The million dollar question around here is “where do I park my tiny house?”
Take a look around the internet and you will find tons of opinions and guides on where to look for parking for your tiny house and all of them contain great information and advice that might speak to your individual needs… or might be completely useless to you. Depending on where you live, you might find strict rules and regulations against tiny houses, structures on wheels, living in dwellings under a particular square footage, and/or occupancy laws, or you might not run into any trouble at all.
So, what is important to know about your parking spot?
What utilities will you have access to?
Is it approved by the town and community?
What improvements does your site need?
I recommend having the answers to these questions before purchasing, designing, or building a tiny house!
There are generally two camps about parking your tiny house: flying under the radar or playing by the books. Flying under the radar will likely mean that you do not attempt to talk to your town hall and hope that your tiny house goes unnoticed, that no one makes a complaint about it, and that no one asks you to move. It is risky and probably illegal.
However, there are not many places in the US where parking a tiny house will be readily legal, so flying under the radar may be your only choice. If you fly under the radar, you must be willing to accept all the legal ramifications involved in ignoring the law, including potential criminal ramifications or fines. You will be officially entering the “gray zone” which we will discuss in an upcoming chapter.
So, where to get started?
In general, you will likely have the best luck looking for parking in rural areas where zoning laws are more relaxed or undefined.
Cities or big towns will already have laws in place for living in mobile homes, septic and utility usage, occupancy limits, and recreational vehicles.
Either way, you will likely need to be your own advocate and educate your town or city on tiny living, how you will be handling utilities, and most importantly for the lawmen, how you will be paying your taxes.
You may also find that all your problems start with complaints made by neighbors or people who see your house and have a hard time with it. Neighbors can cause lots of problems for you, whether you are flying under the radar or even if you are going by the books. Make sure that no matter how you decide to go about the lawfulness of your tiny house that you play well with others in your community and that you are willing to accept all the associated risks involved with your decisions.
What makes an ideal tiny house parking spot?
The best site will be on high ground and moderately sunny so your house can stay as dry as possible. Try not to park your house under trees or in contact with vegetation - this could create a conduit for moisture and bug infestations. An ideal site is level and well-drained, bonus points if the house can be parked on hard pack, a gravel foundation, or better.
Here are a few real-life examples of how our clients found their tiny house parking:
Justin and Dani: Emailed farms in southern Vermont until they found a farmer who was willing to give them parking in exchange for rent and help with farm chores. Read our interview with Justin and Dani!
Vicki: Found a mobile home park in New Hampshire with spots for rent who was amenable to hosting a tiny house instead of a traditional park model home by searching Craigslist.
John R: Accepted a host job at a state park in Maine (a sneaky workaround for the strict town bylaws!). He has recently moved his tiny house to friends land up in northern Maine. Read our interview about tiny house utilities with John!
John I: Joined an exclusive tiny house community in Massachusetts and pays rent to a landowner for access to electric and a freshwater hookup.
Keith: Parks his tiny house on land he owns in southern Maine. Check out the details of Keith's traveling Whirly House!
There are lots of different options out there for parking solutions, including parking on family land or buying your own, but they will require flexibility and a bit of ingenuity and a lot of understanding how the local law operates. You may have to hear “no” a few times before you get your “yes”.
Here are some simple places to start looking:
Call or email local farms
Ask friends and family members
Put an add on Craigslist
Call mobile home or long-term RV parks
Reach out to other tiny house dwellers
Look into campground hosting
Look for cheap land or old houses to buy
Why is finding parking first so important?
Why not just get your tiny house and try to find somewhere to park it later?
It’s much easier and cheaper to design the utility systems and tiny house layout if you know what kind of utilities you will have access to rather than to design the house first and try to find the land that can suit what you built. For example, you don’t want to be stuck with an RV flush toilet and then not be able to find any parking spots in your area that have septic access. Creating off-grid utility systems, like solar or water storage, can be expensive and take up valuable square footage inside an already small space. You may need to be able to expand your footprint and plant roots to make these systems work. Plus, there is a lot more hands-on maintenance and responsibility that comes with the challenge of being off-grid.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you narrow down your parking options:
Can I be flexible about where I live or do I need to be in a specific region or town? Some people have the ability to live wherever adventure - or tiny house leniency - will take them. Others may want to downsize and live the tiny life, but need to stay in the same area for a job or their family. Obviously, this is an individual preference. If you know you will want to stay in your area, it should be simple to identify the municipalities you need to contact and visiting a few town halls. If you have the ability to go anywhere, consider tiny house friendly areas like Fresno, California, or Portland, Oregon, for example.
What kinds of utilities do I want? While it is completely possible to have a less traditional and more rustic utility system, most people who dream about tiny houses also dream about having the modern comforts of home: hot water on-demand, a flushing toilet, washing machine, and lots of power for their devices and appliances. If you have greater utility demands, you will have greater land requirements. For example, if you aren’t comfortable with a composting toilet, you will need access to septic or sewer. If you don’t want to port your water in by hand, you will need access to a year-round water line. In almost all cases, the land will dictate how you will arrange and plan your utility systems. The more specific demands you have of your parking spot, the harder it will be to find.
