Hawaii is the next Big Wave for Tiny Houses

Hawaii is the next Big Wave for Tiny Houses

linden-lake

When I moved to Maui in 2009, I had no idea affordable housing was in such short supply. There are plenty of empty apartments and houses, but purchasing a home or renting in Hawaii is not a matter of supply and demand, it’s based entirely on what the market will bear. And apparently the bears here have a lot more money than I do.

So ever since then I have been looking to find alternative ways to affordably enjoy paradise. I’ve considered container homes, tree houses and yurts, but when I stumbled upon Tiny Houses I was hooked! Tiny Houses are just what the name implies–they’re smaller than average and have a lot less of everything that a regular sized home has, except more character and less impact on the environment. One striking feature of most Tiny Houses is that they are built on wheeled trailers. This makes most Tiny Houses fit an area of about 8 to 9 feet wide by 16 to 24 feet long (128 to 216 square feet). I wrote an informative article about Tiny Houses not long ago: The Tiny House Movement.

mica

Over the last few months I have been on a journey to determine if Tiny Houses are allowed in Hawaii. It’s been challenging trudging through the red tape. The first obstacle I discovered was that Tiny Houses are not defined in the State of Hawaii as “Tiny Houses”. Initially the building inspector for the County of Maui, Department of Public Works, said that any “dwelling” must be a minimum of 220 square feet which meant that according to the International Building Code (IBC) a Tiny House would probably be defined as an “Efficiency Dwelling” (see details: Efficiency Dwelling vs Tiny Houses). A typical Tiny House is less than 220 square feet so I was bit discouraged and had visions of living in the jungle in a camouflaged, non-compliant Tiny House hidden away from civilization. But I’m not one to give up that easily.

linden

I think Maui County Council member Don Couch would describe me over the next few weeks as “persistent” to get his attention. I presented him with details about the benefits of tiny houses and why I think they are good for the community and he agreed to look into the matter. He and his staff made some phone calls and got some interesting responses. What they initially found out was that the County doesn’t have a definitive answer that is black and white about tiny houses.

Don introduced me to a “research assistant”, code named “Sam”, when we realized we needed help with the research. Over the next month or so Sam uncovered some very interesting facts that could change the course of the Tiny House movement in Hawaii.

Finding a new definition for Tiny Houses in Hawaii

cyp-loft

Sam made numerous calls to other state agencies and different municipal departments around the country (anonymously) and here’s what he said:

So far, it sounds like most tiny homes around the country are working around building codes by putting the homes on wheels and registering them with the DMV. According to the Maui DMV Operations Supervisor, a custom built travel trailer would be classified as a “trailer.”

Looking further Sam discovered the actual vehicle code section for “house trailer” which is Hawaii Statewide Traffic Code §291C.

House Trailer: a trailer or semitrailer which is designed, constructed, and equipped as a dwelling place, living abode, or sleeping place (either permanently or temporarily) and is equipped for use as a conveyance on streets and highways.

linden-gr

It’s called a House Trailer!
The Public Works and the Plans Examiner Department said, specifically in reference to recreational vehicles; both said that they would have no jurisdiction over someone living in a recreational vehicle, that the DMV would have jurisdiction because it would be registered with them. The Building Permits Department said they would only become involved if an RV was no longer registered as a vehicle and was then classified as a home (RV was used instead of “house trailer” to save time explaining what that is). So officially, in Hawaii, it’s not a Tiny House or an RV, it’s a “House Trailer”. And it’s perfectly legal!

How to comply with the House Trailer laws in Hawaii*

  • Have a place to build and/or park your Tiny House on private property
  • The trailer it is build upon needs to be legal and must be registered by the DMV
  1. You need to have insurance for the trailer you are going to register
  2. The trailer has to go through an inspection (lights, breakaway brakes, etc.)
  3. The trailer needs to be weighed (the more it weighs the more it costs to register)
  4. It must pass a safety inspection

cypress-24What it means to Hawaii residents is that we have the green light to build or park a Tiny House on private property. These laws can be changed or removed if we don’t police ourselves and be good neighbors and community members. be sure to do any and all electrical to code. Use common sense and be considerate where and how you park your Tiny Home.

What the government will do now:

Revenue generation is a popular topic with government mainly because the coffers are low everywhere and public services are tight.  Property taxes usually pay for a lot of local government like Police and Fire, so whenever a good idea comes around that might reduce the flow into those coffers, local municipalities might want to throw in a few monkey wrenches (red tape and fees).  However, with this solution, and it is a solution to the economic woes for many people across the country, there are already built in regulations and indirect fees.

To build and use one of these Tiny House in Hawaii, you must have a legally licensed trailer.  Those annual fees (licensing and registration) can be fairly high due to the weight of the trailer.  Additional moneys go toward government the traditional way such as property taxes.  Because these House Trailers must be legally parked on private property, the owner of that property already pays taxes.

So expect that local municipalities and counties will attempt to charge fees, add regulation and generally find ways to make things more difficult without a really good, clearly thought out reason or purpose.  Ultimately, when community leaders see the benefits of Tiny Houses, they will see that they reduce the draw on water supplies and the energy grid, lower the impact on the environment, reduce the demand for social services, and provide an alternative to the high cost of traditional housing.

Here are two good reasons why municipalities should PAY people to live in Tiny Houses:

  1. Money:  Saving residents money so they have more to spend in the local economy, and reducing long-term debt.
  2. Environment:  Reduces the environmental footprint (less Space, Water, Energy, Garbage, Waste).

If you’re ready to live in a Tiny House, or you’d like to support this movement, connect with me for upcoming meetings, events and more.

Hawaii Alternative Considerations:

The main reason for all my research here in Hawaii has been due to the IBC (International Building Code) minimum square footage requirements.  Thus the need to build on trailers.   Some solutions suggest that Hawaii should relax of the minimum square footage regulations so that people can create alternative, low carbon footprint dwellings.

