The Risk of Building an Unapproved Tiny House

Many tiny houses start as

Tiny House in Suburban Setting

Many tiny houses start as "backyard builds," but be carefully review building codes and zoning ordinances before simply moving in out back.

Consider the story of our friends the Browns and their backyard tiny house in Chesterfield, Virginia.

This friendly young couple took a look at their financial goals, and chose to build a tiny house as a means of escaping the Rat Race. They had the time, financial resources, and would cover the cost of their tiny house in less than a couple of years by renting their primary residence and living out back mortgage free. Sounds great, right...?

And for the Browns, living simply in a tiny house seemed the right solution. 

You Could "Beg for Forgiveness," but...

As outlined in several articles, the Browns spent $25,000, a few hundred hours planning and building their tiny house, downsized their lives, and then rented their primary residence.

While they used all the right processes for building, even hired a pro for the more extensive work, they were forced to vacate their home-built RV (THOW) after just six months of livin' the dream. Sadly, the Brown family's livelihood is based in the county in which they already lived, so now they're stuck.

While some might consider the Brown's tiny house a "mobile home" because it's on wheels, they can't just hitch up their wagon and move elsewhere. Chesterfield and other nearby counties don't allow "full-time RV'ers." Relocating their "home-built recreation vehicle" to a nearby campground isn't a viable option. Nor is a mobile home park as their tiny house isn't an officially manufactured modular home.

Doing a DIY build of a tiny house and renting out their big house proved a risky proposition that left the Browns "homeless with a tiny house." The couple now live in a dark little apartment that is a far cry from the idyllic backyard setting they once enjoyed. Now, the Brown's tiny house remains parked on their residential property, and is a superb example of a tiny house on wheels. It is a testament to their tenacity, and yet more akin to a tiny house museum than the modest little home they set out to build.

On a positive note, the Browns are proud of their DIY home building effort. Mr. Brown says:

"We built our own house. I mean who else can say that anymore!"

Person-to-Person: Huge kudos and mad props to Michael Brown!

Living "Off the Radar" in a Tiny House

The Browns were long-time county residents who kept their tiny life on the down-low.

They simply lived in their tiny house and weren't boldly advertising their space on a search-friendly rental site like AirBnB. Further, they declined to list their property on sites where folks might look up addresses to take a tiny house tour, and were honored anonymity in articles about our local tiny house movement. They briefly blogged about their experiences, but it was more an act of sharing what they learned rather than bragging about their many notable accomplishments.

Still, while the Browns eschewed notoriety to live simply and limit traffic from curious rubber-necking passersby, the county received numerous reports from neighbors making an unending clamor of "hey that ain't right" complaints. Regardless of our opinions about the promise and potential of building a backyard-based tiny house, it only takes one ol' poop to end the party. 

Now, months after their evacuation, the Browns still live and work in the county... and their tiny house stares with empty eyes at myriad other uninhibited structures along the fence line of their quiet working-class neighborhood.

As many with HOAs will attest, "love thy neighbor" doesn't always apply in a suburban setting.

Okay... Now What?

The Tiny House Movement is in a great state of flux, and like many grass-roots efforts is about to receive its share of strife and struggle for legitimacy.

Take the Brown's lessons to heart. Do your homework. Make a carefully measured decision. Consider your options before you start building.

And, for more details on zoning and codes for tiny houses, read other blogs on this site.

Looking out for your best interests, and hoping to help you legally...

Live Large -- Go Tiny!

Image courtesy of WTVR news story of the Brown's saga.