Millennial tiny house dreams crushed by bureaucrats

It’s just not fair. Tiny houses are so cute. Adorable. Our kids should all be jammed into tiny houses so we can admire them there, like little marsupials with big, glowing eyes inside a shoe box.  Then along came the dystopian council:

With no specific legislation for tiny houses, some councils are treating them as buildings that need full building code compliance, and others as vehicles, under the Land Transport Act.

Alan Dall owns a tiny house at Amberley beach in Canterbury and his home falls in the former category. He’s now seeking court action to keep his home-made tiny house.

He said he chose to build a tiny house because it was a fantastic lifestyle.

“I’m totally off the grid – I don’t get any electric bills, the sun provides all my energy. It’s just a nice cheap way of living you know, clutter free, mess free and affordable. I built my tiny house. I built everything myself … and I’ve not even broken $37,000 yet,” he said.

But although Mr Dall’s tiny house is on wheels and can be towed, Hurunui District Council said it was a building, not a vehicle.

It issued him with a Notice to Fix last year, meaning he has to remove or demolish his house, or get a certificate of acceptance by spending thousands of dollars fixing it to the ground to comply with the building code.

Mr Dall approached the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for a determination, hoping they’d agree it’s a vehicle – but MBIE sided with Hurunui District Council.

So Mr Dall is taking them to Christchurch District Court to overthrow the determination. He said the preliminary hearing is next month, when a final date will be set.

“We have an agenda, and we’re going to and we’re going to show them all the previous determinations and the judge will say, ‘if this is a determination for one it has to be the same determination for all these others’,” he said.

‘Bureaucracy gone mad’

Down the road in Rangiora, Eco Cottages owner Colin Wightman is vowing to fight what he calls the ‘bureaucracy gone mad’ of Waimakariri District Council.

The tiny house maker is also about to receive a Notice to Fix, which he said would force him to stop making houses due to the cost of compliance.

But Mr Wightman has sold about 85 tiny houses on wheels, and said he’s bewildered why some councils are welcoming them, and others clamping down on his customers.

“Some councils have been wonderful in accommodating tiny houses, at holiday parks and on private property. But the council’s I’m looking at – I’m guessing they’re talking with one another – are Waimakariri and Hurunui.

“Tasman and Marlborough are in between, they’ve been semi-accommodating. But it’s a concern in itself when you see an inconsistency in the way that they’re actually applying the law.”

In a statement, the Waimakariri District Council’s manager of regulation Nick Harrison said until the Building Act offered greater clarity around tiny houses, building consent authorities needed to continue their role making sure new builds were up to minimum safety standards.

He said the Eco Cottages were a great concept and said the council wanted to make sure they were safe and sound for those who wanted to live in them.

Mr Wightman said all eyes were on Mr Dall’s court case – which would be a landmark for the future of tiny house owners across New Zealand.

The matter has also been taken to parliament by Green MP Gareth Hughes, who said tiny houses were an innovative solution to the housing crisis.

“I think they really tap into that Kiwi ideal that you can actually build your own home. So we need to make sure there’s a clear space that they can be built if that’s what people want,” he said.

His ideas were welcomed in Parliament by Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa, who is in the process of analysing the Building Act.

She agreed that the government should investigate all options for innovative solutions to the housing crisis.

Mr Hughes said tiny house owners shouldn’t be burdened with compliance costs they couldn’t afford, but added that the government shouldn’t be providing workarounds by letting people “slap wheels on structures and call them a vehicle”.

In a statement, MBIE’s GM Building System Performance, Anna Butler, said regardless of building type, the Building Act aimed to ensure users of buildings could use them safely and without endangering their health.

“The government wants to ensure that tiny houses are healthy, safe and durable so that the well-being of people is safeguarded,” she said.

What an outrage. These tiny houses are built to last. An entire generation of youth marginalised from home ownership will be relying on these fine constructions. Where will they raise their children if not in tiny houses? How will they climb the class ladder without this burgeoning asset class under their feet? How will Aussie kids build the foundation of their psychologcal security without the foundation of tiny houses:

Hands off tiny houses. They are the future of our kids ever increasing living standards.

Houses and Holes

David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal.

He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.

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  1. You are entirely right to mock this. The youth are are being duped into thinking this is the new hip and future normal whilst the rentier class piss themselves laughing, renting their hovel to 5 indians to a bedroom. How good is Straya?

    • Sorry I seem to hijack every thread onthe subject of tiny houses, but this needs to be said every time the subject of “tiny homes” comes up. In cities that don’t have a housing affordability problem anyway, McMansions are $250,000 and tiny homes are $40,000, in place, fully serviced.

      When the pocket-handkerchief piece of dirt you are going to put the tiny house on, costs you $250,000 to start with, something is very rotten in the state of Australia.

      In fact under the prevailing economic distortions in urban land prices, the more that people can be crammed in, the more exponential the land price inflation. It is “elastic to allowed density”, and so elastic that the more crammed-in the population are, the HIGHER the per-unit housing price, not the lower.

      Utopian planning myths hold that intensification is the answer for housing affordability issues. This is a lie that is highly convenient to the land-rentier and finance sector rentier interests.

