Can I Build a Tiny House on Vacant Land in Florida?

Whether a tiny house will be legal in Florida depends largely on the laws of the local jurisdiction.

Question

I want to put a tiny house on rural land in Florida to use as a second home. In case I ever want to move the tiny house or sell it, I would prefer to have a tiny house on wheels. Are tiny houses on wheels legal in Florida? If so, can I buy any rural lot I like and put my tiny house on it, or will local rules limit my property rights?

Answer

In Florida, whether a tiny house on wheels (“THOW”) is lawful on any given piece of land will depend on the laws and regulations of both state and local government. Zoning and land use regulations vary by location, so what rural lot you choose to place your THOW on does matter. In fact, what is legal on one lot might not be legal on a neighboring lot.

You will need to complete site-specific research before buying your Florida property. Hiring local experts, like a tiny house builder and a land use attorney, may be helpful.

Before Buying Any Florida Land, Complete Your Due Diligence

With tiny houses, it's critical to complete a thorough inspection of any prospective property before you close on the sale. In your case, you want to make sure that a THOW, when used as a seasonal second home in Florida, is legal. To afford buyers time to make such determinations, most real estate sale agreements give them time to complete due diligence.

How much time and money a buyer spends on due diligence will depend in large part on the value of the subject property and how important being able to use the land in a specific way (such as for a seasonal dwelling) is to the buyer. If planning to put a THOW to use as a second home, your due diligence should include, at a minimum:

  • a thorough review of the local zoning code to confirm you can use a THOW as a seasonal dwelling on the property
  • a detailed examination of whatever Florida building and safety standards apply to the construction of your THOW, to make sure it's feasible to build on your selected lot
  • an appraisal, to confirm you're paying a fair price for the land (if you're borrowing money, the lender will require this), and
  • confirmation that the property has a legal method for you to physically access it, adequate domestic water, no boundary line issues, and clear title.

Additional due diligence on your part might be prudent, such as a building inspection if there is an existing structure on the land or an environmental assessment if there was prior commercial or industrial use there.

An experienced Florida real estate agent can help make sure your due diligence is thorough and, when necessary, refer you to local experts such as surveyors, builders, and attorneys. You do not want to buy land only to find out you cannot put your THOW on it like you'd planned, so do a careful job with your due diligence.

Local Florida Land Use and Zoning Regulations Control Development

Land use and zoning regulations control how land can be used and developed. In Florida, local governments, including cities and counties, are required to regulate land use (Fla. Stat. § 163.3167(1)). These regulations are found in city and county land use development codes (also known as zoning ordinances or zoning codes).

Since rural land is most often located outside city limits, it is most likely you will be reviewing county regulations. To preserve farmland, some rural lands are more strictly regulated than others.

In Martin County, Florida, for instance, residential uses are allowed only on land zoned for agricultural use if certain conditions are met, including density requirements. For land zoned General Agricultural (AG-20A) in Martin County, the minimum lot size is 20 acres.

As you review the zoning code and map, look for:

  • what the underlying zone is (for example, rural residential or agricultural)
  • what uses are allowed in that zone (for example, whether camping or RVs are a legal use) and if so, whether you will need to apply for a permit
  • what development standards apply, such as minimum lot sizes, minimum lot widths, and setbacks, and
  • what building standards apply.

In Florida, like in most states, you might find that your THOW falls into a gray area of the law. It’s possible that using a THOW as a second home or cabin will qualify as “camping” or similar recreational use.

If it's on wheels and considered a recreational vehicle, you'll need to register it with the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles and pay a fee.

Given the risk of hurricanes in Florida, however, you might encounter a requirement that your THOW be permanently affixed to the ground. For instance, in Sarasota County, a THOW (if it qualifies as a park trailer) kept in an RV park for more than 45 days must be placed on a permanent foundation.

Your Tiny House Might Need to Comply with Florida Safety Standards

Like a tiny house on a foundation that must comply with the local building code, tiny houses on wheels in Florida must meet certain safety standards.

For example, if you buy a new park model recreation vehicle to use as your THOW, it must comply with American National Safety Institute standard 119.2. (Fla. Stat. § 320.8231(1).) It must be built to a structural engineer’s approved plans and you must provide a detailed description of the construction of the THOW (including the location of studs, joists, rafters, and engineered connectors).

Check with your local government before buying or building your THOW to make sure it will comply with all safety standards that apply.

Do Not Ignore Florida Zoning Codes and Building Standards

If you fail to get the necessary land use and building permits you could be taking a big risk. If a nosy neighbor turns you in or a curious code enforcer becomes concerned about your THOW, you could be fined if you do not have the necessary permits. You might also have to remove the THOW, which will be a big deal if you have already permanently attached it to a foundation.

A Florida land use attorney can help you identify all applicable laws and determine whether your tiny house will be lawful.

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