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Going small – what you need to consider before building a tiny house

in Business Law by Anthea Digiaris on
Going small – what you need to consider before building a tiny house

Australian houses may be some of the largest in the world, yet the rising cost of living and rising house prices mean that many are beginning to trade in their master suites and rumpus rooms in exchange for something smaller, cosier and more affordable.

Tiny houses can range anywhere from 120 – 500 square feet in size. Choosing the right size for you may depend on your particular lifestyle and needs. The size of your tiny house may also depend on the regulatory framework under which your tiny house is captured. The relative novelty of the tiny houses movement has meant that in many respects the law is yet to catch up and adapt to the wants and needs of tiny house owners.

Below are some important issues you should consider before you commence construction of your tiny house:

1. Planning Requirements

Council Planning Schemes regulate how a property can be used including the type of building that can be constructed on the land, its size and the materials to be used.

Zoning regulations may also require a minimum size for residential dwellings and variances may be permitted on application.

You should always review your planning scheme and consult your local council’s planning department about the regulations that apply to you.

2. Ancillary Dwellings vs Tiny House

An ancillary dwelling or ‘granny flat’ may be a preferred alternative instead of a tiny house as the construction of a granny flat may not be restricted by minimum size restraints. Ancillary Dwellings may however be subject to maximum size restrictions.

Ancillary dwellings generally need to be located on the same lot as a ‘main dwelling’, that is, it must be subordinate to another residential dwelling. This means you will not be able to build your tiny house on an empty lot if you classify it as an ancillary dwelling.

3. Tiny House on Wheels

Restrictive zoning regulations may mean that many tiny house enthusiasts decide to build their tiny house on wheels, which allow them to escape the jurisdiction of municipal planning law.

A tiny house on wheels will no longer be regulated as a permanent structure and will rather be classified as a light truck or caravan.

The standards governing construction of a light truck or caravan are set out in the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (Cth).

The Act sets up standards, known as Australian Design Rules that specify the shape, size, weight and safety requirements of construction e.g. the tiny house on wheels must not exceed 2.5 meters in overall width and its height must not exceed 4.3 meters. Further, it must be fitted with a fire extinguisher.

4. Ongoing Regulation for a Tiny House on Wheels

Once a tiny house on wheels has been constructed, state and territory governments are responsible for its continued regulation, for example, its roadworthiness, registration, and the approval of modifications.

Many local laws prohibit camping for an open-ended period of time on a piece of property, even if you own the property. You should always review your planning scheme and consult your local council’s planning department about the regulations that would apply for residing in your tiny house on wheels.


If the need for advice arises, our experienced team of property lawyers is here to assist and guide you in the right direction. Get in touch today.


Anthea Digiaris
Senior Associate, Commercial and project Litigation

Have your say

Comments (2)

Sophia - 31 March 2016
Thank you Agatha!! This is priceless!
Danielle - 01 April 2016
Hi Slater and Gordon,

this post is very helpful.As a tiny homes preferred future home owner,these regulations will be so helpful when we are ready to build.