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Next Tiny Decision: City Versus Country

In my post about Tiny Versus Small houses I spoke a little about our tiny house in the country and our small house in the city.

This got me thinking about the other divide among tiny house builders and dwellers.

It seems as though many tiny house people are split down the middle when it comes to wanting to live in the city or in the country and there are pros and cons to both.

So where to build a tiny house… in the city or in the country?

Our tiny house in the country. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Our tiny house in the country. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Read on to learn more about city versus country tiny house living.

City living in what we would consider a traditional tiny house – one on wheels – requires a lot more planning, some creative problem solving, and just a dash of civil disobedience. Tiny houses aren’t technical “legal” in many urban or even suburban areas. For this reason you need to be prepared to work around the system even as you try to work with it. This is why many tiny homes are built on trailers so they can be classified as RVs and registered with the DMV rather than be subjected to zoning restrictions and inspections. However, even this plan is not 100% guaranteed to work. Some cities have ordinances against RVs parked within the city limits for any period of time. Other cities require inspections of any structure being used as a living space. It is impossible to predict the requirements since they can be very different from state to state and even country to county.

Visiting TIny Home parked on a busy Asheville street. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Visiting Tiny Home parked on a busy Asheville street. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Legalities, Building Codes and Zoning for Tiny Homes in the Country

Tiny houses aren’t necessarily any more legal in the country but often you will find rural counties are more lax about the rules. In fact, some areas may even have stricter building codes than their urban counterparts; they just don’t always enforce them. Mileage may vary, of course, because every rural county in every region in every state will handle these things differently. Our expansive nation is far from homogenous and a tiny house owner in Vermont can’t tell you what you need to do to be able to live in a tiny house in California.

Tips on Deciding Between the City and Country

So, what makes one better than the other for a tiny house builder when deciding between city and country? It is purely subjective. It is important to decide what you want out of your experience and what battles you’re willing to fight. If you want to live off the grid and learn modern homesteading, a tiny house deep in the country might be a great fit. If you want to have affordable housing in a relatively expensive city then you may want to look into how you need to make that happen. The issue isn’t cut and dry and may require some stops and starts with either choice. If you want to live in a city you could check out areas where you may be able to rent yard space. In the country you may be able to find several acres that are secluded from your neighbors. Regardless of the vision you have for your tiny space this lifestyle requires creative planning on your part. Consider if you’re prepared for that aspect of it before you start building.

I know I said last week that the first step to building a tiny house is to pick up the hammer. While that is generally true, the real first step is to determine why you’re doing this and what you want to accomplish. There are so many choices that need to be made when you start the downsizing process. Do you want to build on a trailer or a foundation? Do you want a small or a tiny house? Do you want to live in the country or a city? And many more. What do you think about these questions in relation to your journey? And where are you now?

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 34 comments… add one }
  • Bryce Brisbin February 21, 2013, 10:59 am

    While I know many Tiny Housers who live in urban environments and thoroughly enjoy that experience, I have chosen a more country setting and could not be happier. As director of security for a chicken coupe of 20 happy ladies this environment has given me great pleasure. Sure I have to have a car, several of the Urban folks I know don’t and live by bike (thanks Portland). Yes I have to drive to the store, and don’t have access to mass transit. But I have a quality of life that just can’t be beat, I have considered the alternative and at this time it is Country living for me. Good article, keep them coming!

    • Laura M. LaVoie February 22, 2013, 10:26 am

      I consider us extremely fortunate to be able to experience both city and country living in our new, downsized lives. There are so many things I like about both I would hate to have to choose.

    • Alex February 23, 2013, 11:47 am

      Thanks for sharing Bryce!

  • alice h February 21, 2013, 11:45 am

    Sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in town … My preference is a little village with library, cafe and groceries in easy walking or cycling distance but family obligations require my presence in the city about 2/3 of the year. Luckily I have a 300 sq ft studio apartment in my family’s home and my own lot on an island I can get to by public transit, ferry and walking in only a few hours. My country spot will soon have a tiny house on wheels to replace a really tiny travel trailer and while not in the village it’s still close enough to get there sort of easily. Best of both worlds.