I spoke with Michael Janzen of Tiny House Design (http://tinyhousedesign.com) and he mentioned that some other alternatives are already developing in Hawaii recently.

Kauai – http://www.dwell.com/my-house/article/grateful-shed

Hawaii – http://www.jetsongreen.com/2010/02/modular-off-grid-house-arc-prototype.html

Big Island – http://youtu.be/wxGr9uloL9k  (great video!)

Maui – http://www.mauiecobuilt.com/

Some other useful links:

Maui County Codes:
http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=16289

Maui County Building Code:
http://www.co.maui.hi.us/documents/20/81/Ord3928_2006IBC_NewMCC16.26B_Mar20_1.PDF

Maui County, Dept. of Public Works, Development Services Administration, Building Plan Review Section: Codes Enforced (County code amendments to the IBC and IRC)
2006 Int’l Residential Code (IRC) – Ord 3929 – New Maui County Code Chapter 16.08A, eff March 19, 2012
2006 Int’l Building Code (IBC) – Ord 3928 – New Maui County Code Chapter 16.26B, eff March 19, 2012

Hawaii Revised Statutes
http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/docs/HRS.htm

2006 International Building Code (for Commercial and Residential Buildings):
http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/ibc/2006f2/
(Per Plans Examiner Dept.: See Chapter 12 Interior Environment)

2006 International Residential Code (for 1 and 2 Family Dwellings):
http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/irc/2006f2/
(Per Plans Examiner Dept.: Reference “Efficiency Dwelling Unit”)

Statewide Traffic Code specifically addressing using vehicles for human habitation:
http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol05_Ch0261-0319/HRS0291C/HRS_0291C-0112.htm

§291C-112 Certain uses of parked vehicles prohibited between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; definition; exceptions. (a) No person shall use any vehicle for purposes of human habitation, whether or not the vehicle is designed or equipped for that purpose, while the vehicle is parked on any roadway, street, or highway or other public property between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. or while the vehicle is parked on private property without authorization of the owner or occupant authorizing both the parking of the vehicle there and its use for purposes of human habitation.

(b) As used in this section “purposes of human habitation” includes use as a dwelling place, living abode, or sleeping place.

(c) This section does not apply to the parking of vehicles and their use for purposes of human habitation in parks, camps, and other recreational areas in compliance with law and applicable rules and regulations, or under emergency conditions in the interest of vehicular safety.

(d) The department of health shall promulgate rules and regulations, pursuant to chapter 91, necessary for the administration of this section. [L 1972, c 48, pt of §2]

I’d like to personally thank…

Special thanks to Sam, who spent tireless hours researching the laws and regulations for me.  He did an amazing job wading through the legal codes, making calls and digging through red tape to find concrete answers to some important questions.

Much Mahalo to County Councilman Don Couch for his ongoing efforts to help find affordable housing alternatives for Maui residents, and all the time he has spent with me sorting out the details of this and several other issues.

Related Tiny House articles

How-To Live with Less for Tiny House Living:
http://www.erikeverywhere.com/live-less-tiny-house-living/

Design Benefits of Tiny Houses in Hawaii:
http://www.erikeverywhere.com/design-benefits-tiny-house-life/

Image Credits:

Many of the excellent, high-quality Tiny House images shown here are courtesy Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Stay tuned for a Tiny House Intentional Community / EcoVillage coming soon to Maui…

July 11, 2014 UPDATE
There always seems to be some obstacle to innovation in Hawaii. Here’s a good example that was sent in from a fan.

This update pertains ONLY to Hawaii County (Island of Hawaii Only):

Hawaii County Code Section 25-4-10. Mobile dwellings.
All mobile dwellings shall conform to the County building code (chapter 5 of this Code), and the Public
Health Housing Code (chapter 2 of the State public health regulations), except:
(1) When parked in a licensed mobile home park; or
(2) When occupied for dwelling or sleeping purposes outside of a licensed mobile home park for less
than thirty days in any one location.
(1996, Ord. No. 96-160, sec. 2; ratified April 6, 1999.)25-4-10

Possible solutions to consider:

1. Change that law.
2. How can the county prove that the dwelling was occupied for more than 30 days consecutively? Just stay in a hotel for 1 night every 29 days.
3. If you move the house 10 feet every 30 days, then you can live in it forever.
4. Get a Mobile Home Park permit for your property.

What does this all mean for Tiny Houses in Hawaii?
Operation Tiny House is a go (accept on the Big Island apparently)! Feel free to move about Hawaii (in a Tiny House on private property).  If you’re interested in help with a Tiny House or you want to be a part of a Tiny Village on Maui, please contact me.

See update article here — http://www.mauigoodness.com/2014/04/08/hawaii-the-perfect-place-for-tiny-houses/

* Legal Mumbo-jumbo:  I am not an attorney and anything I say in this article could be wrong or mistaken so you should consult your attorney before even remotely thinking this is legal advice. Who would do that? Don’t be that guy!

82 Comments

  1. The tiny house movement sure is fascinating, and living in Hawaii, I can absolutely understand how this could become hugely popular. I’m sure the County will pipe up sooner or later regarding zoning for parking them when neighbors start complaining about additional people living on private properties.
    Personally, I’m not sure if I could live in such a tiny space, it be a huge lifestyle change. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Thanks for the info!!

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    • Yes, I agree Cara. The county of Maui is sure to find a few ways to “address” this new trend, and I hope to work with them to make sure Tiny Houses remain an affordable alternative. As far as neighbors complaining; they’re just going to have to understand that it’s no longer a matter of choice–we simply need to find alternatives to sprawling high-rise apartments, dense city-block housing complexes and other not-so environmentally friendly housing alternatives. And Tiny Houses are one such positive solution. Mahalo for your comments!

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  2. It’s great to see the progress you’ve made on this idea, and even better to see that it may actually be feasible! Great job Erik! And a very informative, well-written article as well!

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    • Mahalo Malia, I very much appreciate your comments! We’ll see where this goes from here!

