The million dollar question around here is “where do I park my tiny house?” and unfortunately, there’s no easy or right answer to this question.
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, and/or living in dwellings under a particular square footage, or you might not run into any trouble at all. Either way, it’s extremely important you know every possible consequence you might have from parking a tiny house in your chosen location before you buy or build your tiny house.
So, what is important to know about your parking spot?
What utilities will you have access to?
What are the zoning laws about the property?
What features does the site have?
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 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. You will be officially entering the “gray zone”.
Instead of me paraphrasing, I recommend reading this extremely insightful and well-written article about the tiny house “gray zone” and some challenges you might encounter on your tiny house journey: Legalizing the Tiny House.
Tiny House Crafters does not recommend flying under the radar. Please do your due diligence; know your rights and what is legal in your municipality before pursuing a physical tiny house or buying or renting land for a tiny house. This can be a bit disheartening to hear, as you may find that many places have strict rules in place against tiny houses and may not be open to discussing zoning changes or creating new regulations with you. However, there can be extreme consequences to flouting the laws and parking illegally. You may be evicted from your land or charged criminally. Depending on where you are located, you may have few other options in the area to park, especially once you land "on the radar" and you’ve ruffled feathers by attempting to skirt the law. Even though the old saying “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission” may sound tempting, in this case, you may cause more harm than good for yourself and for the tiny house community at large.
The only way that tiny houses will receive their own laws and regulations is if the traditional powers in charge decide to work with the movement to write and pass new legislation about it. Or, they could just as easily to make tiny house living illegal. This will depend on the nature of the folks who live in tiny houses; whether they play nice and follow the rules or are seen as rule breakers and ignoring the law.
There are plenty of obvious ways tiny houses flaunt traditional norms and come off as sketchy.
First, you cannot live in a temporary dwelling full time. This rule pertains mainly to RVs, but your tiny house may be considered as such if it is RVIA certified or if the local law decides. You will need to be able to receive mail at a permanent address and parking on undeveloped land or living at a campground, for example, may not afford this ability. Living legally on land may require improvements (septic, driveway, etc.) in order to stay there full time which will require additional investments. Forgoing grid-tied utilities will mean you have to have self-contained or inventive ways to handle resource consumption and disposal, some of which (like dealing with humanure or gray water) can be downright illegal, create unsavory conditions, and/or attract attention to you. If you don’t own your own land and aren’t a lawful citizen of a town, then you are likely avoiding paying the appropriate taxes, which is part of the reason towns don’t like tiny dwellings to begin with - they want their tax money!!
Please, don’t give other people in the tiny house community who are working hard to pass laws in favor of tiny houses a bad name because you are too lazy to go through the proper channels when planning on going tiny.
Our friend and client, John Rodrigue of the 8x24 Rodrigue fame, is championing the tiny house movement in his corner of the world, Pownal, Maine. Read a bit about how John is helping towns go tiny:
“Wow, I could literally write a book about this. But generally, I decided to not hide my tiny home from anyone or anything and wanted to educate municipalities that tiny house living is a viable option for people and towns. I began working with the Planning Board, Code Enforcement Officer, and Select Board. I am currently still working to get tiny house's legalized in my community. It has gone well, but it's a process that requires endurance and understanding. There is no place for frustration here or it will stress you out and cause animosity. The thought I always had from the beginning was to educate and help those that didn't "get it". I have invited many people to my home to get a hands-on feeling of tiny living, so far it has been working.
Some of the issues are size, wheels or no wheels, septic, gray water disposal, foundations, taxes, and MUBEC Maine building codes. They do not like those that are "trying to get away with something" like paying taxes or hiding in plain sight. Every municipality relies on a tax base to fund schools, fire departments, police departments and other things. All I am asking of them is that they tax me no differently than anyone else. Be fair. Treat me as they would any other homeowner.”
If you are thinking this article is making it seem rather hard to find a legal and above-the-books parking spot from your tiny house, then consider that it is! Many stories I have seen online involve either lots of grit and determination, good luck, or both. If you will need a place to park your tiny house, it’s a good idea to start as soon as possible.
Here are a few resources to get you started:
In general, you will find better luck in rural communities where zoning laws are much more relaxed. Our tiny house neighbors wrote to every farmer in southern Vermont until they found someone willing to rent a spot to them. My friend, Vicki, just got her tiny house approved by a mobile home park in New Hampshire through an ad we found on Craigslist. John Rodrigue is currently stationed at a state park in Maine where he pitches in with host duties in exchange for access to water, electricity, and gray water disposal. 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 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 will I need to be comfortable? While it is completely possibly to have a less traditional and more rustic utility system, most people who dream about tiny houses dream about also having the modern comforts of home: hot water on-demand, a flushing toilet, washing machine, and lots of power to 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.
Do I need access to WiFi? This many 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!
Does my budget allow for site modifications and improvements? Maybe you’ve found the perfect land for your tiny house in your great-aunt’s backyard in the most welcoming community, but it’s completely wooded, at an angle, and has no utility access. What to do? You will find, in most cases, that your tiny house investment will surpass the cost of the unit alone. An ideal site is level and well-drained, bonus points if the house can be parked on hardpack, a gravel foundation, or better. The best site will be on high ground and stay moderately sunny so your house can stay as dry as possible. If you won’t have utility access, then you might need to invest in water tanks or drainage systems. Depending on your town, you may need to improve the site with septic or a driveway in order to be able to consider inhabiting the land full time. Make sure that some of your tiny house lifestyle budget has space for making your parking site the best that it can be!
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.
As a tiny house builder, we often won’t begin the design process with a prospective client until they have a solid idea of where they will park their house.
It’s much easier and cheaper to design the utility systems and layout if we know what kinds of utilities you will have access to than to design the house first and try to find the land that can suit what you built. 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. Check out our Winter Uility Guide for more information!
Don’t get frustrated if we stop the design process and ask you to figure out where you will park your house. It’s a big - if not the biggest - question you will have to answer in your tiny house journey. It requires you answer a lot of hard questions about your future: where will I live, how much money can I spend, am I comfortable ignoring some parts of the law to get what I want? But living in a tiny house is a huge decision, and if you aren’t willing to start making phone calls, writing emails, and figuring these difficult things out for yourself, then you aren’t an ideal tiny house client.
A bit of frustration I have as a tiny house consultant is when I’m peppered with questions asking me to figure these things out for them. Not only can I not make these personal decisions for you, but I won’t! Yes, designing a tiny house is fun, but it requires so much more commitment than what built-in storage you will have. And luckily, the internet is a wonderful resource for seeing how other tiny house owners have figured this all out before you. Go check it out!
One last thing to mention is 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.
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, you play well with others in your community and that you are willing to accept all the associated risks involved with your decisions.
It’s important to understand that the question “where do I park my tiny house?” is a personal one and a question that will have more than one answer.
No tiny house expert in the world can answer that for you. Use what you have learned here as a jumping off point on your journey to find parking.
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.
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 piece about taking your tiny house out on the road!