No Permit Required! Where to Build Your Tiny Home

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No Permit Required! Where to Build Your Tiny Home

No Permit Required: Where to Build a Tiny Home

Why are people so attracted to the image of the cabin in the woods? Is it an innate, powerful draw back to nature and natural materials or is the log cabin a symbol of the simple life, a life free from modern stresses – noise pollution, over-population, crushing debt and information overload?

For me, it’s the thought of working for decades at a job that does make me happy, disconnected from nature, surrounded by concrete, buildings and too many people, and dependent on an employer, the government, the system and powerful and efficient but noisy and unnatural machines.

When I was 21, I was already tired of society and wanted badly to move off-grid, to live off the land and to live on my own terms. Fortunately, a couple of years earlier, I had earned and saved enough money working in construction during summer breaks to buy some cheap land with help from my parents.

The property consisted of 5 acres in central Ontario Canada directly across from a lake and surrounded by public land. I thought I could live off the land, supplemented with a large stockpile of oatmeal, rice and canned vegetables.  Unfortunately, I didn’t last a year. The township started harassing me to remove the trailer that I was living in while building the cabin and I had to get a job to pay the property taxes.  I couldn’t believe it. I owned the land – why couldn’t I build a cabin or live in a trailer, or a tent for that matter? It didn’t make sense, but when I looked into it further, I found out that that was the way it is in most of Ontario and throughout the US and Canada, with some notable exceptions.

25 years after building that first cabin, things have gotten worse. Land prices have skyrocketed while wages have stagnated. Owning a house, especially one with a decent sized piece of land, may not be an option for my kids and most others in their generation. On top of that, governments have increased rules, regulations and fees. Previously unorganized townships have amalgamated with their neighbours and are no longer safe havens for off-gridders.

I found my solution in the form of an unorganized township in Ontario, Canada. Here, I am unencumbered by government oversight. With no building permit requirement and very low annual property taxes, I am free to build what I want, where I want and when I want.  Without oversight, I am free to build another log cabin. It’s 10 feet by 20 feet – 200 square feet plus a 70 square foot covered porch and a back deck overlooking the stream, which will eventually be screened in.

Inside the cabin, there is a sleeping loft with a queen sized bed. The main floor has a bunk bed, a kitchen, a table with seating for 4, a wood stove for heating and cooking, two chairs in front of the wood stove, a footstool and side table. Outside, there will be an outdoor kitchen with a bread oven and 50 feet away, downwind, an outhouse.

I get my water from a dug well 600 feet away near the road access, or from the nearby stream during open water season. During the winter, the creek remains open in sections and I can melt ice or snow if that freezes during a particularly cold day.

Tiny Homes in Ontario –  Restrictions on properties in organized/incorporated townships

In Canada, municipalities regulate residential and commercial construction based on the minimums set out by the National Building Code. Some provinces, such as my home province of Ontario, have more restrictive regulations set out in the Ontario Building Code. Municipalities can add further restrictions and regulations, including things like minimum and maximum plan view dimensions and heights, set-backs. A standardized “Development Fee” is an example of local intervention, which is a fee that they charge you for the right to build in their municipality.

Here are some of the restrictions preventing you from doing what you want on your property.

  1. Minimum primary building size. In Ontario, that can be anything from 500-640 sf for a hunt camp to 800-1000 square feet for a primary residence.
  2. Minimum number of rooms and minimum room sizes, depending on usage.
  3. No camping on your own property. Often, no camping even if a permit is in place.
  4. No sleeping trailers unless a building permit is in place to build a permanent primary structure. Permit expires after 1-3 years on average.
  5. No accessory buildings before primary building has occupancy permit issued, even if under the maximum size for a secondary shelter. So, no building a “shed” until the house is built.
  6. No cooking, sleeping or sewage systems in an accessory building under 108 square feet
  7. Maximum height restriction on accessory buildings. 2nd storey, if allowed, must not exceed 108 square feet.
  8. Many jurisdictions make it mandatory to connect to the local electricity grid

Cost

  1. Development fee (the “right” to develop a building in the township) is $10,000 + in many municipalities, including most in Muskoka and in townships surrounding us. Flat fee regardless of size of building.
  2. Building permit is expensive, priced per square metre of building area.
  3. Property taxes are high! – Unorganized townships are cheap – just $100-$200 in our case, including education portion

How to find a property in an unorganized township

  1. Search Realtor.ca in the area that you are interested in.
  2. Contact real estate agents in desired locations and asked for a list of unorganized townships in the area.
  3. Ask realtor for a list of properties for sale in an unorganized townships. Include already developed properties – sometimes the building is not suitable for habitation but beneficial infrastructure is in place, such as driveway, well and septic.
  4. Visit http://www.gisapplication.lrc.gov.on.ca/CLUPA/Index.html?site=CLUPA&viewer=CLUPA&locale=en-US (Crown Land Use Policy Atlas) to see what public lands are located near your property. Ideally, a large park of public land should be within walking distance.
  5. Spend time on Google Earth to get an idea of what surrounds the property – lakes and rivers, landfill sites, other developments, mines, quarries, etc.