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  3. Couldn’t you register a tiny house as a boat? You wouldn’t need wheels, you wouldn’t be as restricted in width.

    While 220′ is more than I need it is not significantly more costly. I wonder what other obstacles you face if you build something inexpensive. Can you get away with a composting toilet and low-voltage electricity?

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    • You could register as a boat, as long as it met the requirements of a boat I suppose. But why would you if you’re can already register it as a trailer? Yes, you can use a composting toilet as long as you handle the waste correctly, and you can be 100% offgrid.

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      • Your article is so helpful! I know very well how dealing with State regulations takes years off your life. My experience is unfortunately to do with boats, which are subject to incredibly complicated rules if in a harbor; I never investigated parking our sailboat on land, perhaps on a trailer (Noah’s Ark on top of Mt. Ararat comes to mind), but feel sure there are rules just waiting to come out and pounce! A tiny house on the cheap land near Volcano, for instance, would be a great solution to housing costs in Hawaii. Thanks for the information! Aloha.

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  4. Hawaii is the perfect place for living small since its easy to be outside almost all the time! I would love to see this movement here. Makes sense on so many levels.

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    • It is happening as well speak Liz! I’m excited that this is finally moving forward. There are some minor details to work out with the county, but overall, things are looking good! The next phase is figuring a way to cluster these Tiny Houses into tiny villages with integrated community gardens.

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  5. Well written and researched Erik! So I guess if it’s parked on private property that you own or have permission to park, it’s all good?

    Look forward to hearing more.

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    • Hey Tania, Yes, so long as the “House Trailer” is legally registered with the DMV, and it’s parked on private property, then it’s all good! Some details are yet to be worked out, like water, solar, composting toilets, electrical, etc, but we’re a go nonetheless!

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  6. Awesome work Erik! Can’t wait to see your tiny house!

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    • Me too! Stoked, can’t wait!! Mahalo

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  7. Wow so cool that you are in a journey to make more red tape for those of us building homes here all ready. Go find yourself a tent live in that. You can live in the jungle. I’m sorry but you need to stop trying to get this going. What you weren’t expecting was living in Hawaii actually costs some money. Sounds to me like you are single. Have no kids. And will most likely move away from here in the near future. But in the meantime you want to get the building permits changed for your own selfish reasons. More then likely to charge others for this tiny house. But not for a tiny price. Go home to where your from.

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    • Mahalo Coral, for your sentiment of Aloha. I appreciate that you have expressed your dislike of the idea, but your entire statement is just an attack on me. Perhaps you could provide useful information so that others could decide for themselves? And just to correct you, I’m not doing this for selfish reasons. You obviously don’t know me, and no plans on moving or stopping the Tiny House Movement from expanding all over Hawaii.

      I had a choice whether to allow Coral’s comment, and I decided to publish it because I want everybody to know that when a good idea challenges the status quo, there will be some that fear change. If you are doing something remarkable, there will always be at least one person that just can’t help themselves from trying to ruin it for others.

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      • No I have no plans on helping your movement. Neither do I want to support this. Yes Hawaii is extremely expensive. Building a home is even more. The cost of rent is to high. But to make it so the county of Maui has even more people here is just plain dumb. I love the way it is. We’re all ready over crowded here. Why make it more.
        I am not afraid of change. Nor did I attack you. I feel that what you are doing is making it harder for me to get through the red tape of building my home. And honestly I’m glad we don’t have trailer parks here. That’s the plain and simple fact. Yes the housing market could change for the better. But it seems to me you are selling these homes for the purpose of a get rich quick scam. As a property owner. I would not tolerate a multitude of these. A squatters dream come true. That’s what you’re building.

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        • Aloha Coral,
          1st, nobody is changing or attempting to change the current laws pertaining to you and your situation. Nobody ever said we were changing building codes that might affect those who are building traditional homes. Not sure where you’re getting that from. We are also not inviting more people to come here. We are simply providing a solution for those that are already here and want to live in a more affordable situation with less of a negative impact on the environment. Nobody is suggesting people move here. Nobody is advocating for trailer parks either. Not sure where you are getting all these strange, way out in left field notions from. And again, I am not in the business of selling these homes. I don’t even have one. Not sure why you insist that I am selling these homes, but it’s not a bad idea! So far you’ve said this idea is, “dumb” and “get rich quick scam” and a “squatters dream”. None of which can even remotely be derived from the article you are replying to, so I call that an attack. Nothing has suggested the things you are saying. Good luck with your search for someone who is doing what you are saying because we’re not. Good luck finding some other article that says what you think this one does, because it doesn’t. Sorry, but you apparently have the wrong number.

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          • I served my country for several years, and I was sad to come out and see that the housing dream is no longer a reality as it was for my family. My guess is you are older and cashed in before it hit, or probably make a lot of money. I am about to graduate a top tier university in the US, but I don’t have any intention of regarding the right for others to live based on my own sentiments…that’s simply traditionally unAmerican. I say traditionally, because it used to be about people being happy for others coming up. It seems to be now a days when people find a way around or out, the hatred from others comes out in non-conformity and social norms. My simple request to you, coral, is to please look at the world and see what most people need to be happy, and more importantly, ask yourself why your living standards and up holdings should force me to live your way, or in a sense of debt beyond our eyeballs in the country where people are free? I think you should research the movement. It’s not just oddballs (who live in homes too, as I discovered in Key West, many having them before the 1970s) but also people who are professional, plan on having lives and paying taxes just like you, they just want housing on their own terms and lives with their own meaning described. Is it really fair to assume that tiny housing is trying to mess your life up? How about just taking away minimal housing standards? Let people build what they legally and safely need, and let THEM decide whether it’s a shack or a mansion? Technically, that’s supposed to be America, right?

          • Thank you for your service to the people! Aloha

  8. I would love to be involved in your “Tiny House” movement on Maui. I’ve spent a lot of time admiring the houses featured on their website and am impressed by all of your efforts toward the cause here in Hawaii.