  • Small House Bliss February 21, 2013, 2:00 pm

    It can be a real conundrum because many people want to live in a tiny house to reduce their environmental impact, but in many places you can only get away with tiny house living by moving to a rural location where you become car-dependent.

    p.s. Love the fold-down porch in the second photo.

    – Mili

    • Alex February 23, 2013, 11:49 am

      I feel you Mili. Right now I’m living in a small apartment where I can walk almost everywhere. I can take my bike to the grocery store. If I got a tiny house this would change. And for now, I’d rather keep it this way. But BOTH would be even better. Only problem is, gotta worry about and take care of both! lol

  • Kris February 21, 2013, 3:55 pm

    Unfortunately, many tinyhouse people choosing a location are at the mercy of the economy and available jobs. I chose to live in the country–you could not give me a free house in a city–but it has many drawbacks that folks fleeing urban areas do not consider. The biggest one is job availability. If you need consistent income over minimum wage, expect to drive BACk to a city for it. I drove 100-mile round trip daily to work in an urban hospital, burning up my one vehicle and my health, for years. The very few jobs in rural areas are swept up by co-workers’ relatives before they are advertised. Most small towns have one big industry, like a prison or a warehouse. If you manage to get on at there or at a Wal-Mart, expect to work nights and weekends for at least two years. I’m not that picky but some people who had great jobs in a city cannot deal with starting over at the bottom. Ideally, retire, with income. There will be tractor repairs (just bought two new tires for $1300.) , groceries, the well will go out, a roof will get blown off, the garden will get grasshoppers, the animals will get sick, it never stops but your money can’t. This ain’t for sissies. Not to rain on anyone’s idyllic thoughts about country paradise, but this is reality. Your best bet: If you are able-bodied and willing to learn and contribute, older people like me would LOVE to host you and your tiny house on wheels. I have a lot of acreage, and we are no longer able to care for all of it. I’m sure we are not the only ones who would gladly offer some choice areage for someone’s own use in exchange for helping with odd jobs. That could be an option that would benefit everyone.

    • Mbenzi February 23, 2013, 3:08 pm

      Kris, I think that idea is great. And I believe there are people like you also in other states, it is just to find a way to get in contact with them

  • Teri February 22, 2013, 1:53 am

    Kris, where is your land?

    • Kris February 22, 2013, 1:23 pm

      Northeast Florida near Lake City

      • jerryd February 23, 2013, 8:14 pm

        Really nice country up there but few jobs. Though many tiny homesteaders bring their jobs with them like computer work, Ebay, etc.

        One thing you will find is about the lowest living costs in the country and fairly nice weather.

        For inexpensive big city tiny house living a floating one/boat is a good bet as almost all cities were built on water at ports, either on the coast or inland rivers/lakes and have been legal since the beginning of the nation and still is for tiny homes.

  • LaMar Alexander LaMar February 23, 2013, 2:14 pm

    I live in the country but only 10 minutes from a small town and 30 minutes from a larger city.

    I think small homes would be great everywhere but it all depends on the persons needs. I would like to see small home communities near cities and that is happening some places but because counties depend on property taxes they are generall against any non permanent structures they can’t get property taxes on.

    • Jim Sadler February 23, 2013, 5:24 pm

      Would you believe that some cities discourage people with children from living there? Children represent a tax liability for the town. It is all nonsense. For example it is supposedly illegal to age discriminate in housing yet we allow over 55 communities to exist without legal peril. Now they tell people how big a hiuse must be!

  • Mbenzi February 23, 2013, 3:18 pm

    Everybody is talking about local restrictions, zoning and whatever.
    Authorities want to control people. There may be good intentions behind some of that, cut common people have to live by small means in a harsh reality. Either they live in a small house, or they will not have any place at all, or become forever dependent of banks or a landlord.

    I am a foreigner, but I have learnt that Americans appreciate freedom. Yet I find a country where the population is controlled like nowhere else.
    So what are you going to do about that?

    Is there any possibility to get a federal ruling, limiting local authorities’ power to restrict this freedom?

    It sucks that otherwise law-abiding citizens have to be chased like rats from place to place, when all moral rights are on their side!