Property checklist

Not everyone will agree with this list of criteria that were important to my wife and me when we were searching for our property. If you are a typical homesteader, you will probably be more interested in arable land that is good for growing crops and raising livestock. I on the other hand, wanted a wilderness cabin in the woods on the rugged Canadian Shield, surrounded by vast forests, lakes and rivers teeming with wild game.  However, it had to be close enough to farms and towns where I could source food and other resources that I could not get from the land. Plus, it had to be within a reasonable driving distance of Toronto and Ottawa so that I could invite guests and students to join me at the cabin and property.

  • Unorganized township
  • Remote location for privacy, less competition for resources and cheaper land prices
  • At least one water source on property – surface water, dug well and drilled well are the options
  • Year round fully maintained road with reliable snow removal
  • Backing on to crown land
  • Minimum 5 acres – not too close to neighbours
  • Cell phone service
  • Variety of mature trees for shelter, building materials and firewood, not a clear cut lot
  • Within reasonable driving distance of Greater Toronto Area
  • Well maintained area (not run down)
  • Driveway in or inexpensive to install
  • No encumbrances or road allowances that interfere with access
  • High and dry (not low and wet) topography
  • Quiet and peaceful road (no highway noise)
  • Phone and hydro service nearby for re-sale value
  • Well and/septic installed is a bonus
  • Clean site (junk removal prior to closing if necessary)
  • No nearby disturbances, such as a landfill site

Other things to look for in an off-grid property

  1. Productive land with abundant natural foods and attractive to wildlife
  2. Arable land for growing food
  3. Enough land to raise livestock
  4. Access to land beyond your owned land. In Ontario, Canada, that means access either to friendly neighbours or better yet, Crown land with difficult access for non-landowners.
  5. Reasonable access to health care, shopping, farmers markets and other essential goods and services.

 

Purchase land just about anywhere in Southern and Central Ontario, or anywhere else in Canada or the United States, for the purpose of sustainable, off-grid living, and you will soon find out there are rules and regulations in place to stop you from doing what YOU want to do. It sounds hard to believe, but just because you own your own land does not mean you have the right to do whatever you wish on it, even if it has no impact on your neighbors or the environment.

In our hunt for suitable land to create a power-free, off-grid recreation lifestyle, my wife and I were shocked to discover that not only could we not build a tiny home to occupy, nor a temporary Bunkie prior to building a permanent residence, we were not even permitted to camp on OUR land for any length of time. What?!

It’s true. We could spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a piece of vacant land in Ontario and we could not occupy that land, even temporarily, without a permit in place to build a permanent home. And, not just any home, but a house with a minimum area of 1,000 square feet – not exactly a “tiny” home. With a permit in place, it’s legal to place a trailer on the property for up to three years (only in some municipalities mind you), but at the end of that period, the trailer must be removed from the property if you have not built a house.

Also shockingly, in many jurisdictions, it’s actually illegal to NOT be connected to the local utility grid. So, relying on renewable energy (or even a generator) without tying into the territorial electricity grid is strictly forbidden.

What we wanted

Freedom from government oversight at a local level.

Freedom to build an off-grid homestead

Freedom to camp or otherwise occupy our property in a shelter that we deem appropriate for our current use.

Freedom from high development fees and annual property taxes.

What to do?

One possible solution, although not necessarily a 100% legal one, is to own and occupy land in an unorganized township. In Ontario, Canada, unorganized territories are found only above Muskoka in the center of the province, from Parry Sound District north. In these Districts, there are areas with no county or regional levels of government and therefore no local oversight.

And just in case you are willing and able to buck the system and occupy your land under your own rules and think you are beyond interference, another government department has that covered too. Even though there is no local government or provincial employee to inspect your property to make sure you are in compliance with the Ontario Building Code, MMA has overall jurisdiction to encourage your compliance. The following is taken from the website of the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs (http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page2103.aspx);

Territories without municipal organization (ie.where there is no local government in place) are commonly referred to as “unorganized territories.”

QUESTION

In an unorganized territory, do I need a building permit?

