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Tiny homes, big issues

'The council work for us'.

People trying to bridge Gisborne's housing gap with tiny homes have encountered big problems.

Two Gisborne women who bought tiny homes are facing thousands of dollars of costs to comply with Gisborne District Council's (GDC) enforcement of New Zealand's Building Act.

The situation shows the need to contact the council before these tiny homes are bought.

The women bought the tiny homes as a solution to out-of-reach house and rental prices.

Sally Lloyd sank savings of $150,000 into a 12-metre-by-four-metre tiny home because she could not afford Gisborne house prices.

A tiny home seemed a good temporary solution. It could be placed on her daughter's backyard until house prices came down.

But the 73-year-old's plans have been halted by compliance issues and she is losing sleep over this and possibly losing her $150,000.

“I feel sick,” she said.

Mrs Lloyd was expecting to have already moved her tiny home to her daughter's property in Ormond Road.

Instead it sits stranded on a Stanley Road property, with all her belongings in storage at a cost of $280 a month.

Meanwhile, another Gisborne woman has been given until July 28 by the council to move her family's tiny home off their land on Lytton Road, or attach it to the ground, for earthquake safety reasons.

Candice Gate said if she attached it to the ground, she faced a raft of costs.

“They (GDC) believe it has to be put on top of piles to make it healthy and safe for earthquake purposes,” she said,

“I had already done my research and knew it didn't fall under the Building Act.”

Mrs Gate referred to a Christchurch District Court decision in 2020 that ruled a man's tiny house, 8.1x 3.1x4.2, was a vehicle.

Judge Mark Callaghan was satisfied the structure was a vehicle because it was registered and warranted, and was moveable.

The case was taken to court by the tiny home owner who had been asked by his regional council to demolish it or comply with the Building Act.

In a warning to others, the council encourages anyone looking at buying or building a tiny house to get in touch first for clarity.

GDC building services manager Ian Petty said the council could help on whether a structure is deemed a vehicle or a building under the Building Act.

“We'd rather advise than enforce,” he said.

Mrs Lloyd's son-in-law Craig Foss said they did not even consider calling the council first.

“It was a huge surprise to us that it didn't comply. There are so many tiny houses here already we didn't think we needed to worry about it.”

Mr Foss said it would cost $10,000 to comply, but that was uneconomical for a moveable home that was only going to be required for six months.

“We're not trying to flout the law, this is a temporary solution.”

“The GDC said this house will never be compliant and if we wanted to do anything with it all, the only thing was to cut it up.

“The manufacturer of the building said it was made to be a removable structure not a permanent building.”

Mr Foss said the stress on tiny home owners facing these issues was not good for their mental health.

“There's nothing more stressful than losing your home.”

He said the removal company they hired to move it to their backyard in Ormond Road called to say they could not move it. If they did they faced a potential fine from the council.

The removal company manager spoke to The Herald on condition of anonymity.

“There are two sides to this story and I can see both sides.

“Yeah, it's classed as a caravan but this is a two-bedroom home on wheels. You've got to draw the line somewhere.”

He confirmed GDC had notified transport operators that if they shifted these types of building they could be fined as well.

Mrs Lloyd's tiny home is registered and warranted as a caravan completed to Healthy Homes Standards by Compac Homes in north Waikato.

Mr Petty said if a structure had wheels on the side, it did not necessarily mean it was a vehicle.

The Building Act was national legislation that the GDC administered as it was required to, he said.

These situations highlighted the need to get in touch with council early in the planning phase, to avoid making a potentially costly mistake.

“Some buildings may still be exempt from the requirement for a building consent if they meet one of the exemptions in Schedule 1 of the Building Act, however, these exemptions can be convoluted and easily misinterpreted.”

“The council doesn't make people obtain building consents where the work is exempt under Schedule 1, but we will enforce the Building Act if it's not.

“The council's building team can give advice on the Schedule 1 exemptions to assist anyone contemplating a small building on their land.

“If a cabin or tiny house meets the exemptions, it can be placed on a section to provide additional accommodation such as a sleep-out.

“However, there are caveats that limit the use, such as their own height off a boundary, and they must also meet the district plan distances from boundary, and site coverage rules. If those rules aren't met, a resource consent may still be required, even if exempt from building consent.”

Mr Petty said cabins were often advertised as an affordable alternative to getting consent and constructing a building but that was often not the case.

“The council is aware of 48m2 buildings that sell for $150,000. This is a cost of $3125 per square metre compared to new build costs of around $2000 per square metre. So if you have the land, constructing through a building consent process is a more robust and future-proofed option,” he said.

Council 'should be there to help residents . . . '

Mr Foss said the council should be there to help residents looking for alternative housing solutions.

“But they are putting barriers up. This is the perfect solution for the housing crisis we are in. There are not enough rentals and not everyone can afford a million-dollar house. We wanted Mum close to us.

“She bought it as a caravan. There should be some bylaw that allows people to have emergency housing. They're (council) just saying ‘no', and don't want to deal with us.

“We don't want it there forever. It's on wheels. It's not a fixed structure.