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    • Keep in touch Manon, lots of good things are happening! Mahalo for your nice comments.

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  9. Are there camping trailer parks on Maui? Where? Makena? Similar question as Tim- which of the links you provided explain about toilets, potable water, electric hook ups?
    Mahalo, J

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  10. Great article on a great topic–thank you for doing all this research! I’d like to have a tiny house as part of Maui Discovery Center.

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    • It would be a great asset to educate others about low-carbon footprint living, water conservation, low-stress living, and even how to live in a difficult economy. Keep in touch. Aloha

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  11. Great and well researched article Erik! Although I think a single person could exist in a tiny house, I’m not sure I couldn’t exist with my independent husband! That said, I think that the whole housing industry has to think about more efficiency in smaller spaces. Less stuff, better relationships, better food and good community living. And tiny houses are a great place to start. I remember visiting Fiji and Solomon Islands….the houses are tiny (8×10) with whole families living in them.

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    • Aloha Kathy, I couldn’t have done it without the unsung help of “Sam” who did most of the research! I agree with you that, Tiny houses are NOT for everybody. In fact, only a small segment of society wants to live in them because they are very small, not cheap to build or buy, and aren’t easy (takes work). You’re right about the housing industry needing some changes. The world isn’t getting bigger. Most people are going to have to find alternative living situations, and Tiny Houses are just one small solution to the lack of affordable, simple, efficient housing that isn’t for everybody. Mahalo

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      • I notice a trend with tiny home enthusiasts with being aware with worldly conditions of housing. We truly live in a bubble…which may burst out of our own ego eventually. Nothing lasts forever, but the ideals of living within our needs and simplistic notions have far more reaches than extremity and overabundance.

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        • Yup, totally agree! Thank you for sharing your insight!

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  12. Reading through the comments, conjuring up an image of Kathy in a Tiny House, Peter in a Tiny House next door, and two little skateboard-like Tiny Houses in front. ;-)

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    • I think Peter might need a Tiny House just to put the camera equipment and the cats would need kitty doors for sure!

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  13. Aloha Erik :) Excellent article…and great job taking the time & energy to research tiny homes for Hawaii. Maybe when I’m an empty nester that’ll work for me. I feel like I’m already living in a tiny house with 4 people in a 600 sq ft cottage – LOL. But I absolutely love the idea for affordable housing. :)

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  14. How one could design a mini-community grouping of house trailers that would provide for the individual and common needs but NOT be legally or visually a “trailer park” would be an interesting exercise. It would be far easier than the “mini-sustainbale community” I have been laboring to build on the Big Island. The impetus would have to first come from trailer owners who both acknowledged the real costs to provide the needed amenities and had the means to fund the work. Further, even with amenable zoning, the infrastructure would need to be a good neighbor within its neighborhood to avoid harassment or new enactments.

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    • On the Big Island it can certainly be done. Tiny Houses built on trailers are stronger than “mobile homes” thus putting a few in the same spot does not constitute a potential hazard when a hurricane hits Hawaii. Tiny Houses, or “House Trailers” are therefore an idea solution for an eco-village or cluster of tiny houses made into a village. Surround them with gardens and you’re doing the island a favor! Best practices are important, so put into place an HOA of sorts that protects the community from trash, waste, water, pets, noise and other issues so that neighbors can be reassured that the project is a good idea.

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      • So in addition to a killer overall village design, create a job for a caretaker. That could be a retiree whose non-trailered home is there (that allows utilities to be connected to most sites) and he or she manages things. An extended B&B with privacy and axels.

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        • Difficult to attach utilities due to building codes, etc, but offgrid is workable.

          Yes, sounds like it could be done so long as the county doesn’t have too big of an ego. Aloha

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  15. My feeling is that these decisions should be made locally and by those who have already made investments in an area. Existing areas could be converted by satisfying existing owners concerns and compensating them for the impact. And by also establishing and enforcing sensible rules.

    As for whether tiny houses are good for a community or not, whose community are we talking about? The community of those who can’t afford the existing housing model would be immeasurably improved by being able to afford a house.

    We need room to make our own choices and experiment without negatively impacting those who prefer conventional housing. I believe it can all coexist, but good fences make good neighbors and the right, locally-determined rules will allow housing diversity to flourish.

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    • The operative word here is “fences”. That would be a part of the infrastructure (yes, even off-grid living requires some when it becomes a grouping and has maintenance, security, and other demands beyond an individual campsite) in a properly designed trailer-friendly site. Going a little further, this could be a good place to work with biomimetic principles to make a more natural looking and environmentally attuned infra-structure which allows the dwellings to be less-structured and more affordable.

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      • Nothing wrong with a cluster of tiny home dwelling people making the decision to put up fences if they wish, but I don’t think it should be a requirement, just as it is not a requirement in most traditional home construction.

        I like the idea of a nice-looking fence, especially to keep out pests and the local wildlife from tearing up the garden :)

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    • To a certain extent I agree with you Alan, as far as working WITH neighbors to make a more inclusive community with sensible practices and considerations (not special rules). But I do not think it should be up to homeowner association or more regulation. Who would “enforce” Tiny House Community rules? The county doesn’t have the manpower to enforce the rules we already have. More rules aren’t going to be enforced in any other way other than on a “complaint” basis.

      The decision to live in a tiny house is a matter of choice, and the location should not be a matter of what wealthy homeowners think, but a relationship between the landowner and the tiny house tenant. Currently in Hawaii, I know of several Tiny Houses that are already being lived in. These people make great neighbors and keep to themselves. Thus, no problems, no complaints, etc. But, if the local municipality gets involved and makes rules and regulations, just to appease wealthy real estate investors, then that’s not going to make Hawaii a nice place to live is it? Relying on the goodwill and wisdom of those who “have invested in an area” is not the best path because often they are merely looking out for their own investment rather then the housing crisis, economic crisis and food crisis.

