Zone Approval With Buckingham County, Virginia
Guest Post: Melanie Copeland
So we are officially legal! We are homeowners and legal land owners in the great state of Virginia. Did you ever think that you are just one person and too small to make a difference? Well, I used to think that… until I went tiny! So, want to know how? Here’s our tiny story …
We Built Our Home In Seven Days!
We built our home in seven days at a workshop with Incredible Tiny Homes!
It is a complete and functional home. And while I always imagined living tiny as a lifestyle that would allow me freedom, and less to do…Once we got our home it clearly became something different. See, we live in the state of Virginia and after exhausting all parking options that were within the immediate vicinity of us, we ended up parking in a backyard with nowhere “legal” to go.
Our first few weeks were spent painting and staining…and calling all campgrounds and RV parks in case zoning or someone showed up and demanded that we leave. Exhausted, hearing no after no, we spoke often of what we would say if they did show up. It was stressful and sad, and not necessarily the way I envisioned tiny life being. But, this is not a sad story – this is the story of how we made it work!
After watching friend after friend get kicked off of land and chased around the state, we decided that we would not register our home with the DMV. We held the title to the trailer, but after talking to the DMV, we would in essence have to lie to register it.
Having to call it a trailer or a trailer with a weighted secured load was unacceptable, and for my friends that did this, the DMV chased them around because every time they changed their address, they were traceable, and again fined. So, we slipped under the radar and brought it back and parked it. Three different counties refused to register our tiny home as anything even close to what it was. Instead of being called a liar later, I figured when they show up, they can let me know what they want and we can work from there.
Because we use a professional mover, the tiny home is licensed on the road under them, so there was never a reason to have to lie to get it moved. We moved legally. We were also able to secure insurance, without any certifications on our home, and without having to lie about anything related to owning a tiny.
But, time went on, months and no one ever bothered us. We worked and lived and loved living on this property. It was beautiful and we loved our host. But, the looming fear kept winning out. So, we kept looking for a legal place to park.
Lived Under The Radar
After a year of flying under the radar, with lists of campgrounds and RV parks, we made calls again, and found two places that were now willing to let us come and park for a longer time frame. These were places that we had already called, but since time had passed, and things were starting to change, they too were changing what they accepted. The other thing we figured out was when talking to RV parks and campgrounds, the best way to figure out what they needed was to speak directly to the owners. Most of them did not even really know what we or home was. Once we could chat, I could explain what we owned, the conversation would change, and we would start talking about the rules, how they work, what they need etc.. and it was no longer a person calling to find out about living tiny, but a conversation that was passing on knowledge and looking for solutions.
We choose a park that was about a 45 minute commute to the city, and called our professional to have us moved again. Saddened to leave our little location, and our 20 minute commute, we left on a beautiful sunny day and rolled right into a campground.
This campground had only a few requirements to park. You must be able to roll out in a few hours, you must have insurance, hook to all the systems, and your dogs must have a rabies shot. See, all this certification talk and zoning talk had me so scared that I was not asking the right questions. I was an non certified tiny, mostly do it yourself, with no desire to be registered. Who would ever take us ? The people I approached for advice, told me get certified and carry registration, or to register as a trailer and tell them I owned an RV. In Facebook groups and many conversations ..it happened over and over again. All things that I really, just morally, felt were not the right things to do. We were in a tiny house on wheels…that is obvious and manipulating the truth was not working for us.
We Did Not Want Our Tiny Home Classified As An RV
But, park after park and zoning office after zoning office did not care about any of this. I spent hours calling and finding out what the road blocks were and why they did not want us there? I made friends that I still chat with today. Basically, they did want us. But, they have ordinances and codes that they have to abide by. Most of the counties here have certain requirements for square footage and no way to classify anything that is on wheels. They would say it was an RV and I cannot live in that full time, but then at the same time recognize that it was not an RV because of how it was built and understand that it did not have certification. RV certifications are placed for RV’s (in our state) and once those are attached to the home, it cannot be considered a full time home you can live in. Most places only allow you to live in an RV six months out of the year, and that was certainly not something that we wanted to do in our tiny house, so this was not even an option for us. So, again the answer was no.
Legally Parked In A Campground
Now legally parked in a campground, I headed up a group of people across the whole state of Virginia and we started looking for parking. Where can we really go, because if I can get in this RV park, then I know there must be more! Little by little we all made calls and the list got a bit longer and a bit longer. Most of the counties seemed to have a few places that people could call home. With very similar options to what I had found too. In our search for accurate information we vetted each of these places. We asked do they accept tiny houses on wheels, what are the rates, what certifications do you need to park, do you need insurance, how long can you stay, and what about pets, and what are the on grid off grid options? I have yet to find one place in my state that even knew what the certifications for tiny homes were, and most did not even care if you had insurance on your own home, although we do have that as well. Many were open to off grid options as well, which I found surprising.
Hope Is On It’s Way
While my goal was to find legal parking in RV parks, there were many counties that did not have any, so it led to us looking a bit further into the zoning in the areas. I spent one afternoon calling four counties that I had never tried before. I had long discussions with the building inspectors about minimum square footage and Virginia construction codes,
Back The Truck Up – I Can Do What?
