About two weeks ago I wrote a post on the five barriers to living in a Tiny House and it sparked a lot of great discussion and got some coverage around the blog-o-sphere, but I promised to do a follow up post on what might be some possible solutions to those barriers. So today I wanted to do just that. This got really lengthy so I have split it in two parts, the next one will go up later this week.
Land is expensive no matter how you slice it, but there are a few things you can consider when looking for land. If you are willing to live in very rural areas, you can pick up land at a better price, but you trade being close to things and having more employment opportunities. Since many Tiny Houses are off the grid, you might consider purchasing land that has failed to pass the “perk test” which is way cheaper, but consider the implications down the road.
Many people have found success in parking their Tiny House behind other people’s houses or on a corner of their property in exchange for money or barter of services. I have seen this particularly resonate with retirees as keeping up a lawn or things that need to be fixed around the house becomes too daunting psychically. In this case you simply work out an agreement and officially you state that you sleep inside their house, you just happen to park a trailer in the back yard. Most zoning (but not home owners associations) usually allow for a trailer to be parked out of view of the road as long as it has a market value over a few hundred bucks.
Next option is cooperative purchasing, co-housing, or intentional community models. These are a huge topic in and of themselves, but in short, you find a group of like minded individuals that pool their money to purchase some land.
Mobile Home parks, RV parks and campgrounds are the next option, the two big caveats on this is that some places require that an RV or mobile home must be legally designated as such in order to be allowed into the park. This can good and bad in some ways; you can operate in a box that municipalities know and understand, but also you might be limited by that box. With Campgrounds you will have to be sure that they don’t have a limit on stays, many do.
Loans are a tricky one; banks inherently want to manage risk, which means they don’t want to step outside the box. Some people have had luck with securing personal loans, but this option has had limited mileage. The kicker is if you build a Tumbleweed style house yourself then you are often looking at what is normally 2-3 years worth of rent.
The solution I advocate for is to be self funded, aka save up and pay with cash. This is not what many people want to hear, but philosophically I feel that it is very much in line with the Tiny House movement. We have recognized that how our society currently conducts itself isn’t always the best approach. Part of the philosophy of living in Tiny Houses is to reduce the things you have to remove the clutter and stress from your life. Entering into a Tiny House without debt is essentially removing stress from your life so you can enjoy it more and focus on what is important. A Tiny House is not inherently the solution, it is the process and change in living that brings it.
Realizing that no matter how much I try to convince others that saving up is the solution, many will not heed my advice, there are other ways to get there. Some people found a low APR credit card (all things relative) and used that to pay for the house, then treated the monthly credit card bills as their mortgage payment.
Some have been able to have family or friends loan them money and they work out a payment schedule. Some even pay interest to them. The downside to this is that it can put a strain on relationships and change the dynamic, so proceed with caution.
When it comes to laws you need to make a decision, are you going to abide by them or not and understand that there are very real consequences to both sides. It is a tricky problem.
For those who want to be above board on everything, the best advice I can give you is hire a contractor/developer who is sympathetic to your cause. What you are buying is their expertise and knowledge on how to navigate the codes and permitting process. They know how to get variances, they speak code enforcement’s language and might even have relationships they can use. When approach them, make sure that your homework is well done, you should have sample drawings, plans, photos, and copies of sample codes that other municipalities have used to deal with Tiny Houses.
For those who wish to do it under the radar, understand you are technically breaking the law, it could have criminal consequences. I personally haven’t heard of people getting in trouble, but there is a potential and legally they have the right to pursue criminal charges.
When it comes to skirting the law, there are some things you can do to mitigate the risks. First off, be a good neighbor, this will go a long ways. This is because most municipalities are complaint driven, meaning only when code enforcement gets a complaint, do they investigate. The other thing to add to this is, don’t be obvious. Have your house be out of sight of the public and keep a low profile.
Next powerful tool to have in the tool box is know the laws, codes and speak the language. I can’t stress this enough, it take a lot of time and it is a frustrating process, but being legal savvy is very helpful. For example, if you state your primary dwelling is, in fact, the normal sized house you park your Tiny House behind, this means that you do not live in the Tiny House and it is simply a trailer. By knowing the system we can exploit it’s weaknesses in a legal manner, much as a shady lawyer would do to get his client off on a technicality. Basically you want to legally show you live somewhere else, that no one lives in the trailered Tiny House, and that it is a trailer that is compliance with zoning.
The last way to mitigate risks legally is know that many municipalities now use satellite and or aerial photos to do tax assessments. Essentially they take photos at different times and compare to look for changes in your land. If they find something has changed, they will often send someone out to check it out. Usually this is a tax assessor or they just send a letter, but you can usually settle their fears when they see that it is on wheels and you can say that you are storing it here for a week, month, etc. in accordance with zoning laws; at that point pull out a copy of the code and they will generally leave you alone. Again, knowing the legal speak can get you out of this.
The rest will be continued in part two in a few days. UPDATE: part two is here