Where Do I Put a Tiny House?
March 15, 2015 9:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm a renter and my 5 year plan is to buy a Tiny House. Getting the house is not a problem, but what appears to be insurmountable is figuring out where to put it.

I would ideally like to stay in the Metro Boston area and for the life of me and hours of online research, it appears that:

1. Finding a place to put the house is damned near impossible
2. The best options are to find a friendly neighbor who would let me park it on their land (incredibly unlikely), move it to a year-round campground (none in the area), finding a Tiny House community (none around here) or buying land and putting it on my own property (I can't afford property costs in the area).

There is a Boston-area Meetup group and they have no answers either. Does anyone have any ideas about where I could park my Tiny House? How hard can this be?
posted by kinetic to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried posting signs or to online community boards in the areas that you want to live with requests to rent space in people's backyard etc. for your tiny house? I'm sure you could work out an unofficial agreement.
posted by Toddles at 9:46 AM on March 15, 2015

In a trailer park down by the river.

Live there for a few years while you save money and organize a group of people like you who will jointly develop a tiny home subdivision within train or bus distance of Boston.
posted by pracowity at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

As a friend pointed out, she lived her entire childhood in a Tiny House, but back then they called it a trailer. :) I don't actually imagine the Boston area is a very trailer park heavy locale, but you might check around to see, since those are places designed for "rent the land, bring your own house."
posted by MsMolly at 10:11 AM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pretty hard, unfortunately. You might seek out the RV community, since they get around and they see/hear things, and you will have the same issues they do - your Tiny House may or may not be built on a trailer, but if it's not on city water and sewer it's just an immobile trailer home subject to the same zoning and occupancy restrictions that were specifically written to prevent people from living there in RVs. Most cities have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent that, but if anyone will know the loopholes it will be RVers with interests in the area.

Even if you found someone willing to rent you a slice of their back yard, though, you would probably only be able to do so illegally and you'd always be one neighbor's phone call away from losing your spot and maybe your house.

You're not going to find much in the way of trailer parks in Boston because of the cost of land and the weather, but that's probably the only place you'll be able to do it where you will have all the expected general legal protections for your property and belongings. Tiny houses really aren't meant for dense urban areas where multistory multifamily residential areas are most urgently needed.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:16 AM on March 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

Finding a friendly neighbor who lets you park it (and live in it) would be further complicated by zoning laws that might not let him/her have two inhabited structures on their property without jumping through various bureaucratic hoops that may not be successful in the end. It's more than just a matter of parking it and moving in.

I'd guess you could find a trailer park or cheap land out around the Worcester area. You may also get lucky and find a small lot in a suburban town that isn't large enough for anything other than a small house but you'll still need to go through a long involved process before you can set up house and move in.
posted by bondcliff at 10:17 AM on March 15, 2015

This is a major issue with the tiny house movement. In my area it's not even legal to park it on someone else's land and live in it for more than a week, and that's not unusual outside of rural areas. I am going to build a place on the tiny corner of my property that's technically a second lot, but that of course means building it to meet code.
posted by metasarah at 10:18 AM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's a mobile home park up off rt 1 in Danvers but I don't know of anything closer in.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:39 AM on March 15, 2015

I was a door-to-door canvasser/fundraiser for three years in college around the Boston area, so I know the Boston suburbs extremely well. I can only remember seeing a handful (like 2 or 3) of trailer parks within a half hour of Boston.

Why not try to start a tiny house community? With real estate as expensive as it is, and in a metro area with Boston's density, there have got to be other people who are interested in the same thing but facing the same problem. Here in DC there is the Micro Showhouse, which is both a community and also serves as a model (with tours, etc) for the tiny house movement. Maybe you could contact them and see how they made it happen?
posted by lunasol at 10:43 AM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

"friendly neighbor who would let me park it on their land (incredibly unlikely), "

Why unlikely? Who wouldn't want free money from such an arrangement (so long as it's legal)? Especially in the form of an annuity (i.e. you'll keep paying, it's not a one-time thing), and especially since they don't actually have to provide anything or sacrifice anything. This is way way easier than renting out a room of your house. AirBnB is an invasive nightmare by comparison.

Anybody who owns property and is tight on money (out of work, facing medical bills, or merely in a tight stretch) might be delighted to take $300-$500/month from you to plop your little house down on their property.

VERY IMPORTANT: before you enter into such an agreement, talk to a lawyer. I have NO idea how/if tenancy law would apply. If it's bad for you, you need to know...but also that means it's good for the property owner, which is a potential selling point.