I got a hold of a zoning official in Buckingham county. I spoke with her about what I had and what I was looking to do. Which was essentially to buy land and have a legal place to park, but also stay on my wheels so that I can travel when I want to. And her answer came back…Yes, we can do that.
”Yes, I believe that we can do this”, she said. ”If you want to park in someone’s backyard, it will be considered a civil agreement and you have to be hooked up safe and proper and have a permit to be connected to the sewer.”
Ok, what if we wanted our own land?
”Yes, I think we can work with that too.” ” We can classify you as dwelling, ”( don’t you love the sound of the word- dwelling? ) and allow you to stay on the wheels, but you have to be hooked to the septic and be safe and proper with the permits.”
So, I pushed a bit farther, what about being off grid? What about a compost toilet? To which I was referred to the health department. But, again not told no!
Compost Toilet Allowed!
So, that was the next call I made, I got a hold of a fantastic gentleman at the health department who decided it would be good if we could meet in person and talk. I agreed and set up a day to drive out there and show him what I was doing in my little hybrid tiny house.
He checked out my water system and my compost toilet, and said he had no issue with us using a composting toilet, but the state required that we be hooked to septic for the gray water to be safe and proper. I thanked him for his time, and we chatted about the land we were looking at and I told him I would be in contact.
We Found Land!
LAND – We found land! We found one acre on a main road that had a well, septic, electric and great cell service and called and took a drive, and then decided to make an offer!
We set up a time to meet with the seller’s realtor the next day to sign an offer.
I could not sleep the whole night, bad dreams, fears of being kicked off the land, being told no after everything we had done. So, the next morning I got in the car and drive down to the zoning office. I asked to speak to the lady I had been talking to but she was out. Instead I was directed to speak to the building inspector. And, I can tell ya, I was sure he was going to walk out and say…”minimum square foot requirements.” But, he actually helped me gather all the permits that I would need, told me that there was not anything that said tiny house on wheels, so we need to check this box, and write in the section these words, and offered to help us however we could, and I left. But, even upon leaving, my heart was still racing. They were really OK with me doing this.
Our Tiny Home Is A Legal Dwelling-Meant As A Permanent Residence!
See, as much as I understand the need for certifications, building codes, and even square foot minimum requirements, we met all safety and fire requirements, including egress windows in our own tiny house per our builder (Incredible Tiny Homes) who guided us with the requirements. I also understand current rules and laws that are in place. These are the things I was working around. While there is nothing in their code or ordinances for this specific type of dwelling, there was also nothing that was stopping them from accepting this type of dwelling. We spent the next few months chatting about how to make this happen with what is already in place, different codes and ordinances that could be used to work for what I needed it to do.
Yes I Get To Keep The Wheels On!
We just closed on my land today…….the letter that is attached references that our tiny home will be considered a dwelling and taxed as a home/dwelling while still being able to reside on wheels, and not even forced to skirt the home unless we want to. They have only requested that we tie our dwelling down. We have the freedom to roll away when we want and come back when we want because of some wonderful people who were really willing to look at what we owned and make it happen. They do exist. You just have to find them.
Get with a local meetup group in your area and divvy up the counties in your state. Have everyone call as many people as they can about it. Give them a list of questions and have them send it back so it can be compiled in one place. Then ask them to work in areas that you don’t have information for. The more people calling, the more they take notice. The more accurate information that we present, the more they start listening to us when we call again with an update, or want to discuss a new bit of information that happened somewhere.
Get on the phone and start calling campgrounds/RV parks/ zoning officials (building inspectors, health departments, zoning offices) and talk to them about what you have. Talk to them about their codes, how to change them, when their meetings are being held, who will be presenting. Get to know that county and those people!
I basically behaved like a two year old during this process, and whenever I got a no or an answer that didn’t fit with what I was trying to do, I said …but why… Then it would open up for them to explain things further and have a dialogue. This helped me build relationships. I would ask for recommendations on what could be done to make changes, add variances to the rules that were on the books, or how could an ordinance be adopted so that rules in place could then be modified to accept tiny houses. This gave me the most information.
Then I took the information that was collected and shared it with everyone in the state that worked on it.
We continued to compile and share. We figured out which counties we could make headway in and then started working with them in more direct ways. Calling and discussing changes. Attending meetings as a group to voice opinions is the next step, and work on adding working to existing rules to allow for tiny houses on wheels. This is the step we are in now! So, you call follow me as we continue to make legal parking work for us right now in Virginia! And if you want to help, or want to do this in your state! You definitely can!
Always Keep Dreaming! Fulfillment Could Be Right Around The Corner
This was one of the first of our What’s Your Tiny Story? series, sharing the personal path of how an amazing Advocate like Melanie Copeland is forging a path to the benefit of others. Melanie has way more to the story that she would like to share, so be on the look out for more posts from Melanie.
Please contact Melanie on Facebook if you have questions.
Note: Please do your own personal due diligence in your own county or city to find a legal route to Make Tiny Possible!
What’s Your Tiny Story?