    • Jim Sadler February 23, 2013, 5:21 pm

      Regulations increase as populations increase. In some ways we have more controls on us than people in the old Soviet Union had. They only had to keep the communist party happy. We have to keep employers or customers happy, neighbors happy, agencies happy, town, county and federal governments happy and probably even others that don’t leap to mind. We even places that make it illegal for a homeless person to sit or lay down that cover an entire city. Palm Beach Florida takes the cake. They have laws against feeding a homeless person.

  • Carl in SC February 23, 2013, 4:01 pm

    I live on one acre in Laurens County SC right at the Greenville County line. Property taxes are low in Laurens County and there are two industrial parks within 6 to 10 miles of our house. We are just a few miles from a small town and country living if great. I don’t like subdivisions. I haven’t checked Laurens County guidelines for one or two small homes on my one acre so am unsure it can be done although I believe this county is less restrictive than Greenville. I’m considering converting a 12×20 corrugated aluminum building into tiny home since it is already here and likely won’t cause problems with the county. Likely would go with incinerating or composting toilet since there is limited room for a drainfield. If I ever get this project off the ground it should give a chance to see how well I like tiny home living. Of course, it can be used by guests. An idea still in the works.

    • Justin November 12, 2015, 1:01 pm

      I noticed that this is a much older comment, but I was wondering if you ever implemented your tiny house idea? I live near you and would like to talk sometime if you are still are interested…

  • Jim Sadler February 23, 2013, 5:16 pm

    In the last few years the nature of the game has shifted. Gasoline is a huge factor. If you live in the country and have to drive to get supplies the supplies generally cost more and the gasoline adds up fast. Also many good pieces of land have great troubles in winter and a dangerous outing in a 4 wheel drive truck may be required to get a can of beans or roll of toilet tissue. Supporting such vehicles and paying more for products due to no competition in country stores can pose a severe economic burden. You can buy a nice, tiny parcel of land in N. Dakota for a tiny bit of money but these days it may cost you a fortune to live there. You might want to have two or three full months of supplies at hand as winter can lock you down hard. That is quite a trick in a tiny home. And you might want very special insurance so that you can get an air lift to a hospital by helicopter if you are ill. Really, most people need to be an easy walk to some sort of real town.

    • Cahow February 24, 2013, 10:15 am

      Jim: you nailed it! Everything you mentioned is SO true about country living! We have our cottage off of a major trunk road and still, when the snow gets deep in Michigan, our 4 lane highway goes down to 2 lanes, and then one lane, weaving back and forth. The closest laundry is 16 miles away…ONE WAY! There are no longer any video stores, so if you like videos, you’re out of luck. The cheap diners are all gone, instead, replaced by $$$$ tourist bars and micro-breweries. Yeah, the truck stop will sell milk, at 100% mark-up, so a 1 gallon of milk from Walmart @ $2.99 becomes a $5.50 gallon of milk there! The nearest grocery is 20 miles away, one way. The nearest BIG town is 40 miles away, one way.

      Looking at some of these Polly Pocket sized homes with 80-100 square feet, HOW do you store enough essentials to live on? We buy 30 rolls of toilet paper at a time; same goes for paper towels. Our pantry is 8′ x 10′, alone.

      And then there’s the wellness issue, as Jim mentioned. If you’re 20 years old and a strong buck of a man or an amazonian gal, I guess you’ll be okay. But, what if you’re 70 years old? You can be in great health one day and flat on your back, the next! So, for the seniors near us, we have a system where they ALL have to call us by noon of each day. If they don’t, we call them and if they don’t pick up, we do a Wellness Check and drive over to see them, making sure they’re okay.

      Another factor to consider, is if nature whomps on your home and you don’t have the talent, skills, money or body strength to repair it. For instance, we had hurricane-like winds in Michigan 2 months ago. It peeled the roof right off of our neighbors shed-style home at 2:00 a.m. in the morning. He has NO savings! He has NO job except Social Security. It’s the dead of winter! He’s also 79 years old, so going up on the roof and repairing it wasn’t going to happen. So, a bunch of us got blue tarps and at least tarped it for him so his ceiling didn’t fall down. How he’ll get new shingles on that roof is anybody’s guess. Which comes down to: if you are living in the country, you better have a bundle of money tucked away for such emergencies, and then be prepared to wait for repairs if you can’t manage them yourself, simply because there are fewer tradespeople in the country and a longer wait list.