Another alternative: buy a conventional house. Rent it out. And park your tiny house on the property.
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:43 AM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check with a lawyer, obviously, but it's probably not legal for you to live on someone else's property even with their permission. Most zoning laws would not allow a second non-service building on one lot and certainly not without making the property owner jump through an inordinate amount of hoops. I can't even add a second stove to my house (which I would have put in a work space by the back yard and used for jams and cheese making) because it violates single occupancy zoning.
posted by lydhre at 12:14 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why unlikely?

It's unlikely because zoning in my town doesn't allow it, so asking a neighbor is out.

Another alternative: buy a conventional house. Rent it out. And park your tiny house on the property.

I can't afford to buy land here, let alone a house.
posted by kinetic at 12:15 PM on March 15, 2015

Energy and Environmental Affairs published model bylaws for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). You might try contacting EEA to see if they're aware of any municipalities in (however you are defining) metro-boston having adopted ADU regs.

You could also take a look at this: http://www.masshousingregulations.com/pdf/accessory.pdf

Finally have you reached out to people in Western Mass to ask about their experiences? E.g. http://littletimberhouse.blogspot.com/

- my WAG is that inside of 495 this won't be possible.
posted by mattbcoset at 2:14 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Honestly, if it were me, I'd look over the border in New Hampshire.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:51 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding MexicanYenta. I don't know about Southern NH, but up here in the North Country, no one seems to care what's parked where in any way, and there are loads of towns with no zoning whatsoever.
posted by nosila at 3:06 PM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Honestly? I don't think this is possible in the metro Boston area. In New Hampshire, or consider living in Western MA and taking the trip every couple of weeks to see your friends.
posted by epanalepsis at 3:21 PM on March 15, 2015

I'm sure you're aware of the D.C. precedent.

My take on this is that finding a place where you can put it, and then working to keep it, is 90% of the headache. Occupy Madison, which has focused on poverty/inequality issues, successfully created a lot for tiny house trailers for homeless men only after a year and a half or more of bureaucratic wrangling.

I think a school of thought could exist that Metro Boston, or the heart of most metros, is not an ideal place for a Tiny House per se. (Micro-apartments, distinguished from studios/convertibles, are another matter, and at least also represent a form of minimalist living.) What's probably going to have to happen are specific states carving out exemptions, or more likely specific cities, and thereby allow a localized tiny house movement to thrive.
posted by dhartung at 4:12 PM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm sure you're aware of the D.C. precedent.

Oh wow, that is indeed the community I was thinking of, and when I got the link to share I was wondering why they'd changed the name, because I hadn't heard about the fracas. Just goes to show that this is challenging, I guess.

posted by lunasol at 4:43 PM on March 15, 2015

Where I live a separate building with a room and a bathroom is one thing (not considered a house) and a separate building with a room, a bathroom and a kitchen is entirely different (considered a house). Find out if they make a distinction. Because you could live without a "kitchen".

In other words, how do they define house?
posted by cda at 5:45 PM on March 15, 2015

Here is a good article: Locating Land for Tiny Houses
posted by cda at 6:15 PM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

How hard can this be?

If you are currently renting in the Boston area, you are well aware of how hard this can be. Most MBTA accessible neighborhoods are so built-up that they would violate modern fire codes.
posted by maryr at 7:38 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why unlikely? Who wouldn't want free money from such an arrangement (so long as it's legal)? Especially in the form of an annuity (i.e. you'll keep paying, it's not a one-time thing), and especially since they don't actually have to provide anything or sacrifice anything.

There would normally be the need for an electrical connection, as well as some kind of provision for water (clean water for drinking and bathing, and disposing of dirty water), plus some insurance and tax questions, and the probably larger issues of privacy and relationships with the neighbors. As a house owner, I'd maybe allow a really, really close friend to park on my property but not some random person, because of those costs.

It's worth looking for the clues in articles about tiny house people that they are in fact capitalizing on social connections or family money, because there are a lot of costs that need to be borne by someone, over and above the cost of building the tiny house itself.

ADUs generally require a fairly rigorous permitting requirement (including sometimes getting sign off from neighbors) and have to meet all relevant building codes, which makes them a lot more expensive per square foot than your standard "tiny house" built on a trailer.

In other words, I think you will get further working your social connections than you will talking to strangers or advertising, because of the complications involved.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:36 PM on March 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

There will be a discussion of tiny houses at the Natick Library on April 9. Perhaps the presenter can tell you about issues specific to the Boston area.
posted by bondcliff at 1:09 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The guy giving that talk is currently looking for a place to park his house, seemingly unaware of any zoning laws or need for sewer hookups. So perhaps he's not the guy to get advice from, I dunno.
posted by bondcliff at 10:27 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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