Locating Land for Tiny Houses

One of the most common questions I hear centers around where people can live in tiny houses legally. The challenge is that in many communities the definition of what qualifies as a residential home has been too tightly defined. For example, one of the things you’ll find are square footage minimums that define the smallest size a home can be, which can often be several hundred or thousand square feet.

I personally think all these rules are insanity because who in their right mind could determine a fixed minimum house size for everyone in a community. If the powers that be are trying to protect home values in the neighborhood they’ve also lost touch with reality because real estate appraisers will typically use similar properties for value comparisons. Luckily there are some ways to work within the system – to get around the system.

Photo credit Kahili Mountain Park via Tiny House Blog.

Some Loopholes

  1. Avoid building codes – Begin by finding communities that don’t have a lot of building restrictions. There’s a good ebook to start your search called No Building Codes written by Terry Herb at Containerist. The ebook outlines the building codes for each US State, at the state-level. If you are open to relocating and want to a quick reference by your side when seeking out states with few (if any) restrictions this is a good ebook to have.
  2. ‘Camp’ on your land – Trailer-based tiny houses are usually seen by most municipalities as RV trailers since they are built on wheels. So you can typlically live in a tiny house anywhere it’s legal to ‘camp’ on your own land. This is not always permitted so check the local ordinances with local law enforcement and/or the planning department. Other issues may still apply like how you’ll need to deal with waste water and drinking water.
  3. Alternate zoning – Look for multi-family zoned land. Typically there is no minimum unit size defined for multi-family zoned property which allows apartment building to have small apartments. It’s possible that with the right proposal, a planning department may approve building the first unit of a multi-unit tiny house development.
  4. Trailer park – Rent space at a trailer park. Some trailer parks have restrictive requirements like many homeowners’ associations, so avoid those. But many will be happy to have you park your custom trailer home in along side the other trailers.
  5. Build an eco-village – Consider buying an existing trailer park or campground with friends and turn it into an eco-village. This is one of my favorite tiny house community concepts because the zoning and infrastructure are already in place at these kinds of properties; although I’ve yet to see someone give it a try.
  6. Move out to the countryside – Many rural areas, even near major metropolitan areas will be more flexible with living solutions. There are many areas where migrant housing has already set precedents and paved the way for tiny house living.
  7. Backyard camping – A friends backyard might be a viable option if ‘camping’ is be allowed in your area. Setting up a tiny home in a backyard may also legally comply with the laws that support ADUs (accessory dwelling units). Even here in regulation-ridden California we have laws that permit the addition of in-law units.
  8. Hide in plain sight – I’m not advocating breaking the law but many people have found that simply setting up housekeeping in plain view works fine. The reason this works is that something so cute and in plain view is seen as a quality contribution to the neighborhood, not an eyesore. Onlookers seem to assume it’s some kind of cute shed, playhouse, or home office and just smile and continue on their way. Few would assume someone actually lives there, after all, who could live in a house so small? LOL
  9. Seek a variance – This is essentially asking the local planning department to consider an exception to the rule. If you work the green angle and diversity angle you may get more traction. There is quite a bit of risk with this approach because you have to buy the land before you can apply for building permits.

Wrapping Up

Finding a place to live in alternative housing requires thinking outside the box and looking for pre-existing loopholes. By all means try to avoid breaking the law and risking loosing your home. Building your home on a trailer can reduce the risk because you can simply move it if asked to by authorities. But it’s alwasy much nicer to find a place where you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.

Can you imagine a Tiny House Community next to the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage?

There is an 80-acre parcel for sale virtually next door to the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, which is located in the north east corner of Missouri. Rural Missouri is one of those places that is very open to alternative & sustainable architecture making the creation of communities like Dancing Rabbit much more feasible. The rural location can also be a bit isolating which is why developing clusters of communities like this is essential. Luckily there are three such communities are already growing there, providing each other the beginnings of a much wider sustainable community, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Red Earth Farms, and Sandhill Farm. The parcel for sale is outlined in black, and this is an actual Google Map so feel free to explore.

View Land and House Available Near Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in a larger map

Now imagine taking this 80-acre parcel, with an existing home built from an old church, and develop a new ecovillage based on living simply & sustainably in small homes. The seller is asking $240,000 for the property and since there is an existing home, a traditional mortgage is probably possible, unlike raw land. So theoretically this community could be started by one founder with a good work-from-home job or someone prepared with seed money. Another way to finance an endeavor like this could be to simply collect a few founders with the money, or credit & income, to make the initial investment.

The existing home could eventually serve as a common building, and with the bones of a church seem well suited to be turned back into a space co-owned by the community. It would be up to the founders and community members to decide what kind of community to grow here but it seems like an ideal location and the price seems very reasonable. To learn more about this 80-acre parcel for sale and continue to daydream the possibilities visit the Dancing Rabbit website.

Above are some photos of the main house. Below is a photo of some cob house dwelling neighbors at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. To learn more about Ziggy’s cob house visit The Year of Mud: Cob and natural building. Photo by Stephen.

Great Idea For Land Buyers and Sellers

My wife Julia ran across a post on craigslist.org for a piece of land out on the northern California coast. The seller is offering to carry $200,000 of the purchase price with a $60,000 down payment to give the buyer time to build and refinance.

“Ocean view building site, owner will carry – $260,000. With a $60,000 down payment, owner will finance this ocean view lot for a year or until your home has been built, whichever comes first. No monthly payments, zero interest added on to the principle…can’t get better than that! $60,000…lot is yours – just get your plans and build. Great opportunity for investors and contractors.”

If you’ve never looked for land before you may not know it’s really had to get loans on bare land. In fact there are few lenders willing to do it. When a seller offers to carry the loan and put you on the title you instantly get the most important part of getting a construction loan, the land. Other requirements are plans, a contractor, soil drainage tests, but the land is the first piece of the equation and often the hardest to get your foot in the door if you don’t have cash to buy the land. This one piece is the biggest impediment to building your own house.

In this example the seller has done a lot of the leg work, making it easier for a buyer to get approved for a construction loan. This is a huge benefit for the seller because it opens the land up to a wider group of buyers. The risk is relatively low especially if the seller stays on the title as a lien holder. If the buyer defaults on repaying the full purchase price the seller takes the land back.

If you’re looking for land don’t forget to ask the seller if they might be willing to carry the loan. But be sure to talk to a lender, contractor and real estate expert before entering into any deal like this. There is risk and these experts should be able to help you decide the best way to handle your specific situation. Photo credit Google Maps.