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Tiny House Talk Q&A: Parking a Tiny House in Your Backyard

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I wanted to share with you this reader question on parking a tiny house in your backyard.

It’s interesting because it covers two ways of building and using a tiny home… One as a backyard shelter or granny flat. And the other as a recreational vehicle parked out back. So here it is…

Hi Alex,

I called the city I live in yesterday, and for us to build a granny house and live in it, (aka Tiny House) our lot needs to be 10,000 sq. ft and it is only 6880 sq ft. So, when I asked about if we had a mobile home (aka your Tiny House on wheels) could we park it in our backyard on our corner lot, and he said, yes, but we could not live in it. In case a nosey neighbor reported us … oh well, this should be the worst of our troubles…

Any suggestions? We are still interested, but don’t want to spend the time and money on a Tiny House if we could get in trouble… ugh so frustrating, because this would be wonderful to have our college grad in a year? son live in it, and he would love the freedom it would offer as well. I would appreciate any suggestions to deal with the permit/city people you might have. I live in the San Jose, Ca area…


Hi Joni, thanks so much for your question. I’m sure this is something that a lot of people considering tiny homes have similar concerns on. And lots of areas around the country might fit into a similar situation.

It’s too bad that you weren’t allowed to build a granny flat because of the size of your lot but interesting that you’re still allowed to park a structure there if it’s on a trailer. I’d be interested in finding out what the rules are for camping in the tiny house while it’s parked in your backyard.

If that’s a possibility, then how many days are you allowed to consecutively camp in it? If anybody else has any ideas, please share them in the comments. Thank you!

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Meg and Joe
    July 26, 2012, 11:09 am

    The best advice I can give is talk to your neighbors. Explain to the exactly what you plan to do and show them pictures of other peoples tiny homes so they get a better understanding. When we moved our house into town all the neighbors were so floored by what we had done we had a steady stream of visitors that wanted to see it. Once they saw this was not some ugly R.V. they welcomed us with open arms.

    • Christine
      March 19, 2014, 2:18 pm

      If you have neighbors then transparency is a must… I do not condone lying about anything…. I was faced with the same situation when I moved my chickens in…. I simply inform the neighbors invited them over to see the chickens and gave him some eggs…. problem solved. Do not lie… people are not as stupid as liars think they are… honesty is always best! Good luck!

  • Dominick Bundy
    July 26, 2012, 12:13 pm

    First I would question the powers to be (authorities) to give me a logical reasonable reason why one can’t just build any size dwelling on any lot they one own. rather it only be 65 sq. ft. or 1000 sg. ft.. who made that rule and for what reason? Who are the dictators here.. Same thing happen to someone in my area who lived in a 22 ft travel trailer for 10 years peacefully. In a rural part. that that couldn’t be seen by anyone from the road.. then all of a sudden he had x number of days to build at least a 400 sq. dwelling or be evacuated from his own property afer living there for 10 years go figure…Where is this freedom we are suppose to have ?

  • July 26, 2012, 1:21 pm

    Hi Alex and Joni,

    Have you thought of turning your garage into an accessory dwelling unit? For ideas and perspectives on legality issues from a tiny house and accessory dwelling unit developer here in Portland check out: http://accessorydwellings.org/

    Some of the content is Portland specific but most of it can be applied to other areas as well. This site has some great resources including perspectives from the city planners describing the rationale for the maintenance codes and how to address them. :^) Cheers!

  • LaMar
    July 29, 2012, 1:03 pm

    The only way to get these ridiculous laws changed is to fight them through the courts and with your votes!

    Find out what the penalty is if you park your camper and let someone live in it. In most cases it is just a ticket and you may be willing to take your chances.

    See if your county allows a shed on your lot and a dry shed not attached to power and water makes a nice little guest house. DO NOT tell them you will be using it for housing unless you like being told no!

  • Blondell Lehocki
    November 1, 2013, 11:32 am

    OK…this pretty much goes hand-in-hand with this post. The system does all it can to hinder any kind of economical relief that we may find to make our lives a little easier to live. This article is well worth the read as to how the system works to the advantage of the county. In short if your parents only live a few years and you want to rent that property out or live in it yourself you are screwed. There has to be something written in the constitution regarding our rights to live as we see fitted to our own needs. We need to research our rights to live as we want to or something. (Link Expired: heraldtribune.com/article/20051218/NEWS/512180466)

    • Ron
      February 3, 2014, 1:28 pm

      In my experience (with country authorities), even though a tiny home, RV or the park models I used to sell were prohibited – as long as the neighbors didn’t complain they didn’t really care. They certainly didn’t keep anyone on staff looking for such violations. And as someone else explained, if your tiny home looks good and you clear it with your neighbors it is a small risk.

      That said, I converted an existing unattached building to a studio apt on my own property and a nasty neighbor did complain and I was told by the county that I have to un-convert said living space. This in spite of the fact that there would have been no negative impact if any kind on my neighborhood. Some people just seem to find joy in doing these things. If you have a neighbor like that, your risk goes up substantially.

  • Jerry
    March 19, 2014, 1:24 pm

    Apply for a zoning variance. Businesses do this every day, and it’s an accepted method for getting around codes and zoning ordinances. I’m really surprised more people in the tiny house movement have not attempted to gain zoning variances!

    • Donald Saunders Litman
      October 16, 2019, 3:49 pm

      We applied to our township for a zoning variance, after I went around and asked all my neighbors if they had a problem. None were upset, but one neighbor refused to answer their door. I went back 6 times and saw them just sitting watching TV and they did not answer the door. I wanted to make a small classroom to teach my 24 y.o. child with severe autism how to live independently, and so I applied for a variance. At the hearing, the neighbor who refused to come to the door brought their posse and they claimed a child living in the neighborhood who has autism would hurt their re-sale values, and they objected. The township denied our request, and the courts agreed with the township. Isn’t it discrimination to object to a variance because of one’s disability? Guess the courts of Pennsylvania are not subscribers to the constitution.

  • Tim
    March 20, 2014, 6:34 am

    It floors me how naive people are about zoning laws while living in town or HOA’s and what one can do on their own property, single family zoning laws are there to protect neiborhoods from turning into flop houses and to protect property values. I love the tiny house lifestyle but it has it’s place. Most towns in America have restriction against mobile homes and what are most of these tiny houses? They are homes on wheels!

  • Jake
    May 8, 2014, 1:55 am

    Here’s recent news in January of 2014 coming from the state of Maryland:


  • Chris Whit
    December 11, 2014, 5:20 pm

    In the USA, Zoning laws were largely created in the 30s, and lot size standards were largely passed in the 40s during a time when many cities had (un)official policies of racial segregation. Dallas was one of the early cities to implement lot size and house size standards as a way to keep certain people out. Although that may have been one of the principal motivations at the time of their passing, now they have all the inertia of custom. And now, there are a lot of entrenched interests that defend their continuation. However, many cities have implemented more modern regulations that allow for more variety of housing.

  • Chris
    June 3, 2015, 1:24 pm

    One of the problems I’m seeing with some of the comments is a lack of perspective on how a backyard home effects the neighbors. Are the neighbors going to feel encroached by the new house? Perhaps those neighbors bought their home for the wonderful backyard they had. But now that backyard has a home that looks like a guard tower standing post over it. If you should be able to do what you’d like with your property, how would you feel if that neighbor in turn built a skyscraper next to your tiny house? There are laws and codes out there to help you, not just to inhibit your wants.

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