Should I rent or buy my land? For most, the tiny house dream starts with a land purchase. If you are purchasing an undeveloped piece of land, keep in mind that you may need to improve the site with septic or a driveway in order for the town to allow you to inhabit the land full time. Renting land can be more cost-effective, but some towns may have occupancy laws that prevent little compounds from springing up without warning and your landlord may not allow you to make site improvements or park you close enough to access utilities - this might require you to invest in an off-grid house with larger upfront costs.
Can I handle the rigors of off-grid and/or remote living it the situation calls for it? The cheapest and best parking options for your tiny house may be unimproved land in rural areas that will require additional upfront costs and increased maintenance and responsibilities. Conquering a piece of unimproved land is no easy task. Managing all your off-grid utilities will take planning, plenty of physical labor, and a good amount of upfront cost. If this kind of rigorous lifestyle is not for you or within your abilities, you will have to redirect your search for land to more urban or developed land, which will likely cost more or be unavailable in your area.
Do I need access to WiFi? This may seem like a simple and somewhat trivial thing to mention, but knowing how much we love to be connected, it may be vital! If bringing water and power to your parking spot is hard, it will be just as difficult to get wifi. Cable companies sometimes do not offer service in very remote areas. Piggybacking off of nearby structures may be possible but insufficient. Of course, you may be the type for which internet access isn’t essential, but knowing if and how you can get wifi access at your tiny house may solve some make-or-break situations about parking earlier than you think!
And wherever you land, don’t forget these important legal concerns:
Living in dwellings under a certain square footage - in some places, a house must be above a certain square footage to allow occupancy, this includes sheds and tree houses.
Occupancy laws - most houses are taxed on a specific number of bedrooms and occupants. Your tiny house in the backyard may affect this number as it could be considered another “bedroom”.
Septic restrictions - similar to occupancy laws, most septic systems are rated per the number of bedrooms in a house. Additional occupants may not be allowed to legally live on the land if the septic system is not rated for it.
Parking and living in an RV full time - it is illegal to live in an RV full time, which may become a tricky area to navigate if your tiny house is RVIA certified. Some neighborhoods even frown upon storing RVs in the driveway and especially do not allow it to be lived in for the above reasons.
Having a permanent address - for the same reasons mentioned above, you may not be able to claim residence in the location you park your home. Or it could be that your rural lot does not have a mailing address. This may mean your mail is sent to a PO box or your mom’s house, but what about…
Taxes - it’s likely that a lot of the backlash that the tiny house movement gets is because they are hard to tax. They are not houses, they are not inspected, and they can move from town to town without notice. A good citizen pays his taxes and needs a physical address to do so.
Playing nice with neighbors - even if the town green-lights your tiny house, it could be a dissatisfied neighbor that ends your tiny dream, despite it's legality. Check with your neighbors before moving and consider parking your house away from prying eyes just to be safe.
Just because - if a municipality says “No” to tiny houses, then that is that. Don’t give the tiny house movement a bad name by impugning the local laws. Some towns may not give a reason for the no and in some cases, they might just flat out ignore your requests to even discuss it. That’s still a no, by the way.
John Rodrigue dealt with many of these issues when trying to find parking for his tiny house in Pownal, Maine:
One last thing about building codes…
Most tiny houses will be built to universal building codes, but you can’t be sure if you don’t trust your builder or you don’t do the work yourself. Some municipalities may require a building inspector check out your house. You may find this is no problem or a serious problem, and this will depend on the day, the governing body, the person, and what side of the bed he woke up on. For example, if you buy your tiny house in Vermont and move it to Virginia, it’s going to be really hard for the inspector to approve of what’s going on encased in spray foam behind the interior cladding.
If getting your tiny house inspected by a building inspector during the build is important to you, talk about it with your builder. They may not know what codes need to be enforced for you to live in your chosen location, therefore it’s your responsibility to educate them. Take a look at the building codes in the area you would like to park your tiny house to get an idea about this.
Want to learn more about parking your tiny house? Ethan Waldman of thetinyhouse.net has written an excellent ebook that I recommend to all my clients. Get it on Amazon: Tiny House Parking: How to Find Safe, Practical, and Affordable Land for Your Tiny House.
Here are a few more resources to get you started:
Tip: Need help figuring out where to start looking for parking? Check out the Tiny House Map and see where tiny houses are clustering and start your search there! Existing tiny house owners might be willing to answer your questions on how they secured their parking and worked with their town.
Need more, offbeat ideas? Follow @cheapoldhouses and @cheaplands on Instagram to find your future home somewhere in the USA!
I can already hear what some of you are saying: but I want to take my tiny house on the road, so none of this applies to me, right? Well yes, and no. There are a LOT more considerations for making a tiny house mobile and you will have to stop driving it and park it eventually, right? This may not be a problem if you know where to go and whom to ask for tiny house lodging during your journeys, but it becomes a little more complicated when you think about how your utilities will work while traveling around to all sorts of different sites with many a-different utility offerings (or none at all). So, does that mean you just make your tiny house as self-sufficient as possible or do you make sure your house is flexible enough to deal with whatever is offered? Some great questions, which I will cover in an upcoming chapter about taking your tiny house out on the road!