      The fact is that the typical “investor” in Real Estate might not be so friendly to the Tiny House movement for a false fear that it might reduce property values. But tiny houses have been shown to increase neighborhood property values. However, any loss in neighborhood value is dramatically offset by the improvement to society through the tiny house movement.

      Which community? If you delineate between rich and poor, then I suppose the poor would be much better off with more Tiny Houses in the community. But the community I am speaking about is the entire community, including the poor and wealthy real estate investors AND Traditional homeowners. The community is improved because those that choose to live in tiny homes will have more income left over every month to invest into the economy, thus creating more jobs and benefiting local businesses and farms.

      As far as your comment that the poor would be “immeasurably improved by being able to afford a house” I agree, but the only methods presented to them are creative ways to funnel the poor into debt prisons. Debt is not the answer, and it doesn’t improve the ability of the poor merely by purchasing a house, their lives are improved by the freedom to choose a life worth living.

      I too agree that Tiny Houses can coexist, as they do in many communities all over the world. I suggest we see where this goes, examine and perfect as we go. Make tiny corrections as needed. Eventually we can all coexist in harmony. So long as it does not become a regulation war between the haves, and have nots. Mahalo for your comment Alan.

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      • I like this comment stream, and I would just like to add that in America, there seems to be a social stigma (my study) that would keep us from living like this. I don’t see any other real obstacle. Given time, people would find a way to profit on them, and the government a way to tax them. But people simply having a choice in the amount of square feet they need to live? That’s simply revolting! I find it interesting that in the same breath many Americans say “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” (impossible) and then do EVERYTHING they can do to keep people from getting up. It’s such a load. I recently read about a lady in Florida who was off-grid and forced to reconnect. Ridiculous…A person should not have to move to Denmark or Norway to have good lifestyle and be healthful towards the environment. Case in point, I work in Santa Monica, a city credited for largely supporting environmental design. My electric car charges on a solar-powered parking structure. Awesome…but a tiny house? In the CCC? Absolutely not going to happen. Even off-grid? yup. We love rich eccentricity and environmentalism, but poor solutions? Just ask the guy who invented tiny houses for San Francisco for the homeless…

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        • Aloha Nick, I agree with you. The norm in society is to conform at any cost rather than think critically and be independent. It’s a strange situation when half of society complains about poor people being lazy and dependent upon the government, and then when those low-income folks innovate and create a low-cost alternative to the traditional ways corporations siphon wealth away from the commoners, then suddenly those non-conformists are extremists and a threat to the status quo. It’s a real problem because most all regulations and laws funnel people into conformity and away from practicality, creativity, innovation and efficiency. Fortunately, many people do get it, and the tiny house movement is growing!

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  16. Mahalo Erik and ‘Sam’ for navigating the tricky Maui County codes. I have been following the tiny house movement for the past year and dream of having my own little tiny slice of heaven on wheels here on Maui.

    Keep me informed of a possible community. I’m all in!

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    • Aloha Patty and thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’ll will definitely keep you informed! Mahalo

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  17. Read this from a link to a link to a link. Fantastic idea, but I wonder: Where to dump all the waste or properly channel power to it? At it’s core it isn’t that far removed from a typical camping trailer (though much, much nicer looking). Having mulled over the possibilities of mobile living in Hawaii before, the problem of dealing with the waste water especially is the one issue I’ve never been able to reconcile.

    Reply
      • Aloha Erik,

        I’m on the Big Island and I have also been looking into Tiny Homes. I have had several meetings with both our Planning Dept and Public Works. With all the various codes, I’m not very encouraged about bringing Mobile Cabins to the Big Island. I really like your idea of registering it as a House Trailer with the DMV. But, I’m being told the waste is still a major issue because there is no legal dumping of human waste on this island. So, I would think health violations would eventually be a problem, as well as the DMV having issues with a toileted trailer with no legal means of waste disposal. Also, most interested Tiny Home buyers actually would prefer to be hooked up to electricity. Is that possible? I’ve spoken with HELCO and they say no. They will not energize anything that doesn’t have a permit. I’ve also heard from inspectors that a House Trailer would be in violation because it’s built with non-pressure treated wood which is not legal in this state. Another issue is the state requirement for solar heated water which won’t allow for traditional electric heaters. These pre-fab tiny homes come with either no water heater or an electric one. And finally, do you have personal experience with registering a Tiny Home House Trailer with the Maui DMV? Have you actually seen a unit inspected for brake lights, weight limits, safety stickers? Do you personally know of any of these which have been fully approved and registered by the DMV?

        Mahalo for you valuable feedback. It’s much appreciated.

        Jim in Hilo

        Reply
        • First, these are brand new, so we’re breaking new ground. There is no history to go by. So no, I have not yet actually registered a trailer on Maui, nobody has. We’re building one now–soon to be tried. But we’re not telling the DMV what it’s for, just that it is a trailer that’s going to hold 10,000 lbs.

          Second, why talk with planning and public works at all? You do not need approval from them to build and live in a tiny house, with solar and a composting toilet.

          Hooking up to electric. If you are going to hook up to electric service, you might as well get a permit and build a full-size house because the red tape is going to be the same. Tiny Houses are best off grid.

          Inspecting the trailer is done before building the house. The trailer is what is being registered, not the house. So they don’t inspect the wood.

          Water heating can easily be done with instant heat propane systems:
          http://www.rheem.com/products/water_heating/tankless/

          Human waste is the combination of solid waste and urine. That’s not nearly as toxic and some fear. If separated, each substance can be handled differently, and actually benefit the soil and plant life wherever it is properly distributed.

          A composting toilet is the Cadillac of waterless toilets. It is the very best solution but it is expensive and requires ongoing supplies.

          Pros:

          Composting toilets are a mature technology and work very well.
          If it is installed properly, it will not have any smell.
          Although it requires water, it requires very little water so it can be used in all but the most extreme circumstances.

