Tiny homes, big issues
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.
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.