Tiny houses have been around for decades however are not accommodated in the current planning or building system of most local governments. This FAQ sheet describes the way the ATHA Tiny House Local Planning Policy Template can be used and interpreted for a consistent approach to Tiny Houses all over Australia.

What is the Australian Tiny House Association (ATHA)?

ATHA was founded in 2018 and is a non-profit association advocating for legalisation of tiny houses all over Australia. The ATHA Planning Working group is made up of a team of professionals who have experience working within the planning and construction industry, who have prepared this template with consideration to common local government requirements, and in regard to tiny houses as a relatively new type of housing and land use.

What is a Tiny House on Wheels (THOW)?

While there is no formal definition, ATHA considers a Tiny House as:

  • A habitable dwelling of no more than 50m2 which is built on a wheeled trailer
  • Constructed of domestic grade materials and finishes
  • Is permanently occupied by its owner
  • Designed not to be moved under its own power and tethered to a site for an
    extended period
  • Built to look like a conventional dwelling with connection to services

What a Tiny House is not:

  • A retrofitted bus, van, truck or wagon
  • A retrofitted sea container
  • A caravan, tent, yurt or park home
  • A vehicle (non-retrofitted)
  • A transportable ‘donga’ home

How can we encourage Tiny Houses in my local area?

Early planning adopters and tiny house advocates are encouraged to approach their local governments to start a conversation about how they could introduce Tiny Houses within their local government area.

In the absence of a State or National planning and building framework, and dependent upon the planning framework in place in your State, your local council would need to formally adopt an approval process for Tiny Houses as a local planning policy. The Australian Tiny House Association has assembled a policy template as a guide for government agencies and tiny house advocates to develop a framework and a consistent approach to how tiny houses could be assessed under a planning system.

Can my local council use an ATHA Template as a policy development guide?

Yes. The intention of the Australian Tiny House Association template is to help guide the development of a local planning policy by local governments. Each local government will have a unique perspective on where and how Tiny Houses should be regulated, so sections of the policy can be modified, rephrased, expanded or even deleted to suit the local conditions.

Why are there blank sections for inserting legislation?

The Australian Tiny House Association policy template is released to use nationally. Each State and Territory has different planning legislation so some references have been deliberately left blank so local planners could apply their own regulations and definitions.

What are the main points of the policy template?

Based on international experience the policy template covers three main sections which could reasonably be considered by a local government:

  1. Single tiny house
  2. Tiny house community development
  3. Tiny houses for short term tourism accommodation

To gain community support, a tiny house is expected to have the same setback and privacy considerations as a regular house and should be considered under the land use planning framework as the primary dwelling on a vacant lot or, where a house already exists, as a granny flat or ancillary dwelling.

There are also some guidelines evolving internationally around tiny house communities including ratio of tiny houses to land area, essential facilities and how it would be managed long-term. The policy template also lists additional factors to consider with an application for a proposed tiny house tourism accommodation.

Minimum lot size for a tiny house?

The Residential Design Codes in Western Australia requires a minimum site area of 450m2 for the primary residence and an ancillary dwelling or granny flat. This size was considered suitable for permanent dwelling units given that average house sizes are getting larger, open space is getting smaller and that lot size allows additional room for ancillary structures such as a deck, patio, car bay, carport or landscaping and recreation. If two tiny houses are proposed to be located on the same lot then the minimum lot size of 450m2 would seem reasonable (and consistent with existing State policy) and one house would be considered the primary dwelling, and the other an ancillary dwelling or granny flat.

Conversely, if a tiny house is to be placed on a site which does not contain an existing house, the local government will need to select an appropriate parent lot size and determine what site areas would be appropriate for subsequent tiny houses, given the structures are modest and car parking demands are lower for tiny house owners. For example; in Western Australia generally the smaller lot sizes range from 80-100m2

How are tiny houses connected to water?

A tiny house needs to be supplied with a potable water source. This means the resident should be able to access a regular source of water which is of drinking quality. This water could be from reticulated mains water, water tank, dam, bore or other water supply just like a standard house.

Why are tiny houses encouraged to be connected to electricity?

A tiny house should have access to a source of electricity for modern conveniences. Fire authorities recommend battery powered radios be used to receive emergency information as power is often cut during a bushfire. The source of electricity could be from a mains power supply, solar power, wind power or any other source of electricity which can be safely used in a domestic environment.

Will a tiny house need a parking bay?

Parking is usually a controversial and highly political topic within local governments, particularly because our cities are designed with a heavy reliance on motor vehicles and traffic congestion is aggravated by increased housing density near our commercial areas. A minimum of one parking bay per tiny house is suggested and the final requirement would be at the discretion of the local government. A parking exemption may be considered for tiny houses located within walking distance of public transport.

How do tiny houses relate to the National Building Construction Code?

Generally, most built structures will require planning approval prior to the issue of a building permit approval. Building permits are issued under different State-based legislation, whereas the National Building Construction Codes (primarily the BCA) applies in every State and Territory. However, the NCC and the BCA relate to buildings permanently affixed to the site, so there is currently no clear legislation in place to approve a tiny house under the NCC. In the absence of clear construction standards for tiny houses, owners have defaulted to the Vehicle Standards Bulletin 1 which was developed by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development and primarily applies to caravans.

Do I need to build my tiny home to a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL)?

As with all new and evolving housing solutions, the various approval agencies are unable to provide clear direction on whether the construction regulations and policies relating to building construction standards in Bushfire Prone Areas apply to tiny houses. If the property where the tiny home is to be sited is within a Bushfire Prone Area you will need to engage a bushfire consultant to undertake a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) Assessment and build your tiny house to standards under AS3959 to survive the assessed bushfire attack level.

However, tiny houses are often built without knowing where they are going to be sited or what the BAL risk rating is. Therefore, tiny house owners are encouraged to build to the BAL-29 rating. Some States do not allow new buildings in areas identified with a hazard rating of BAL-40 or BAL-FZ and achieving these construction standards under AS3959 can be cost prohibitive and flammable timber products cannot be used.

Alternatively, you can build your tiny house to a lower BAL rating and site it in a lower-risk or urban area which is not bushfire prone. A local government cannot approve a building (including a tiny house) in a bushfire prone area that is not built to an appropriate standard.

What is the Government's approval process?

Tiny houses are currently not a legal dwelling in Australia and owners seeking approval from the local government are immediately confronted by regulatory and legislative barriers. Early adopters to tiny house living are building them and live in them without gaining approval. The Australian Tiny House Association is advocating for legislative changes which will provide certainty and security to tiny house owners who wish to permanently live in a tiny house. Legislative and policy changes are required to avoid the risk of tiny house owners being moved on due to compliance issues and they are encouraged to advocate for processes that will allow them to seek legal approvals from the local government. To approve a habitable building a local government must be convinced that it will be built to a safe standard and that there is a consistent approach to tiny house approvals.