          Cons:

          They are quite costly to purchase
          They require that you have a supply of bulking agents to add to it periodically. Bulking agents include things like peat moss or sawdust. A large supply can be bought at a reasonable cost and stored for future use. So this is not a big con as you would probably have laid in a supply of these materials if you made this waterless toilet choice anyways.

          This is the preferred method for Tiny Houses for many reasons.

          Here’s the strait poop, on well, poop :)
          http://humanurehandbook.com/downloads/Chapter_6.pdf

          More on the science:
          http://www.buildinggreen.com/features/mr/waste.cfm

          Not that this matters, but here are some links to the legality of composting toilets in regular houses in Hawaii:

          http://hawaiisustainablecommunity.org/composting-toilets-are-they-legal/

          One of my favorites — http://natureshead.net/land

          Anyway, I hope that answers your questions? Remember that any time you talk to any agency of the government they are going to try to force a square peg into a round hole and make you pay for the trouble. So interact with them as little as possible, and be wonderful neighbors in your neighborhood :)

          Aloha and Mahalo

          Reply
          • (Jim Wrote) Erik, thanks so much for your detailed response. I’m pretty serious about bringing Tiny Houses to the Big Island, so I’ve done quite a lot of research. I have also built many cottages on Kauai (over 600sq ft) which were off the grid and used composting toilets. If you would be so kind, I have a few more questions/concerns about the mobile tiny houses:

            (Erik Wrote) First, these are brand new, so we’re breaking new ground. There is no history to go by. So no, I have not yet actually registered a trailer on Maui, nobody has. We’re building one now–soon to be tried. But we’re not telling the DMV what it’s for, just that it is a trailer that’s going to hold 10,000 lbs.

            (Jim Wrote) Oh, I see. I assumed they needed to know what would be hauled on the trailer. Now I understand that you will be registering the trailer alone and then adding the tiny house afterward. I’m very curious if that will work in the long run. What would happen if the dwelling that’s on top of the trailer was brought to the attention of Public Works (a neighbor reporting it, for example). The trailer would be okay, but I wonder what the inspectors who are responsible for public safety would do. It’s an unpermitted dwelling sitting on a trailer. Just because the trailer is permitted, doesn’t mean the dwelling on top is up to code or legal.

            (Erik Wrote) Second, why talk with planning and public works at all? You do not need approval from them to build and live in a tiny house, with solar and a composting toilet.

            (Jim Wrote) I don’t understand how you can say this. The code clearly states that any dwelling requires inspections and permits. And, since we’re talking about mobile units which are under 220 square feet, you yourself said they wouldn’t ever grant a permit. Off grid or not, public works has jurisdiction over the building of any structure (of any size) which will be lived in.

            (Erik Wrote) Inspecting the trailer is done before building the house. The trailer is what is being registered, not the house. So they don’t inspect the wood.

            (Jim Wrote) But in your blog, you say it’s all legal because it’s registered with DMV as a house trailer. If you are presenting only the trailer to DMV, the registration certificate would not say “house trailer”. It would simply state “trailer”. If you were ever challenged, the DMV would claim that the building on top was not disclosed or inspected and therefore not a legal “house trailer”. One of the links I found on your site actually says there isn’t a single legal mobile Tiny House in the United States right now. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge about this. There’s got to be a way because it’s actually too large a financial investment for it to be in violation and to someday be forced to be disassembled

          • Aloha Jim,

            1) Everything on the trailer is under the jurisdiction of the department of motor vehicles, not the public works. If the public works in your area is meddling in the affairs of the DMV, I suggest you file a complaint about their misuse of taxpayer money (being humorous here). Public works and planning are concerned with structures attached to the ground, and anything on a trailer is the DMV. So any a-hole neighbors can call the inspectors, but the inspectors should stick with their own jurisdiction.

            2) The IBC only covers permanent and temporary structures built upon the property outlined in the building permit/plan. Therefore, I can easily say that the no permit is required, no need to inform or submit plans, etc. A good example would be that if you buy an RV, are you going to submit an electrical plan and floor plan to the permits department before you park it in the driveway? I think not. In this manner Tiny Houses are the same as RV’s.
            Public Works does NOT have jurisdiction over automobiles, boats, RV’s, Tiny Houses, canoes, kayaks, vans, buses, airplanes, golf carts, dune buggies, hammocks, wheelbarrows, etc.

            3) The DMV does not inspect the “House” part of the trailer, only the trailer part. They don’t have wood experts, and they don’t need to check to make sure the tiny house has 36 inches of space in front of the loo. They are only checking to make sure the trailer is made to transport 10,000 lbs or so of weight safely. It’s not as complicated as you might want it to be.

            In general I get the feeling like you’re trying to make a case against Tiny Houses. I understand some might disagree with the movement, but I’m not going to allow Hawaii to put restraints on this movement. And if the government really wants things as complicated as you seem to think they are, then perhaps we should all become outlaws and ignore the government after all. There are laws that make everything illegal. But we the people are in charge. Not sure what side of the fence you’re on, but the more obstacles the government puts in the way of the people, the more they become the enemy of the people.

            Good luck with your project :)

  18. When I worked with community programs in Maui, I met people living in children’s tree houses, one bedroom tiny homes, and their vans. They were hard-working, honest members of society, some were displaced due to cutbacks, some like saving money, some were just trying to be earth friendly. They were extremely organized and spend most of their time doing other things like gardening, sports, and volunteering. On the other hand, I met those who struggled to maintain their homes due to mold, termites, water damage, deterioration, and elevating property taxes (all that money spent on a house and it will never be truly yours if you owe these). After these observations I became tired of my own home maintenance and fascinated with compact living. It makes eco- sense (economical and ecologically). Great informative article.

    Reply
    • Aloha and Mahalo Victoria for your comments! I agree and hope that the naysayers in our community will mind their own business and let those that want to live their lives with less, smaller dwellings and compact lifestyles do so without problems and complaints. I believe “we in the Tiny Community” will do our level-best to be great neighbors and respect the community and improve society as a whole. Let’s hope we can all just get along and live well in Aloha.

