Making Tiny Houses Legal

One of the biggest challenges of living in a Tiny House is finding a place to put it, there are laws, code, and zoning to contend with that make it difficult.  With many places upping the minimum square feet and conservative code enforcement divisions not willing to even entertain the idea, it is time to get a bit more creative.  Now many will quickly say “but my house is on a trailer” which in some places will be fine, but in many places it isn’t the magical loophole we hope it would be.

So how can we be a bit more creative?

The idea arose when I was talking with a friend, who suggested incorporating a township.  This is brilliant because by doing so, you can designate your own building codes, municipal laws, taxes, etc.  Taking a look around I have found that there is even the ability to secede from a township so long as the proposed area and those that live within it, vote 51% in favor of it.  This technique has even been used by schmarmy corporations to put objectionable facilities in an area.  Now this will be irrelevant if you want to setup shop in unincorporated county land, but if you want to get a bit closer to cities, this might be your only option.

What do you need to incorporate?

First of a lawyer, you will be using one extensively, so there will be a good chunk of change dedicated to that.  To say that this is going to be a quick and easy process would be foolish, there are many steps and red tape to get through.  In many states you will need signatures of 10% of the populous; the application is submitted and often has to be reviewed by a county judge.  In some cases your town will need to be approved by the state senate.

So what are the implications?

Obviously being part of a township has its advantages and disadvantages.  Townships/cities often have sewage treatment, police, medical, fire, and water services.  It isn’t too uncommon for smaller towns to contract some of these services from a larger one.  For water, sewage, and power you simply can take an off-the-grid approach, which many of us are going to anyway.  The medical, fire and police are more difficult.  This is why if you are fine setting up shop on unincorporated county land you by proxy will have access to country services without the heavy taxes of the city.  However there exists in several state what is called “specialty districts”  which is basically a township that has access to all the services (fire, police, medical, power, water, and roads).

By taking this idea further we can quickly see how our town might be the first to require solar, require a maximum square footage, require you grow 10% of your own food.  It is an interesting idea that I hadn’t thought of before and thought I’d share.

How to incorporate a town: here

  1. I was really surprised to see, after a whole article about trying to get out from under the obstructionist laws concerning tiny houses, that you would advocate imposing your own regulatory restrictions in the other direction!
    Wasn’t the issue of REQUIRING any square footage, max or min, the whole issue in the first place?

    • Very true, I suppose it is more the idea that you have the option to use such rules. Even if you do these rules, the main difference is that being a smaller group, they can be highly flexible and can change quickly or grant exceptions. This means that the people can decide the vision, steer that vision with the laws and change to adapt as needed.

    • Les,

      If people want to live in larger homes, Ryan’s new town wouldn’t be for them. And they’d be free to live wherever else they want to! I think Ryan’s ideas for a town could build a vibrant community. Maximum building sizes already exist, Ryan would just be pushing them down a bit more in one tiny town in the vastness of America. There’s plenty of room for everyone.

  2. Secede from a township.

  3. In this case, I would think the only way to create a safe haven for tiny houses would be to establish guidelines limiting footage. Those who want a larger house can live ANY WHERE they like.

    Everything we do, from personal body care to sharing dinner with a friend is governed by rules of some sort, whether or not one chooses to acknowledge them.

    Every township has regulations, and the residents agree to abide by them. In this way they create an environment that reflects their values, where they can relax and be themselves. We humans like the comfort of living near kindred spirits.

    If one or two such townships were created and seen to be successful and flourishing, it very well might help ease the regulations in other areas. That’s the thing about rules: they eventually change to match the needs of those they oversee.

    • Very true! I would essentially be a case study. As I mentioned in the other comment, being that it is small you can design the system to allow laws to easily change with needs and the people, it would be a true representative decision.

    • shoot. should have read your comment before i posted mine. you made the point better.


  4. Has anyone actually started a community where small houses are legal, encouraged, preferred? Is anyone in the process of actually working on this, having a committee, a piece of land designated, etc? I would love to follow the process and learn from someone else, discuss it, maybe even join it someday. I think it should be legal to have one of these “tiny houses” in your backyard no matter where you live in the United States. Many of us have relatives who need a place to live while going to college, when they’re unemployed or disabled, when they’re retired, or just when they’re visiting.

  5. I think there should be Federal Laws that disallow community from passing arbitrarily limits on people Such and minimal sq. feet on dwellings. The military certainly uses a less sq. feet minimal. There is a lesser minimal for apartments (studios). SO I can live in small space while working for the military, then move a small studio and rent but when I want to build and own my own home… there are minimum sq. feet restriction put on me. This is just wrong. And with the standard of living going down (for most of us) and the amount of homeless people going up, it is a bad time to stick to minimal sq. feet requirements.
    I hope the EU, dealing with the million of migrant influx, are not going to have an arbitrary minimal sq. feet requirement for housing the influx of people.

Leave a Reply