Mrs Gate's tiny home is already on her family's land.

Its position on Lytton Road has attracted so much interest from passers-by that two weekends ago she tidied it up and threw an impromptu open home.

More than 100 people went through.

Mrs Gate says she is not selling these homes but she can see they are a great solution for the housing crisis.

She also saw a Christchurch court decision which left her confident she was on the right side of the law.

So she got back in touch with the council.

“They have been most difficult to deal with. They pretty much stamp on your mana without trying to find a solution.

“I feel GDC have missed the boat to put things in place proactively about mobile homes, and they're trying to stop it in its tracks to clean it up retrospectively.

“Our people desperately need affordable solutions. We are ratepayers . . . the council work for us. They should be working with us to find solutions, especially since so many people don't have a secure place to sleep each night because home ownership in our region is out of reach.”

Non-complying cabins or tiny homes usually came to the council's attention after complaints from neighbours which may then lead to an inspection, Mr Petty said.

“If we find it's legal and meets both the Building Act and Resource Management Act criteria, we can dismiss the complaints. If not, we're required to take enforcement action and the cabin may have to be moved or taken off the property.”

An online petition to council with 186 signatures says mobile homes are an affordable, durable, healthy, safe and attractive solution to housing needs in the Gisborne region.

Mr Petty said the petition needed to go to central Government, not GDC.

Losing sleep: Sally Lloyd bought a tiny home for $150,000. It is on wheels and measures 12 metres by four metres. However, it sits stranded on a Stanley Road property, unable to be shifted to her daughter's property as transport operators risk a fine from the district council if they move it. Pictures by Paul Rickard
Big problems with tiny home: Two weeks ago Candice Gate threw an impromptu open home for the tiny home on her family's land on Lytton Road. More than 100 people came through, she said. These homes are an affordable solution to the housing crisis but Gisborne District Council are warning people to get in touch with them first. Mrs Gate has been given until July 28 to fix her tiny home to the ground or have it removed.

  1. Leatha Scragg, Mt Maunganui says:

    I know a lady who has one on wheels – she lives in it full time at Timaru Raceway. Her brother came and shifted it to Oamaru Showgrounds where she was having an awning put over the door. It was fully registered and compliant.

  2. Not So Tiny says:

    Mrs Lloyd bought it as a caravan? Yeah right, it’s a two-bedroom building for goodness sake. They are advertised as Transportable / Relocatable.
    Please prove me wrong and drive it down the main road with your own vehicle.
    Look at the size of Mrs Gate’s deck! You have attached it to your tiny home (surely), so therefore making it a permanent dwelling?
    You may not require building consent but your dwellings are attached to town services (sewerage, water, power), no matter what size it is – you should be paying.
    I understand that these are cheaper options than buying a house, but you are taking the mickey a bit here saying “the council work for us”!

    1. Shuush your laughing gear says:

      Shut up Karen

    2. Alexander Sutton, Hawke's Bay says:

      Short journey out of Poverty Bay would soon prove you wrong. But then again, different councils is the key. Nothing further to say really.

  3. Billie Hohepa says:

    So it seems as though local government would like to contribute to Jacinda’s 22,500 people on the emergency housing waiting list (people sleeping in the street) tonight – rather than allowing a viable alternative to the housing crisis. This poor lady didn’t have the financial means to fight it, so the council are just bullies. Furthermore, I’d like to know what powers do the GDC have under the Land Transport Act to “fine” anyone who moves it. As long as the road rules are obeyed and the correct oversized load provisions are put in place, I don’t believe they have the jurisdiction to fine anyone for moving a caravan.

  4. P Millar says:

    Wait up.
    “They must also meet the District Plan.”
    Rather hypocritical.
    The Inner Harbour Parking NEVER met the District Plan. GDC allowed that project to roll on despite being constantly reminded, and many queries to that effect, then “arranged” a Plan Change just prior to completion of work.

  5. Robin Bolstad, Canterbury says:

    About time the Government got off its lazy arse-kissing butt and did the right thing for the hopeless housing shortage NZ is in . . .

  6. Concerned says:

    Tiny homes are perfect for Gisborne’s house shortage – the council should be behind this. Rents are so expensive here. Some homes are set up like a caravan reg and have wof compliance. But our GDC is getting money from every avenue they can.

    1. May Selby says:

      There are many living in caravans and cars and tents and we are in the middle of winter for goodness sake. Here are two women using there own initiative to house themselves – and their own money. The dire shortage of houses in Gisborne should give this council, out of sheer necessity, some plan of action to allow them access to their homes. How about trying living in the circumstances they are in with no solutions any time soon?

  7. Brodie, Australia says:

    Why are NZ people paying the full price of a house? My one-bedroom house cost AUD$120,000 all included. A tiny home here starts at A$12,000; A$60,000 gets you a full one-bedroom ground-level tiny house.

  8. Nick, Masterton says:

    Wow, unbelievable – people trying to do something to put a roof over their heads in this housing crisis, and they face this crap! ….they do nothing and what happens, they live under a bridge or worse again they do nothing and the taxpayer shouts them accommodation in a nice motel…..Bullshit!

