Tiny home communities continue to grow in popularity, and they are likely to stay on this track for the foreseeable future. The cost of housing has increased precipitously, and many areas lack affordable options. It’s no surprise that tiny houses are seen as a cost-effective alternative — and like-minded people have pooled their resources to form communities all across the U.S.
Finding, fixing up and securing land for a tiny house community isn’t a straightforward process. However, the red tape shouldn’t stop dedicated homesteaders or others seeking to live this dream. You do need to follow several legal steps — but here’s how to start a tiny house community and make it successful.
Find a Suitable Location
You might have to search beyond your neighborhood to find a suitable location. Many ordinances contain strict guidelines for structural size and purpose — more on this shortly. Therefore, you may need to locate your property far from services like hardware stores that you’ll need to replenish your supplies.
If you are building each tiny home on wheels, you can begin construction before locating a suitable plot. Talk to friends and neighbors who have acreage on their property if you don’t have a place to work. You can also consider this route for your final project. If you find a farmer who is selling off a portion of their acreage, ask them about a direct purchase to start your tiny home community.
Otherwise, you’ll want to contact a real estate agent with expertise in rural land development. Make sure you ask them about their knowledge of zoning and building codes and explain your project in detail. You don’t want to waste time driving to remote regions to discover they aren’t zoned for your purpose.
Abide by All Requisite Zoning and Building Code Requirements
Where you live determines if you can locate your tiny home community near services, or if you’ll have to search outside your comfort zone. Wherever you establish your base, you’ll need to abide by building and zoning codes. Make sure that you understand the difference between the two:
- Building codes: These tell you how to construct your home. Here’s where you run into size restrictions. They may mandate that bathrooms take up 70 square feet, for example, which could significantly alter your design — if you can use it.
- Zoning ordinances: These regulations deal with where you can build. Don’t automatically assume that metro centers are off-limits. While rare, some tiny home communities start on city property that’s too expensive to renovate but too valuable to sell. It could take some negotiation, but you can approach the city council about your idea.
To build a tiny home on a foundation, you must often do so as an accessory dwelling to get around building codes. You will need to construct a formal home that meets the standards. Then, you can build your community on your property.
Therefore, if you want to know how to build a tiny home community to cut costs, you might consider a mobile option. You can construct such structures on wheels that you can park on an amenable friend’s property. Having them certified as recreational vehicles (RVs) presents additional problems, as some cities prohibit individuals from living in RVs. However, relatively few enforce these rules unless someone complains.
Install the Requisite Utilities
If you build your tiny home community on rural land for which you have obtained the requisite okay you will need to install utilities. Those located far from city water supplies will need to dig a well and a septic tank for waste. If you are a survivalist looking to do this by hand, make sure to call 811 before digging to avoid hitting buried gas lines.
When it comes to electricity, always rely on a certified professional. Electrocution poses a severe risk — don’t try to DIY, no matter how competent you believe you are.
What about internet and phone access? While these may have been considered fluff once upon a time, and still may be for diehard off-grid enthusiasts, the novel coronavirus pandemic proved that many people rely on these amenities to work. Unfortunately, many areas that make appealing tiny home locations — such as the wide, open spaces of the American Southwest — lack adequate infrastructure to deliver quality service.
Once billionaire Elon Musk and his team get their Starlink satellite internet up and running to snuff, things will improve. In the meantime, do your research to find the best provider in your area — and understand that you may have limited download and upload speeds. A Wi-Fi extender can help in some cases, but these devices can’t make up for a lack of wires running to homes in the middle of nowhere.
You’re going to need to venture into town for supplies somehow. Will you require residents to have all-terrain vehicles? If you go far off the beaten path to build your dream, you’ll need to learn how to oil a dirt road so everyone can safely stock up on food and fuel.
Gather a Community of Interested Individuals
Some groups want to know how to build a tiny home community to start a collective or neighborhood of those with shared interests. Often, tiny homes serve as housing for disenfranchised individuals. Tim Ransom, president of the nonprofit Panza, started Quixote Village to give formerly homeless individuals a permanent address.
Going the nonprofit route opens doors to potential funding sources for your community. Check with your state’s department of housing and explain your project. They may have available funds and suggestions to help you bring your dreams into reality.
Don’t overlook potential crowdfunding sources for your project. Sites like GoFundMe may have become famous for helping folks with medical bills, but they can also raise money for other causes — like building tiny homes for the homeless.
Is there a shortage of affordable housing near you? Offering to become a part of the solution could garner the support of your local community. Why not start a petition to see who would be interested in donating cash, materials or even labor for such a project?
Consider approaching local businesses, too. Companies get significant tax benefits for donating to charity, but if you want to succeedin this avenue, you need the correct entity structure. Investigate how to set up a 501(c)(3) organization for your venture. You and donors both will reap considerable tax advantages.
If starting a nonprofit organization sounds intimidating, it isn’t. You will need to follow eight steps to keep everything legal. You can shop around to see if you can find a local attorney willing to look over your paperwork pro-bono or for a nominal fee.
Because of the zoning and building requirements, many tiny home communities consist of memberships, not individual ownership of each unit. As such, you will need to draft codes, covenants and restrictions (CC&Rs) regarding use.
If you are launching a charitable project, you might exercise primary control over the regulations. However, you’ll have the highest chance of happy inhabitants if everyone has some say.
Many tiny home communities provide needed shelter for homeless individuals, but you need the right temperament and a generous dose of empathy. Many of these folks have known no agency in the past several years, if they ever have in their lives.
Most of their existence consists of being shuffled around from place to place. Many have had law enforcement confiscate what meager belongings they have for survival, never to get them back. They’ve lost everything and are terrified it will happen again. They need to regain a sense of power and direction over their lives.
Therefore, holding a collective meeting and gathering everyone’s input is vital when creating your CC&Rs for this type of tiny home community. It may be the very first time some individuals have had any say in the forces governing their lives. Doing so is the first step in setting them back on the road to independence.
Learn How to Start a Tiny House Community
Now that you know how to start a tiny house community, you have your work cut out. Begin your search for land and research local regulations, and make your dream a reality.