This is perhaps one of the most common questions I get asked. Well, the answer is a little complex, so let’s get into it.
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Tiny houses on wheels currently fall under caravan regulations, as most tiny houses are on trailers. At this stage, they are not covered in national building regulations, but more on that when we talk about construction.
Depending on which council area you are looking to live in, there may be limitations on how long a tiny house ‘caravan’ can be occupied within a given period of time (eg 30 days, 60 days,180 days), and this is usually determined by a Council’s local law.
Why is this the case?
Firstly, there is no uniform planning code for the treatment of tiny houses in Australia. There are a number of councils in some states that are starting to become tiny house friendly, but as the housing crisis continues, this will become increasingly important for all councils to address.
Some councils let tiny houses go under the radar, but others will be concerned with:
- Wastewater effluent
- The overlooking of neighbouring properties
- Managing rubbish generated by the occupants
- Ensuring setbacks are maintained
- Car parking and any complaints from your neighbours.
At the Australian Tiny House Association, we developed a planning policy template that has been provided to Australian Councils to encourage and guide the inclusion of tiny houses in their planning schemes.
If you know which region you wish to live in, then consider enquiring with the Council to hear how they support tiny houses in their community. Most Councils across Australia are becoming aware of the growing interest and need for them. Some are interested in supporting them, whilst others might turn a blind eye until a neighbour complains. A small number are starting to include tiny houses in their policies, helping them on their journey to legitimisation.
State planning regulations address secondary or ancillary dwellings differently, but these are dwellings that are on foundations and require a building permit. Hence they comply with the national construction code – more on compliance to the NCC in another blog post.
Finding the perfect location
Most tiny homes are built in one place, then transported to another. So when it comes to looking for your future home site, try looking for land 6 months out from your move, as it takes a while to find the right site that meets your needs.
I’v met people in the tiny house sector that won’t start building their house until they’ve secured a place to put their tiny house, whether it be their own or another person’s land. But the truth of the matter is that it may take 4 months to 2 years to build a tiny house, depending on your circumstances, and by that time the land you had envisaged may no longer be available.
I suggest starting your build simultaneously to searching for a place to call home. There are many landholders out there that are keen to offer a segment of their yard to host a tiny house. You could either pay a nominal rent, or take on some caretaking duties, which is a win/win for both parties.
Outside of the regulatory considerations what else should you be looking for?
- A towing route that avoids low hanging trees and powerlines
- A wide access track to the site
- A reasonably low slope ensuring it offers good vehicle access
- A level enough site capable of receiving a tiny house
- Access to potable water
- A place to legally dispose of wastewater onsite
- A place you can dispose of greywater into vegetable gardens or garden beds
- The ability to position your tiny house for summer shade
- An area you can install solar panels if going off grid or whether you can connect to the host’s power supply without putting too much demand on it
- The opportunity to avoid removing trees
- If the location is in a bush fire prone area
- How you’ll be able to dispose of your generated waste, or recyclables
A location that suits your lifestyle
Now that we have addressed some points about regulatory considerations and access, here are some other things to consider:
- Are you going to be offgrid or, ongrid?
- Are you looking for a rural, regional or urban location?
- Do you want to be close to public transport?
- Do you want to be close to friends and family?
These are all questions to consider when planning your tiny home journey. What you might like to consider is creating a nicely designed flyer showcasing what your tiny house will look like when finished, with an outline of what you are looking for – power, water and waste, access to parking under suitable trees, flat land, and all the other factors and variables we have discussed above.
When it’s time to get in touch with potential landowners, I strongly recommend drafting up some small cards or letters to express your interest. When writing them up, let them know whether or not you’d like to pay a nominal rent or would prefer to provide caretaking services in exchange for the site. It’s also a good idea to inform them how many people will be living on the site, and provide any references to assist in consolidating your relationship. Be sure to include your contact details so they know where to find you!
Once you have done this, start looking around at properties in the area which you like and drop your postcards in. Place them on local news boards in community centres and neighbourhood houses and supermarkets. Ask locals if they know anyone that might own suitable land. Also consider putting an ad on Gumtree, Facebook marketplace, or the FB page Tiny House land to rent or buy in Australia.
Once you get some responses, go and check out the site and assess if it ticks most of your boxes. See if the landowner has any other questions in order to feel comfortable.
Being smart about your agreements and legal obligations
You could think about entering into a tenancy agreement with the landowner so that you are both covered if a dispute arises.
You will usually be required to remediate the state of the site back to it’s pre tiny house occupation, so take before and after photos to be safe. There have been a couple of disaster stories betweens tiny house owners and landowners, and they usually arise from assumptions and poor communication. If the landowner offers to ‘create’ better access for your tiny house, before you agree to it you will need to establish if they want you to contribute financially.
My suggestion is to enter into a trial or probation period, so that both parties can test the waters before a long term investment is made. You will also need to make sure your insurance covers you for public liability as well as the normal features (property damage, fire, theft etc).
Bear in mind that if someone complains about the tiny house, the local council may attend the site, and depending on the complaint may ask you to address an issue or even ask you to move on.
We covered a lot today about what to consider for your tiny house site and how to look for one. Now you have quite a few things to think about but you also have a bit of structure to your journey.