If you’re looking for a spot to park your tiny home in Canada, tiny home communities come up as a good potential solution. Designed with tiny homes in mind, these places offer land for rent or for sale condo-style, with maintenance shared among the owners.
Because tiny home communities are very new to Canada, there isn’t yet an “industry standard”, so to speak. So, even if finding a spot for your tiny home may feel like a miracle, before moving your beautiful new tiny home onto a lot in the woods, think about what can go wrong. In fact, some of these questions are based on stories we’ve heard from people who urgently needed to look for a new place to go.
“Tiny houses and tiny house communities are still a grey area in many jurisdictions, so it’s important to ask about zoning to see if it is legal to have tiny houses on your property. In addition to the tiny houses themselves, much of the infrastructure, particularly the wastewater management system, also has to meet certain standards.”
– Abby Hardy, Big Calm Tiny House Homesteads
We recommend that you see what you are asked to promise/sign and what is left to your discretion. Remember, even if you think you can use your common sense for the things that aren’t on paper, not everyone in the community will be as considerate as you are. And people may simply have different ideas for how they want to live together.
*Note: We use “property owners” in the below to mean either the landlord for rented spots, or condo board for purchased ones.
What are the values of this community?
We decided to start here because the tiny home movement, especially, is built around shared values and a certain desired lifestyle. However, don’t assume that your values are automatically shared in the community. It’s best to ask what the property owners have in mind because this will guide a lot of how decisions are made and what you can expect from your new home. For example, if sustainability and eco-mindedness are closely-held values of the group, you will find this affects questions like power, waste disposal, and even what residents do for fun.
- How do the property owners see these values manifested in the community?
- What decisions have they made to support these values?
- What is the resident application and selection process?
What is in the ownership or rental agreement?
This goes without saying, but ask to see the contract. Purchasing your spot may or may not give you part ownership of the community as a whole (like a condo building).
- What’s included with the spot?
- What additional costs are you responsible for?
- Are you required to volunteer or contribute labour to the community?
What additional services or amenities are included?
Whether you are renting or buying, it’s important to have a good idea of what comes with the lot. Tiny home community plans often include shared resources, such as gardens and garden equipment, laundry facilities, workshops and tools, studios and creative spaces, entertaining spaces, storage, and more. Having spaces that are shared makes life easier for tiny home dwellers – infrequently used items can be bought, stored, and maintained as a group, rather than having to find space for them in a tiny home.
- What amenities are already included or planned?
- Who takes care of snow removal, road maintenance?
- Is internet a shared service?
What can you do on your lot?
Whether you are buying or renting the lot that your tiny home will sit on, make sure to ask what you can or cannot do on it.
- Are you able to build permanent structures?
- What about storage sheds and storing of vehicles?
- Can you have a garden?
- Can you remove trees or other plants?
- What pets/livestock are allowed? If so, what’s the plan for preventing conflicts between your neighbours’ animals and yours?
- Are there any specific agreements around noise or having people over?
What’s the water situation?
The source of fresh water as well as how grey water (going down your sink or shower) and black water (going down your toilet) are dealt with will determine pretty much the livability of the community. You will encounter a multitude of water plans which may include municipal water, rain water, wells, filtration systems, composting toilets, septic tanks, and more. Do your research and determine your own comfort levels with these plans because they will affect your daily life the most.
- What is the plan as the community grows?
- Is there a back-up plan in case of emergency?
- Has the water been tested and is there a report?
What is the power and heating situation?
- Is there hydro provided or are you expected to have your own off-grid systems?
- What about firewood? Ask about what other residents are using for power and heating (especially if you are sensitive to the smell of gas fumes).
- In the event of failure or emergency, what is the backup plan?
Are there adequate permits from local governments?
This is a sensitive topic for many, and a major reason why some tiny home communities are started in unorganized townships. However, even there, there are rules. And being in long-term breach of the rules can lead to some very unpleasant surprises.
- What are the local regulations and how do they apply to this community
- What is their relationship with governments of their/surrounding municipalities?
“Before purchasing our property, we made a point of meeting with engineers, district regulators, economic development representatives, tourism groups and locals to learn as much as we could. A good community operator will have done their research to ensure there are no major surprises during community development.”
– Steve Hardy, Big Calm Tiny House Homesteads
What is the garbage removal plan?
This is something that is a major sticking point with municipalities – for communities that are founded outside of municipal boundaries but that expect to use the municipal landfill. Make sure there is a solid plan in place and a good relationship with the municipality over garbage removal, whether it’s done as a service or self-removed by residents. Proper waste management will be the key to making sure your tiny home community has long-term success and also to managing the reputation of the tiny home movement nation-wide.
How remote is the location and what are emergency procedures?
Perhaps getting away from it all is exactly what you’re looking for. But we just want you to be safe.
- How far are fire, ambulance, and police services?
- What is the plan in the event of weather events, such as tornadoes, forest fires and floods?
- And, of course, what is the insurance situation?
How are decisions made in the community?
If the property owners says that decisions will be made “together”, you will need more information than that. Try to negotiate and bring up things that you know are important to you in advance and put them on paper.
- Do the property owners have final say? Is there a voting process?
- What are some examples of decisions made following resident feedback?
What is the conflict resolution process?
The negative, judgmental cousin of the “decision making” is conflict resolution. Where there are people, there will be conflict, and having a fair and constructive process of dealing with conflict is a major factor in a tiny home community’s success.
- What conflicts have they had in the past and how did they resolve them?
- Under what circumstances would a resident be evicted?
What is the short and long-term financial plan?
Especially for new tiny home communities that are just starting out or in planning stages, it’s important to discuss the financial plan for the future.
- Does it look like the property has enough money for maintenance, including emergency repairs?
- Is there a pooled budget for these items or does it come out of the property owner’s pocket?
- Are there plans to build additional facilities, such as shared buildings or gardens? How will these be financed?
- What extra costs should you expect to see and how often?
“The reality of developing an eco-friendly community with properly functioning infrastructure is that it takes a lot of time and financial resources. Listings advertising cheap tiny house pads are becoming more common, and they typically gloss over things like high density, mandatory labour-trade and limited access in the winter months. A well planned and developed community will offer tenants plenty of space, amenities and appropriate infrastructure – in our case, high-speed internet and an eco-friendly Type 2 community septic system, among others.”
– Abby Hardy, Big Calm Tiny House Homesteads
What happens if things don’t work out?
If you decide you want to move out, it’s important to know the process of doing that.
- Do you have to resell your lot to someone else, in the case where it is owned?
- For rentals, what is the notice period?
- On the other hand, under what circumstances could the community foresee asking you to leave and how much notice would you have?
References, references, references.
Talk to as many people as you can – current and past community residents, local residents, previous business partners, etc. Research the past of the landlord, especially if they will be living there and if you are in a remote location. The more you dig up now, the better.
If this seems like a long list, it’s probably not even scratching the surface of everything that can go wrong in a community. Feedback we’ve heard from people who run tiny home communities is that starting one is actually easier than running it. If you know of other things that can go wrong, email us or leave a comment below!