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Can I Build a Tiny House in My Backyard? What You Need To Know

Tiny house

Zoning and building regulations differ from place to place. Therefore, while you can build a tiny house in your backyard in some places, other locations don’t allow you to build them at all. Sometimes, you need an accessory dwelling unit, which means that you’ll need an actual house on the land. Other times, you won’t be able to build separate buildings at all.

It all depends on where you live and how you go about building the tiny house. In most cases, zoning laws don’t mention tiny houses at all. However, other zoning regulations may apply to them.

In the rare case that the town does have specific tiny home laws, the laws are extremely specific and don’t always apply to your tiny house.

If you’re looking to build a tiny home, you’ll typically need to first start with your local laws and regulations. In this article, we’ll provide a general roundup of regulations that may apply to you. However, you’ll likely need to do a deep dive into your own local laws before you begin.

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Types of Tiny Homes

When it comes to laws, the type of tiny home really matters. There are generally two types of tiny houses, depending on how you build them. The first type is tiny homes built on wheels, which are technically categorized as RVs. Usually, these sorts of tiny homes have to be inspected before getting a license plate.

However, tiny homes that are built on a foundation are a bit more complicated. They are considered accessory dwelling units, and building them takes quite a bit more work, as we’ll look at later.

RV Tiny Homes

Backyard RV
Image Credit: paulbr75, Pixababy

If you put your tiny home on wheels, then you typically don’t have to deal with zoning concerns, since it isn’t technically a house. Therefore, the only thing you have to deal with is finding somewhere to park it. You could easily do this in your backyard and call it done—or you could park in your neighbor’s driveway.

However, most states do prohibit RVs as full-time residences unless you’re in an RV park. However, this rule isn’t usually enforced, as it is hard to prove that someone is using the RV as a full-time residence.

Permanent Tiny Homes

storage shed in the backyard
Image Credit: Darryl Brooks, Shutterstock

If you want to build a tiny home on a foundation and have it remain there permanently, things can be a bit more complicated. Generally, you can not buy land and then build a tiny house there. Instead, these tiny homes are considered accessory building units, which means that you must have a permanent structure nearby.

Generally, this does allow you to build a tiny home in your backyard, though, since your house would function as a permanent structure. Therefore, your unit could be referred to as a “carriage house,” “English basement,” or “cottage”. All of these terms would be fitting.

divider 1Building Codes and Zoning Laws

When you’re building a tiny house, you’ll need to keep the building codes and zoning laws in mind. While both of these dictate how you can build your tiny home, they do differ in purpose. Construction codes tell you how you can build your house, while zoning laws tell you where you can build a house.

Generally, most areas adopt building codes from the International Residential Codes. These codes gravely restrict the building of tiny homes as they have size specifications for rooms. Typically, these codes require rooms to be larger than they typically would be for a tiny home.

However, zoning regulations are more local. It determines where you can build residential homes and the size that these homes can be. You usually have to contact local authorities to find out this information. Usually, there is a minimum house size, which would prevent you from building a tiny home by itself.

With that said, you can usually build a tiny home behind your house, as it wouldn’t count as its own structure. Whether or not this structure needs to be inspected and follow building codes depends on local laws. For instance, in California, a law was just passed allowing “caregiver homes,” which are tiny homes behind the houses of those that need help. However, in some areas, you must be a caregiver for these dwellings to be legal.

Of course, if you have a tiny home in your backyard, you could always refer to it as a shed. However, you would be unable to live in it permanently or receive mail there.

Laws Around the Country

white table and chairs in the backyard
Image Credit: islandworks, Pixabay

Each state has its own laws for tiny homes. Some will not mind if you build a tiny home in your backyard, while it will be illegal in other areas. Florida has some of the laxest laws regarding tiny homes. Generally, you can build a tiny home in most places in Rockledge, Florida, for instance, as long as you are within the correct zone. They even have a tiny house neighborhood!

Nantucket is also passing some lax laws, allowing tiny homes under 500 square feet.

With all of this said, most of the laws being passed are not in reference to tiny homes in backyards. For this information, you’ll need to call your local building office and ask. Many areas have regulations regarding secondary structures on residential property, so be sure to check before you start building.

What is a Small House in the Backyard Called?

There are several terms that reference small homes in backyards. Legally speaking, these houses are likely called accessory dwelling units. However, people may refer to them as granny cottages, backyard cottages, and even micro-cottages.

Usually, these homes aren’t under as strict laws as tiny homes built by themselves are. However, some local restrictions may apply to these secondary units, so make sure that you check before you start building. There are a few cases of police taking tiny homes that are not following proper regulations.

divider 1Conclusion

Tiny homes are becoming increasingly popular—both as stand-alone homes and accessory buildings. You can use these buildings as guest houses or similar living spaces, typically without much problem. However, some local laws and restrictions may apply.

For this reason, we highly recommend contacting your local authorities before you start building. Zoning laws and laws regarding tiny homes are very local, so the only way to know is to ask. If you have an HOA, then you should also refer to those rules. Many have regulations around adding extra structures to your property.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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