ANSWER

Building permits are not issued in unorganized townships, as there is no municipal authority to do so.  There are, however, unorganized townships that are subject to Minister’s Zoning Orders or Zoning by-laws and therefore, “Letters of Conformity” or “Zoning Conformity Permits” would be required in these townships, prior to any development or construction taking place.  Citizens owning properties in unincorporated areas should call the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Municipal Services Office, in their area for more information. The Ministry of Natural Resources may also need to be consulted with respect to permits required, as would the Ministry of Transportation if development is proposed on or near a highway.  Septic system approvals would need to be obtained from the local health unit or conservation authority.

QUESTION

Do I have to comply with the Building Code in unorganized territory?

ANSWER

The Building Code Act, 1992 is applicable to all lands, whether in municipalities or in unincorporated areas.  This applies to all buildings, whether or not a permit has been issued or applied for, and also where a person is exempt from the requirement to obtain a permit (i.e. for the construction of buildings other than sewage system, in unorganized territory).

QUESTION

Are communal water and sewer systems permitted in unorganized territory?

ANSWER

It depends on the proposed volume output.  Contact your local health unit or the nearest Ministry of Environment and Energy office for information.

QUESTION

Do I need a letter of conformity for a septic system?

ANSWER

Only those unincorporated areas subject to a Minister’s Zoning Order administered by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, or a Zoning by-law administered by a local planning board require either a “Letter of Conformity” or a “Zoning Conformity Permit.”  If you are uncertain whose jurisdiction the unincorporated township may fall under, contact the nearest Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Municipal Services Office for information.

QUESTION

In unorganized areas, what taxes are payable?

ANSWER

In unincorporated areas, lands that are privately owned are subject to the provincial land tax, which is remitted to the Ontario Minister of Finance, Oshawa office.  The Oshawa office can be reached at: (905) 433-6381.

The lands may also be subject to Board of Education taxes, Local Service Board taxes and Local Roads Board taxes if the unincorporated township is within the jurisdiction of these boards.

 

What rules are absolutely mandatory to follow in most unorganized territories?

While we all want freedom, we also want a clean environment and access to services. Therefore, I have no problem with the two types of permits that are still mandatory in an UOT; septic and driveway/culvert. Septic systems are governed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and must be designed and built to standards meant to protect the environment. I agree that this is important. Culvert permits are required for installing a driveway and act to ensure that local roadways are not adversely affected by modified drainage patterns. I also agree with this regulation.

Where do you find these unorganized territories?

Wikipedia is a great source of information in your search for unorganized townships in Ontario.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_townships_in_Ontario

In the Parry Sound District, where our property is located, you can look for land in these towns/municipalities;

Commanda
Arnstein
Port Loring
South River
Sundridge
Restoule

Resources

http://www.small-cabin.com/forum/3_0.html

https://permies.com/f/141/

https://tinyhouseontario.com/category/building-code/

Free land in the Yukon Territory

http://www.emr.gov.yk.ca/agriculture/agriculture_land.html

For us, one of the benefits of owning in an unorganized township is that we are free to construct outbuildings that suit us, without the requirement to purchase a permit or follow unreasonable and unnecessary guidelines. The second reason is that we are permitted to use the property as a camp to teach others the skills required for survival and independence. Providing inspiration to the next generations and teaching love and respect for nature, sustainability and self-reliance is the legacy I want to leave behind, and owning land in an unorganized territory is currently the only way I can achieve that. I hope my kids have the same opportunity.

 

 

By |2017-09-01T16:08:06+00:00April 3rd, 2017|Gear & Advice, Log Cabin, Self Reliance|16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Ted September 3, 2017 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    Sean:
    Loved your most recent video that explained the way you found your off grid property and also expressed your thoughts about how you define self-reliance. I particularly wanted to comment on the latter issue and say that you hit the nail right on the head. It seems that so many people these days are reliant on everyone but themselves (particularly the government) for their happiness and financial well being.
    I completely agree with your comments that if one would only take the initiative to educate and then take action about matters within their control (as opposed to it being spoon fed or given to them), that they would lead much happier, self reliant and productive lives. In my experience, like minded successful people are drawn to such individuals.
    Keep up the great videos–love them all, and best wishes and continued success in the future.

  2. eric esko jalonen September 9, 2017 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Great article Shawn!
    I second everything that you say.
    Unorganized is the Way to go, with foresight and ethically for the environment.
    Northern Ontario is so beautiful and vast, tons of opportunity is available.
    E;)

  3. Tony Santo September 26, 2017 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    The info you have provided is impeccably outstanding.
    Thank you very much. You are surely a responsible, sensible, respectful individual.

  4. charles September 27, 2017 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    looking to rent a lot in muskoka or parry sound area to build a cabin,anyone got one?

  5. Will September 30, 2017 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    Thx gr8ly for this info. My son 4warded it and it’s what we need to find a family ‘homestead’..