      The flipside of this dichotomy about urban land prices, is that freedom to sprawl is so effective at suppressing land rent, that there are US cities with 1/2-acre minimum lot size mandates for new subdivisional development, and the median multiple house price remains around “3”. The land price can vary, exponentially, in the “wrong” direction, by a factor of hundreds or even thousands. Even in third-world cities, the fact that the people are crammed in at 20,000 per square kilometer does not mean that “housing units” are affordable; it means the real land price is thousands of times higher than in a first-world median-multiple-3 city with 2,000 people per square kilometer.

      This is the reason that density is also strongly associated with the perpetuation of illegal housing conditions. Pre-sprawl, a high proportion of the population are little more than squatters, under a piece of corrugated iron propped up with a stick. In the case of post-sprawl regulatory rationing of land, the housing paradigm goes into reverse; in the UK (thanks to several decades more of this land-rationing utopianism), the authorities cannot control the extent of “illegal” letting of lofts, garden sheds, garages etc. There is massive pent-up pressure for squatting on the Green Belts, which could quickly resemble Mumbai and Sao Paulo if the authorities were not as draconian as they are, meeting any attempts at squatting on the Green Belt with immediate full-on “anti riot” measures, water cannon, tear gas, batons, handcuffs and Black Marias. And bulldozers for any temporary shelters that have been erected.

      But “legal” tiny homes are fine, just as long as you are feeding the land-rent overlord with your tribute payment of several hundred dollars per square inch of land space you need.

      • Dale SmithMEMBER

        The article is the link I posted on this site on another thread, and the ‘victim’ lives just down the road from me.

        As usual Phil, you are 100% accurate on how it works, or should I say, doesn’t work.

        The issue also is whether the council are being bureaucratic in stopping people from having a ‘house’ of any size. In some cases this is true, especially if the council can’t get revenue from it and lose their command and control hierarchy.

        The other side, is that many of these tiny homes are no more than sheds on wheels, fully steel framed, including chassis of course being a trailer, poor ventilation, and no more a long term living option than a summer camping holiday. The novelty of ‘look at me, look at me, as a virtual signal for eco living’ soon wears off, and of course economical they don’t stack up.

        Having one or two in your rural area is quaint, for a while. Hundreds/thousands are not.

      • But they are not tiny homes.

        They are CARAVANS.

        We are dooming an entire generation to believe that a caravan is an aspirational lifestyle.

        This in a country with millions of acres of land and a small population.

    • it’s not enough debt …they demand more debt for the young. It’s probably illegal to sleep in your car as well.

  2. The Horrible Scott Morrison MP

    As Bob Dylan said:

    “Your old road is rapidly agin’
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changing”

    He was for sure talking about innovations such as tiny houses on wheels and flexible jobs in the gig economy.

  3. The government does not let the market function.

    They capped the number of taxis on the road, they cap the number of food trucks on the road, and they cap the number of houses in the state – all to make the rich richer. But they do not cap the number of foreign “students”!

    In the third world, governments turn a blind eye to the shanty towns and the very poor people make their own shelter. AUS has the highest minimum wage in the world and the Aussies who have jobs can make their own shelter too – but they are not allowed to.

    The fake left subsidises negative gearing, toll roads, franking credits, and novated leasing for the rich but refuses to subsidise housing for the poor. Foreign “students” live 10 to a house – so allowing large luxury caravans on empty plots of land would be an improvement over status quo, but hey, that might put downward pressure on rents, so the empty plots of land must remain empty!

  4. I’m reminded of the nursery rhyme “the old man who lived in a shoe”. Except it’s real and it’s a tiny house.

  5. I wonder why every single sh!tty crumbly leaky high-rise doesn’t get a Notice To Fix or demolish?

    I guess it’s the sheer weight of money involved in those towers. Can’t be interfering with that.

    There a lesson here. Know which side the authorities are on. Know where the money is. Don’t be on the other side. Not unless you are prepared to be frustrated for a long time. And probably lose a lot.

    • It is NZ. If a building is crumbling, it will probably demolish itself in the next earthquake.

      • Yes so true. I can’t believe it got to a place where people thought spending 1 Million dollars to live in a crap suburb was ‘a bargain’. When truly, it is just meant to be a shelter. They have been conned.

  6. Jumping jack flash

    I’m pretty sure it has been mentioned before, but the tiny mobile houses are a requirement in the new services gig economy so you can take your house to where the next job is.

    services for the lucky ones who were given all the humongous piles of debt that everyone else now needs to repay?
    I’ll be right there, in my tiny house, giving them out for the next week or so.

    Gypsies spring to mind: rolling into a city, chopping the wood, mowing the lawns, fixing the stuff, massaging the rich, etc, etc, and then rolling back out.. sometimes quickly!

    I’m sure some of our youth would like this lifestyle, or at least, like the idea of it.

  7. willjacksonMEMBER

    I have a solution: tiny children. Simply divert all genetic engineering resources into creating new generations of miniature Australians and robert’s-your-mother’s-brother…everyone fits comfortably into a tiny house! Caveat: strategy may backfire if the country is required to go to war with “bigger” nations in future.