      Reply
  19. good article Erik. did you come across any info on Honolulu county during your research?

    Reply
    • Aloha Alex, no I did not. There is always the concern of city government getting in the way. Sometimes CC&R’s can be troublesome as well.

      Email if you need some help.

      Reply
  20. To the would-be “off gridders” who are thinking about compliance with your local codes, etc. How about just not?

    I can appreciate the poster’s attempts at staying within the law. But I think that it’s time for some good old fashioned civil disobedience here, because what we’re really dealing with is an overly-oppressive government. Civil disobedience is acceptable when there is oppression like this.

    Regulation now exists at way too many levels (city, county, state, and federal), and the restrictions, codes, fees, fines, and compliance costs are excessively burdensome on people who are just trying to live. The complexity at every level makes it an exhausting process for a human being to try to fight directly (try it and watch how fast you deplete your financial and emotional reserves).

    Though your heart is in the right place by attempting to comply with all of these codes, laws, and rules, you also have another option: disobedience.

    By complying to all this regulation you are essentially giving up your rights and subjecting yourself to their authority, instead of affirming what you know to be true in your heart: that they are in the wrong and thus have no authority (symbolically at least). By framing your situation in the context of their corrupt and inefficient legal system you make yourself a part of it and welcome them to dictate your life.

    So just be disobedient. Don’t register your tiny home with them. Don’t broadcast your activities. Limit the contact you have with these officials. Pay your taxes on time, be friendly to the neighbors, and shut the F up (excuse the language).

    Place your tiny home in a concealed spot on your land so that it’s not visible from the road, or plant some fast growing privacy shrubs to conceal yourself. If you are inspected and asked whether you are residing in the tiny house say no. Get creative with your story. Here are a few stories:

    – I “live” somewhere else. Just hang out here sometimes.
    – I build these and am working on the unit for a customer.
    – I’m fixing the unit for someone.
    – I’m using this land to grow crops. This is my office.

    Just never admit that you live/reside there because thats putting you into their jurisdiction. Don’t register it as an RV either. Why the hell pay for their bulls**t insurance and plates and taxes and all that other hell if what you want is to live simply and cut costs? Detach yourself from their corrupt money systems in all ways you’re able.

    Also, do yourself a big favor and stop letting your mind trick you into feeling “guilty” about deceiving deceivers. Our country has such a high moral facade but let’s not forget that they deceived the indians and stole all their land not too long ago. See past all of the fluff. Even today, Government and all of its immensely complex arms routinely confuse and deceive wherever appropriate to achieve their agendas while maintaining this false mask that it is somehow just. In other words, the gov lies all the time, so don’t you feel bad about lying to them.

    If they tell you to move your tiny house, just move it to a more concealed spot on your land, or park it somewhere else for a few days. Seriously invest in means (fences, shrubs) to keep people from wandering onto your land or from being able to see what you’re doing from the street. This will go a long way.

    This layering of property regulation at the city, county, and state levels needs to be outlawed at the federal level. It’s a sadistic system that only hurts the people who are most vulnerable (us). It uses financial weaponry (fees, fines, forms) to target, weaken, and destroy those of us who have no money to begin with — often making us weary and destitute after jumping through all of these hoops, for the measly privilege of existing in this system that THEY have intentionally corrupted beyond repair.

    They want you to be dependent on their system and to suckle at their teat for all your needs. So don’t comply, don’t register, don’t sign up. (If you’re able)

    I love this burgeoning tiny-house, off-grid community. It’s the beginning of something truly great that will take this country, and the WORLD by storm in the coming years. Until it does, keep spreading the word to other people, keep your mouth SHUT to your local gov, stay friendly with the neighbors, and continue to live simple and free!

    Reply
    • I hear you. A lot of people might find your comments upsetting, but I do not. I totally understand where you are coming from. The forces that oppress our innovative efforts to live affordably are unnecessary for certain. Most of the regulations are designed, not to better a community or protect the environment, but to generate tax revenue and revenue from compliance enforcement.

      However, anyone wishing to at least attempt to conform to the law and live affordably in Tiny Houses is welcome to do so. I suggest it because it will be difficult in the beginning, but hopefully result in less problems down the road.

      Mahalo for taking the time to express your thoughts on this matter! Aloha

      Reply
    • Why so much emphasis on concealment and making up stories about not living in a tiny house trailer. If it’s registered with the DMV, what can they do? You seem to be suggesting a ton of effort to conceal your house trailer when a quick stop at the DMV to register it would make your whole issue mute.

      Reply
      • Well said Jim. Sometimes the “powers that be” in a community, can find ways to override permissions from law. For example, a complaining neighbor might make trouble for a tiny house village by calling the police often or causing problems. I don’t blame people for being a little overwhelmed by the red tape and lack of obvious support from county officials. But it’s still a new movement. Some day these will be common.

        Mahalo

        Reply
      • The way I see it — it takes much more effort to ensure compliance than to just keep your mouth shut and stay off the radar.

        There’s also principle. Why should people have to insure their tiny house if they don’t plan on roading it? I don’t have a ton of money (mostly the fault of government) so why spend what little I have left on sh*t I don’t need — simply because there’s a bad law on the books? The bureaucracy and its infinite levels are notorious for bleeding regular folk dry like this. All because of bad laws. Dumb laws. Laws that need to be changed, questioned, checked, and resisted. And they go unchecked because of people who are unwilling, too lazy, or too afraid to consider resisting them. Peaceful resistance has its place people.

        If enough misguided people continue to think like this, simply allowing them to continue to legislate and regulate our lives unquestioned it WILL get worse. It’s a slippery slope into a tangled briar patch of thorns, laws, regulations, and codes galore.

