Going tiny on a piece of property you own is a not-so-tiny undertaking. If you are reading this, you’re likely in the early stages and looking for some direction on how to find a legal place to park. There is a wealth of information out there, and things can get overwhelming. We get it! And we want to be a resource for all tiny home enthusiasts. This post is intended to help you feel confident as you begin your information hunt. Some information you may come across, like discussions about Appendix Q, only pertain to site-built tiny homes, so for the purpose of this article, we will focus on steps you should take if you want to live in a Tiny Home on Wheels (THOW).
Below, we’ll outline 3 steps toward finding the right land. Of course, you never have to go it alone. There are wonderful individuals in our industry who offer consulting services, such as The Tiny House Concierge and The Go Tiny Academy. You may also be well served by working closely with a competent real estate agent. Zoning ordinances vary widely from county to county, so your individual journey will be unique from others.
The tiny home movement has been growing faster than many local jurisdictions have been able to adapt to. Understand that you are part of a national trailblazing effort and use that to fuel your purpose. It will be worth it!
Step 1: Understand the building category.
This is extremely important, because as you have conversations with officials and utility companies, they might look at you strangely when you say tiny home. “Tiny home” can mean so many different things. You’ll want to be very clear that your home is a certified Park Model RV, built to ANSI code 119.5. It has its own VIN, and is registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Of course, also make sure they understand that unlike your typical RV, tiny homes are built to look like regular homes and cottages, meant for full-time living. (Pictures are worth a thousand words here, so we recommend sharing photos of your desired THOW.) They can be set up on a block and pier foundation for semi-permanent placement.
Step 2: Make some phone calls!
Now that you know how to describe what you are trying to achieve, call your local planning commission, or better yet, go there in person.
If you already own the property, this should be a straightforward conversation. If there are some restrictions prohibiting you from placing the tiny home where you would like, don’t be afraid to ask questions and see if there are ways around this. For example, often you will be told that the Park Model RV must be on a “permanent foundation.” Ask them to define this, since it means different things in different places. Would a block and pier foundation qualify? What if you built a deck post-delivery? If they will not budge, you might consider asking for a variance. It never hurts to ask questions, and remember, most of the time the officials want to help you, so always be courteous and patient. It is also their duty to make sure your best interests are taken into consideration within the spirit of the law.
If you’re looking for land in the area, ask them what zoning district (i.e. R-1, R-2, A-1, etc.) would allow for your Park Model RV so you can better steer your land search. Your real estate agent can come into play here as well, since they should have a good understanding of where these zones are in your area. It’s simple to look up information on any parcel yourself, too. Most cities now have these public records available online through Geographic Information Systems (GIS maps).
Step 3: Do your Due Diligence.
Congratulations! You’ve found land, it’s zoned correctly, and you can’t wait to put an offer in. But slow down. Always do your due diligence. What are the existing utilities, if any, and what shape are they in? Running electric and putting in a septic tank could cost you tens of thousands. If you plan on digging a well how deep will it be? If you are going to install a septic tank, does the land perk? How much will this cost? If you want to live off-grid, are alternative toilets allowed? What are the property setback requirements? Can you actually place the tiny home where you want to? If you ever plan on site-building on that property in the future, what size home would be allowed? There are normally rules regarding the number of bedrooms/bathrooms allowed on any given parcel. Is this in line with your long-term plan? We’ve seen all of these scenarios come into play, so do everything possible to figure these things out before closing. Don’t let the “hopium” cloud your vision in these moments.
As with anything worthwhile, it takes time. Remember to set incremental goals and never lose sight of your vision. Lean on industry resources when needed. Establish a network of people to help you along your journey. Tiny housers love to talk about how they made their journey possible, and a win for one is a win for all of us!