  9. Claude Lewenz, Mobile Home Association says:

    It’s unfortunate when those charged with enforcing the law appear to not have training in law and if they consult with lawyers the lawyers appear to lack training in the most ancient law of NZ: property law.

    The article writes “Ian Petty said the council could help on whether a structure is deemed a vehicle or a building under the Building Act.”

    The problem with this statement is Mr Petty presuming the unit is a “structure”. In property law…

    – All buildings are structures.
    – All structures are realty (realty is a legal word for real estate – real property as opposed to chattel – personal property).
    – All realty is either land or fixed to land.

    A mobile home or tiny home on wheels is chattel until it is fixed to land, whereupon it becomes part of the land and is annexed to title to the land. To parse Mr Petty’s words, under law, a structure can never be a vehicle therefore the council can never deem a structure to be a vehicle.

    Yes, in the common tongue the word “structure” has a broader meaning such as saying a car has structural damage after a crash, but when citing a law, the word “structure” must be used lawfully, not casually.

    Therefore, before addressing the complaints, the council must determine if the living unit is lawfully realty-structure-building. If it is not fixed to land, it is not a building, nor a structure, thus not part of the realty. If it is personal property or chattel, the council’s acts under the Building Act would be “ultra vires” – a law term meaning beyond their powers/authority.

    Telling the Gisborne women the unit must “be put on top of piles to make it healthy and safe for earthquake purposes” is disingenuous. Putting it on piles makes it fixed to land, thus transforming the unit from chattel to realty. Further, it’s bad advice from a safety perspective. Mobile homes bounce in earthquakes, just like they do on potholed roads. Placing it on piles transmits the earthquake energy to the home, making it more vulnerable to damage.

    The Building Act Section 8 says “building means . . . a structure . . .” and the RMA says “structure means any building, equipment, device, or other facility made by people and which is fixed to land”. Clear enough.

    Where the council says, “If we find it’s legal and meets both the Building Act and Resource Management Act criteria, we can dismiss the complaints. If not, we’re required to take enforcement action and the cabin may have to be moved or taken off the property” they should also say “if the Building Act and RMA have no authority, the council must dismiss the complaints.”
    The Mobile Home Association represents the manufacturers of mobile homes – also known as factory-made tiny homes on wheels.

    1. John, Opotiki says:

      Question: could a tiny home be built and then transported by truck to the desired location, and then lowered on to a four-axle trailer which has no registration or current COF? Could this situation be deemed to comply?

    2. Ramon Sanders says:

      Great knowledge!!!! Love it, I hope the council likes apples, how do you like them apples GDC?!!

  10. Ron Julian, Coromandel says:

    Council building services managers such as Mr Petty are clearly well out of touch with the law on buildings vs vehicles. Refer Court of Appeal case law, Thames Coromandel District Council vs Te Puru Holiday Park. These managers need to remove themselves from the sheltered workshop/no accountability that are their councils. Mr Petty is but one of many well-paid, obstructive bureaucrats who are way too prevalent in councils these days. I have no respect whatsoever for such people and their actions, they are parasites on society. Councils should stick to their basics – poo, water and roads – and leave their “pet” ideals at home. Allow people to live their lives as best they can in this current mismanaged economic climate.

  11. A Farrell, Perth says:

    Change the Act, it seems to be non-compliant to the needs of the public. Have people in these roles who can
    address the problem sensibly. Coronavirus is here, the community and the environment has been drastically overhauled to a need for change in council and building regulations.
    Help our people, don’t bloody stump them.

  12. Trevor Rink says:

    I’m in agreement – I feel mobile homes are a perfect solution to the housing shortage.

    1. Karen Brinkman, Kairaki says:

      I live in a THOW (tiny house on wheels) and have done so for three years. I am in a campsite just out of Christchurch and the council check once a year that it is registered and warranted, fire alarms are installed and check that everything is compliant. Yes, it is classed as a vehicle/caravan and is expensive to insure. I have been in a few earthquakes, high winds and no damage. It needs to be looked at for housing, in properly set up areas. There are 8 THOW in the campsite I am in and more to come. You just need to have an open mind and look at things differently. It’s not for everyone – small space.
      Government need to set rules, so every council is on the same page.

  13. Andrew Sheldon, Wellington says:

    I have to laugh with incredulity at the idea that ‘a tiny home cannot be earthquake proof’. I know about rock mechanics, having studied mining engineering and earthquakes, having studied geology. There is no logic to suggest that a tiny home is an earthquake risk. In fact, you’d have to construe it to be the safest form of housing, unless a neighbouring house is destined to collapse upon it.
    This nonsensical, nuisance complaint by the council only highlights the extent of political dogmatism, or that there is a nefarious intent to ‘lock people out of housing’ by local govts, perhaps in concert with the national govt – i.e. could it be the Labour govt is trying to prevent a housing crisis; fearing that ‘cheap housing would undermine bank loans’. Yeah, I studied economics and finance as well.

    1. Kiwi Aussie, Auckland says:

      What’s the Labour Government got to do with these regulations?