        Bottom line, I don’t AGREE with registering or insuring my tiny home. I don’t recognize the authority of any regulatory body that would force me to have my tiny house registered and ‘insured’ if I don’t intend to have it on the road. I don’t support this irrational craziness. So why act like I do by complying? Stay true to your values.

        Part of it is understanding that the majority of people out there just will not understand that you can and should resist bad laws. And these people will have no qualms about ratting you out in a heartbeat to the local building regulators. So stay smart. Buy land with some good tree/shrub coverage (or plant some coverage) so that your business is not out there for all to see. And just live :)

        Reply
        • I love your rebel attitude and I totally agree. We need to take back our rights to live how we want to live. We are not harming anyone by doing so.

          That said, I love working the loopholes in a system even more than rebelling. So, I am planning to build and live in an eco-village made up of tiny houses in Hawaii in a “traditional” neighborhood. To keep within the legal loopholes, I’ll call the tiny houses: detached bedrooms. They will stem from a central permitted (legal and hooked-in) structure (big kitchen, living room, laundry room). The village will also share amenities such as gardens, a pool, and workshop spaces.

          The main issue is the zoning laws that state that only 5 unrelated people can live on one lot, so in order to to have a real village we will have to buy a few lots -each having their own kitchen structure and 5 detached bedrooms with their own bathrooms and “wet-bars”. The only other rule I found is that: detached bedrooms need to be within 50ft of the kitchen building, but that’s not a problem -it’s actually a good thing to make the community more cohesive. This idea gives people privacy in their own tiny home while they can partake in the amenities of the common structures with friends. We can also all share ownership (splitting the cost of a home/lot 5 ways), so basically each of us can own a piece of paradise for 1/5 of what it would cost to live in a 5 bedroom house.

          Do you know of any other legal issues that may affect this idea? What do you all think about it?

          It is more sustainable to share and live with less. I am not poor, but I’d rather have a tiny home and land that I share with others, while I spend my money on other more important things than a big status-symbol house.

          Reply
          • What State are you planning to set up this village?

          • Here in Hawaii, not sure which island. I originally wanted to do this in Puna near the Red Road (where my friends are), but now with the lava situation. I’m not sure that’s the best place -unless we put the detached bedroom cottages on trailers :-)

  21. This is more of a small house question. Is it legal on Maui, to build a 200 sq ft. studio on ag. land without a permit (and live in it)?

    Reply
    • Aloha Karen,
      Building a fixed structure that is attached to the ground means following the International Building Code (IBC), AND zoning requirements.
      Therefore, the answer to your questions is: NO, you may not legally build a 200 sq ft. studio dwelling on Ag land without a permit.
      Zoning: Ag land has a maximum permitted dwelling limit of 2-dwellings per parcel (regardless of acres). A dwelling is legally defined in the IBC as either a standard dwelling of no less than about 440 sq ft., or an “efficiency dwelling” of not less than 220 sq ft. The efficiency is so noted because it has a combination kitchen-living-bedroom space. Both require permits. Both require you to stroll down red-tape road and convince the scarecrow, the lion and the tin man to allow you to continue beyond the emerald city. Remember that they have no heart, no brains and no courage :)

      Reply
      • If I were not to live in the 200 sq ft studio, would it then be legal without a permit?

        Reply
        • Nope, you cannot build any structure in any zoning larger than 119 sq ft. without a permit.

          IBC – R105.2 Work exempt from permit.

          Permits shall not be required for the following. Exemption from permit requirements of this code shall not be deemed to grant authorization for any work to be done in any manner in violation of the provisions of this code or any other laws or ordinances of this jurisdiction.

          Building:

          1. One-story detached accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet (11.15 m2).

          See – http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/irc/2006f2/icod_irc_2006f2_1_sec005.htm

          Reply
          • Thanks for your reply
            How about 190 sq ft on ag. land

          • Nope, you cannot build any structure in any zoning larger than 119 sq ft. without a permit.

          • Maui County Planning Department states
            106.2 Work Exempt from Permit. A building permit shall not be required for the following:
            16. Agricultural buildings less than 200 square feet in floor area.

            Is this something different?

          • The caveat is that you must have a farm or at least Ag land.
            The Ag accessory building must have a purpose OTHER than a dwelling.
            You’re not allowed to live in that structure, so what is the purpose of the 199 sq ft building you want to build on Ag land?

  22. Just wondered if you know whether or not cob houses are allowed in Hawaii.

    Reply
    • If they meet the International Building Code then yes. Otherwise, build it on a trailer :)

      Reply
  23. It looks like the powers that be on the Big Island have closed the loophole;
    (1) Amending Section 202. Section 202 is amended by adding the following definitions:
    “BUILDING. A building is any structure used or intended for supporting any
    use or occupancy. The term shall include but not be limited to any structure
    mounted on wheels such as a trailer, wagon or vehicle which is parked and
    stationary for any 24-hour period, and is used for business or living purposes…”

    Reply
      • So does this mean, it needs to be to code like an on the ground dwelling?

        Reply
        • Nope. Has to be on wheels and registered with the DMV :)

          Reply
  24. Good day! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment
    form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and
    I’m having trouble finding one? Thanks a lot!

    Reply
  25. Hi Erik
    I see a lot of discussion about the outer islands. What about Oahu? Are the rules more strict here on Oahu? I would like to buy an ag 2 lot and park “house trailer (s).”
    Maybe building a regular house with bathrooms available for the trailer house. Off grid electricity and propane stove.
    There is a stream running through the land. Do you know of any setbacks for streams?

    Thank you
    Tracy

    Reply
    • Aloha Tracy,
      Every “county” is going to have their own quirks to deal with. Maui County is friendly, but Big Island isn’t so friendly. Not so sure about Oahu. Legally, you can do Tiny Houses anywhere on Private Property without a permit so long as you do not connect to electricity, water, sewer, etc. But you must have the trailer legally registered at the DMV as a “house trailer”.

      As far as streams, I have no idea. not sure why that would be a concern. Good luck!

      Reply

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