  • prema February 23, 2013, 8:10 pm

    I AM VD
    ERY DISCOURAGED AT THIS POINT.
    I WAS VERY EXCITED ABOUT LIVING IN A PARK MODEL ABOUT 400FEET. I CANNOT FIND PROPERTY WHERE MY SMALL HOUSE IS ALLOWED. I LIVE IN HVILLE NC. I PROBABLY WOULD BE ABLE TO FIND SOMETHING IN A VERY RURAL AREA. I AM 65 YEARS OLD AND

  • prema February 23, 2013, 8:17 pm

    AT THIS STAGE IN MY LIFE WOULD LIKE TO BE CLOSE TO TOWN. THERE ARE MANY ORDINANCES AGAINST SMALL PARK MODEL HOMES. MY BUBBLE HAS BEEN BURST . I ALSO WANT TO BE IN TOWN BECAUSE I CANNOT AFFORT A WELL AND SEPTIC WHICH WOULD REN ABOUT $10,000. I WOULD HAVE CITY WATER HOOKUP AND CITY WASTE.
    DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY WORK OF ENCOURAGEMENT.
    MY ONLY OTHER OPTION IS TO STICK BUILD A 400 SQ FT HOME WHICH COULD BE A REAL HEADACHE. I WANT A PARK MODEL AND IT SEEMS I AM NOT GETTING ANYWHERE. NOONE SEEMS TO TALK ABOUT THIS PROBLEM
    DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY SUGESTIONS FOR ME.

    • Brian June 8, 2014, 10:53 pm

      Here’s my 2 bobs worth. I am in my 70s and retired and moved from Sydney to a country town of just 1000 people. I bought a quarter acre with a house on it. The house is just under 600 sq ft and not uncommon here in Australia in the countryside. I also have an RV for doing trips to the city and beyond. This suits me as I am old, can afford a tiny house in the country, am a bit of a hermit anyway, so prefer my own company. I mention the 600 sq ft house for “Prema” who contributed above. I hope you find what you want and can afford. You are certainly at the right age to get going on the search. Cheers from Australia Prema

    • Brian June 8, 2014, 11:11 pm

      …its Brian again. The reason I mentioned buying a block of land with a house on it is the house was already hooked up to sewer, water, power, telephone etc which collectively can cost a small fortune. A small house in a small town can be surprisingly low cost. If the house requires work, so what, it would still be cheaper than starting from scratch eh. Good luck Prema. Would like to read how you go.

  • Rebecca February 24, 2013, 8:56 am

    Another factor to consider is the amount of additional stuff living in the country requires. The tiny house we’re building is on 10 acres. While the house itself is less than 400 square feet, we already have a workshop/storage shed that is almost as large and we have plans to build a barn. And yes, it’s necessary.

    Our land is only 5 minutes from the nearest small town and 30 minutes from a decent sized town, but that’s too far to run to the hardware store every time you need something, so that necessitates keeping spare parts on hand. You also have to have tools to be able to complete projects around the homestead and repair fences or other items. A riding lawn mower is a must for properties over one acre because bushhogging is too expensive to have done every month. A generator or a solar power setup is also a good idea due to the higher number of power outages that affect rural folks versus town folks.

    If you are going to have animals, you have to have barn. You will also have to have field shelters if you have a good-sized pasture, water tanks, etc. If you want to store most of your own food, you are going to need a root cellar or some other cool storage place.

    Living in the country, whether in a tiny house or not, requires a MUCH bigger investment that living in the city or a small town.

  • Cahow February 24, 2013, 10:01 am

    Extremely well-thought out comments on this topic, in particular, the folks who have their heads screwed on straight about HOW many out-buildings you need to have if you life in the country! For my husband and I, we can’t live without the city OR the country. We have a tiny 800 sq. ft. cottage in very rural Michigan and a 3 bedroom condo in the city that we have renters occupying 2 of the 3 bedrooms; we have the 3rd bedroom. Unless you like to mail order everything but Campbell’s Soup and Tide Detergent, having access to a large city is mandatory! For instance, I need a new tablet. Of the two large towns near me that have both Best Buy’s, Office Depot and Office Max, NONE of them have my tablet! They can order it for me and have it to me in 7-12 days…and that’s if I Pick It Up at their store! In Chicago, a quick websearch found SIX stores within a mile of each other, that had the tablet…in stock! Same holds true if you are a gourmet cook/chef and require ingredients that the Tiny Town groceries won’t carry. Need capers? Or Rice Noodles? Or Fish Sauce? Better mail order or have access to a large city.

