A big landmark for tiny houses?

If a tiny house is a vehicle, it can never be a building.

In an unprecedented case, a tiny house owner in North Canterbury has won a court battle to determine that his mobile home is a vehicle rather than a building. 

The Hurunui District Council ordered that Alan Dall’s home be demolished if it could not comply with the Building Act 16 months ago. But a judge at Christchurch District Court ruled last week that the structure was a vehicle because it was registered, warranted, and mobile —  whereas a building is immovable, as well as permanently occupied. 

There has been increasing debate around tiny houses in recent years. Speaking for the Wānaka Tiny Houses Group, Anja O’Connor told the Wānaka Sun that this case sets an important precedent because “if [a tiny house] is a vehicle, it can never be a building. The council tried to move Alan, saying ‘If you live in it permanently, it becomes a building.’

“Queenstown Lakes District Council had the same opinion, but now it’s pretty clear from the top that it’s not. That means that councils and the government have to make regulations around permanent living in a non-building.”

Currently, tiny houses on residential units are subject to the same building and district plan regulations as regular homes. “We’re all worried that neighbours will complain, and then we’ll get moved on,” said O’Connor. “We have started a working group now, and we’re going to write up a plan. Stuff is being done all over New Zealand. People are choosing to live differently.”

According to O’Connor, the main reason people choose to live in a tiny house is the price of property and renting in the area. Many also view it as an opportunity to be less wasteful, more environmentally friendly and community-minded.


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