  6. Dave Barr October 15, 2017 at 2:31 am - Reply

    How does one go about finding or identifying an “unorganized township”? I never heard of such a thing in the States. Will appreciate your insights on this. Thanks.

    • Chris December 23, 2017 at 12:21 am - Reply

      also interested in this

  7. Bernie January 12, 2018 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    It’s funny and rather apres pos that I came across your article saying just the same thing about the amount of regulation and government oversight that is entrenched in our lives today that I had just finished complaining to someone about last night. At least down in the US they have BLM land, that if you wanted to live off-grid as a nomad, you could do so very easily and in some very very nice places. Not sure about Canada though. I guess there probably is a good reason in the minds of the bureacrats to keep its citizens all neat and orderly and in a place where they can account for them. I suspect every reason probably boils down to money – follow it and you’ll know why a regulation was put into place. I appreciate what you have built and sharing your stories with us. There is something endlessly fascinating for me to watch someone build these places and live with nature. I love getting away and out in the wilderness and camping and I wish that I knew more and could do more. Thank you.

  8. Trudy Schaffer January 19, 2018 at 1:02 am - Reply

    Hey! I am a huge fan, living on the beautiful Applegate River in Southern Oregon. We planned on building a log home here initially, but when the time came, a stick frame design with an open floor plan and a loft won out. I am so impressed with your incredible skills and ingenuity. We used cedar siding here, since it is bug resistant and so durable. We treated the cedar prior to installing it. Luckily, I had the pleasure of working for an incredible company in Portland a few years back called Timber Pro Coatings. The owners manufacture their environmentally safe finish in a small factory, creating a waterborne finish that is amazing on log homes. You might want to check it out. Preserving the logs in a safe, responsible way will help your work last as long as possible in your tough climate. I am looking forward to this year with new enthusiasm, thanks to you and folks like Joe Robinet! You have revived my love for the outdoors and the importance of getting out and enjoying this beautiful area we call Home. Thank you so much… you have no idea.🌲

  9. Jamie January 24, 2018 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Great article. My wife, daughter and I are currently looking in the Parry Sound area for a property to homestead. I haven’t seen many listings on Realtor.ca. I was wondering if you had seen anything for sale privately up near your place?

  10. Sandy Greger January 24, 2018 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    I love the log cabin and have built 2 myself. I am curious as to why you scorched the roofing material before putting it in place. Great video.

  11. Craig Smith February 11, 2018 at 5:28 am - Reply

    Ive been following your channel for awhile now and just came across your Unorganized Township vid,thanks for the info as its very helpful to us.Ive been wanting to purchase land or small home above Huntsville and move permanetly from Southern Ont.I didnt realize that there were so many restrictions unless UOT.I find the Gov oversight rediculous ( cant even camp or have a trailer on your own property).I will only be looking in an UOT for our land or small home, One final thought, i agree with your thoughts about your sisters and daughter.From my experience in the trades i find most Canadian men under 30 these days cant even hang a picture, have no idea what the definition of a man is.They have been raised as sheep,dont know how to put in an honest days work and are in a hurry to get home and play X-BOX. To make it worse we have the Leader of Canada setting an example for young Canadian men that its ok to be weak and feminine. What is this country going to be like if it keeps going in this direction? All better reason to get back in the bush.Sincerely Craig Smith

  12. Jamie February 12, 2018 at 11:59 pm - Reply

    Great site and YouTube videos. Just a heads up… Seems South River has started issuing permits. They have a bylaw document on their website detailing building requirements.

  13. Sue Smith March 25, 2018 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    Hi Shawn: So glad I found your posts, have been binge watching to glean from your vast knowledge. Really appreciate your reflections at the end of each video, you put forth many great thoughts that I think should be shared with the world. Keep it up! I hope to complete a similar cabin build in the future and will use what you have taught us. Even started the “sourdough bread” recipe! Thanks again for sharing your vast knowledge and love for the outdoors!!! Sincerely Sue Smith

  14. Jennifer May 9, 2018 at 7:32 am - Reply

    This is great! I would really love to live under the radar so to speak, without every ones nose in my business. feeling taxed to death and over worked just to keep up with the continual tax hikes. We own 20 acres in south eastern Ontario on a dead end road(we are the only house) and our land taxes alone have tripled in the 7 years we have been here! That is not because of upgrades to the property…we cant afford to upgrade!! My family lived off the grid for a couple of years when I was young and my man lived off the grid for 18 years. need to find a way to live where all factors of work co inside with how much it costs just to exist here. I’m getting older and really dont want to work so hard, would really like to do the things I want to do and enjoy my life. been looking for something like this for info. Thank you so much and keep up the great job!

  15. Shelley June 19, 2018 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    Great article! Thanks so much for this information.

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