    In the Winter, we live full-time at the cottage, going into the city 2-3 times per month. In the warm months, we go back and forth several times per week. Great free concert at Millennium Park? Hang in the city! Spring Migrants coming to our 13 bird feeders? Better be out at the cottage!

    Since I was born, I’ve been a Hybrid, needing both city and country. I can’t live full-time in either, and trust me, I’ve tried. Same goes for all my ancestors: they were born in large Scandinavian cities, immigrated to Minnesota, lived in the North Woods, but would go to Duluth and Mpls. several times per year. I guess I just come from a looooong line of hybrids. LOL

  • Masureen February 25, 2013, 12:53 pm

    I too bought land in the country to put a park model on when I was told by the county that I could only live in it 4 months of the year, as it was an rv. This property also had a yurt on it which the seller said I could live in, but again the county said no, it was a tent. Now the county has changed the regulations to be only a house, the minimum size of 425 Sq.Ft. could be built.
    I could live there illegally but was trying to change the” system”. With help from others, you can now have 2 sheds on your own property and can build a garage before you build your house, but no “tiny house”. We have a saying in our area about being “Aspenized”! Anyone want to buy property in Colorado? As for the park model question, I believe you can still have them in mobile home parks and campgrounds, but hurry before the “system” changes that too!

  • Johm C. Bielik February 28, 2013, 12:23 am

    Ever since I was a little kid, I have been building places to “live” in. It seems that I have always wanted to live in a small space. After fulfilling my graduate school obligations back in 1991, I started to be drawn to the idea of country living. I had always been interested in old houses and wanted to find one to restore in a small town away form the city. I found a 1845 brick house that was just big enough for one person. This suited me well, because I couldn’t imagine finding a woman wanting to live with me in this house and in this small town. Then, a few years later, I bought an even smaller building with plans to restore it, too. When I first saw this tiny clapboard sided building sitting in a corn field, I knew it would have to be mine. I repeatedly bothered the owner until they sold it to me. It was built around 1923 as a service station attendant’s office. The exterior is now 90% finished. I couldn’t be happier with my two little houses in the country. My only regret is that I wish I was just a little farther out in the country.

  • Danielle March 19, 2013, 4:08 pm

    I am building my tiny house in my parents backyard in a suburb of Austin, Texas. When it’s finished it’ll be moved up to Lubbock where I go to Tech. I’ll have to live in an RV park on the edge of town but for less than 250 a month it’s totally worth it (rent in Austin is up to over 800 for a 1 bedroom apt). I want to live off grid in the country so badly and my tiny house will let me have that option, that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with them!

  • Jeff Braden March 21, 2013, 10:39 pm

    I’ve enjoyed the comments made here. After viewing another post on this site about the tiny-house communities, it brings to mind another question though: how much land is required for a tiny house. Obviously, the size of the house has an enormous impact in this, but for those who are building houses on trailers, which are usually 8×20, what is the magic number? Keep up the great work! This site just keeps getting better and better!

  • Brian June 8, 2014, 10:51 pm

    Here’s my 2 bobs worth. I am in my 70s and retired and moved from Sydney to a country town of just 1000 people. I bought a quarter acre with a house on it. The house is just under 600 sq ft and not uncommon here in Australia in the countryside. I also have an RV for doing trips to the city and beyond. This suits me as I am old, can afford a tiny house in the country, am a bit of a hermit anyway, so prefer my own company. I mention the 600 sq ft house for “Prema” who contributed above. I hope you find what you want and can afford. You are certainly at the right age to get going on the search. Cheers from Australia Prema

  • Annie June 9, 2014, 2:38 am

    NYC areas – went to building dept – I have a house – on my property no rv’s allowed at all – so they told me only 120 sq ft shed allowed – tiny house can be done ! Looking to start soon . Anyone want to try this with me? Staten Island NY – tony house is coming ! I been thinking of this and any problems that may arise for over 2 yrs

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