a fee that is way less than apartment rent for a season and your set. Around where I live, $1,000 a year gets you a season pass ($83.33 a month for 12 months). Only problem is finding one that is open all year round. Or…, you could move into a trailer court. My dream job is just becoming a camp host and move from park to park. I also heard that laws in Washington State (I think and I could be wrong) are moving into the tiny house direction for people like us to live in them.

    Reply

    • Lee

      Oct 22, 2012

      Eric,
      Make certain you ask about HUD certification. Lots of RV lots require the trailers/RV’s/Tiny homes have a HUD certification. I’m not aware of any tiny home that meets those requirements.

      Reply

  10. Chip

    Oct 13, 2012

    Is the legal issue due to the size of a tiny house or is it due to the fact that they are not built to code? I have had a variety of unconventional living arrangments in my life and have recently become interested in building a small home of my own. I don’t understand why the majority of tiny home plans involve bilding the home on a trailer. Why not just buy a small lot, and build your house there, but build it to code? It will be a higher quality product, safer, and more likely to last. It seems like many tiny home incorporate the worst parts of RVs and traditional homes and put them together. Why build an RV that is impracticle to move, and why build a home that you have to take the toilet to a dump station every week?

    Please understand, I’m not trying to be a troll, I love your little house, and the idea of small homes in general. I’ve lived in tents, cars, sheds and abandoned airplanes in the past and am currently converting a 150 sq foot garage to live in (which while an illegal conversion will be built to the same standards as if I needed to pass inspection) I’m just confused as to why “tiny homes” have to include wheels and primitive plumbing/electrical? Is it the semi-mobility of it? Is it because people don’t want to or can’t afford to buy their own lot? Are there minimum size requirements for houses? Every decision involves compromise, but with tiny homes it seems like people are giving up functionality in order to have something that looks quaint.

    I totally respect your initiative in building your own living space – and your home does look beautiful, but I just stumbled on your post since you mentioned the legalities I thought you could tell me why a small house has to be illegal. In your research have you found anyone building small homes or offering small home plans that are built to code? Are there any articles or sites about legal tiny homes?

    Thanks in advance for your reply; safe travels to you and your new home as you make your way to your foundation!

    Reply

    • Molly

      Oct 13, 2012

      Chip, most areas have a minimum square footage for homes. It’s part of the building code.
      In many areas all new homes, for instance, must be over 1000 sq feet. The smallest I have heard of is 400 sq feet. It’s illegal in most areas to build a tiny house on a foundation, because they are too small to meet code.

      That’s why most are on trailers. Then they are legally not homes, but RVs. Of course it is illegal to live in an RV in most areas. With a tiny home on a foundation, the city/county can tear it down if it is too small. They can prevent you from building to begin with if they find out. With a tiny home on a trailer, it’s different. Most places, if they find you are living in it, will fine you and force you to move. They can’t take your home. So if you get in trouble, you get in less trouble when your tiny home is on a trailer. Plus, some cities now are allowing them, mainly on the West Coast.

      Reply

    • Bonnnie Storm

      Aug 14, 2013

      Here in AZ even if you bi land you have to pay hefty impact fees ($4000). If you are off the grid you have to get a perk test and put in a septic system. In some county’s you have to get permits but if your house is on wheels and below the specification in size you do nt have to get a building permit. You are only allowed to live in the RV on your own property legally 3 two weeks in a year. You can be fined $5000. In the next county in Mohave it is the same except that there is not impact fee and there are only 2 inspectors and the county is so big as it goes all the way to the grand canyon.there are many 2.5 acre water hauls. many people have illegal compost. You are required to get a perk test and put in a septic system. There are outlaws as far as you can see. It is complaint based. Over by Ash fork people fight over access roads and may turn you in. If it is on wheels you can move it to a RV park temporarily if you have to if the county or city is on you about it. In NM you can get way with almost anything just because there is no money to chase anyone on there own land.

      Reply

  11. anthony

    Oct 20, 2012

    Suggestion: Instead of spending $40,000US on a “tiny” house, go out and buy some acreage with that money instead. Anyone can put a trailer or RV together and call it a “tiny house.” The trick is in OWNING THE LAND.

    Also: “[I]t is technically illegal (90% of the time) to live in one.” Really? Have you checked city and building codes in every municipality in every state? In my own research, the farther you get away from the cities and suburbs and the further you go out into the country, the less building restrictions you will have to deal with. The key to searching for property on which to build your tiny house is to avoid newer subdivisions or any subdivision that requires an HOA. These are the places that will have (and will be ready to enforce) building requirements — at least 2,000 square feet, plumbing and electricity up to code, etc. You’ll have an easier time of it if you moved out to the Texas countryside, for example.

    Reply
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    Reply

    • PazB

      Mar 03, 2013

      AWESOME!!! you responded my question after i had posted it (should read all replies before making questions) gotta love Texas! one more reason we are the state #1 ;)

      Reply

  13. larry

    Jul 19, 2013

    yes me and my wife are considering living in a tiny house upto the point of selling our house and purchasing land we live in ohio has anyone heard any laws in ohio against it

    Reply

  14. Bonnnie Storm

    Aug 14, 2013

    I am thinking of getting this owner carried land but the home on it is only a one bedroom. I need another bedroom so i was thinking of putting a tiny house or a travel or trailer on the land. It comes with an acre. I wanted to rent out the house if I need help making the payments. the land I am considering is on a hill and with boulders and trees. Can’t decipher whether the county rules allow it. It is on the outskirts of Prescott AZ. I damaged my car looking at property in the county in the Bridge canyon areas near Seligman and Ash Fork. The penalties and permit fees were more than the property. They have a impact fee of $4000 and you could get a $5000 fee for living in your Rv or mini home there in the same county as Prescott. I thought I might get away with the cottage if I owned the land and the other property is hooked up to sewer and water. The properties I looked at were off the grid. the property does have a drive way. I could rent out either one temporarily for vacationers perhaps. I wish the property had 2 bedrooms so I could rent out one to a roommate. I am on a fixed income and in school. tired of the hassles of rent. I do not know about Ohio or the state I am in . Still investigating and learning. I love the idea of a mini salt box house etc.
    . . .

    Reply

  15. Kevin

    Dec 10, 2013

    Hello,

    I’m relocating to Mojave county, and have been researching these exact things.
    From what i’ve found out it is illegal to live/camp in an RV for more than 30 days in 1 year.
    I would imagine it is the same for a small living structure. If the structure is used as a shed or garage it’s probably ok, but to convert it into a living space it the land needs to be perc’d and have a septic put in. Please fill me in here with any and all legal information that might be helpful. We are literally about to go look at a few properties, and i’ve been told the further out you go, the easier it might be to live in your rv/small structure while you build, and without having a well and septic. And while we’re at it, can anyone give me a rough estimate on what a septic installation might cost, and does anyone do payments?

    Thanks

    Reply

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