+64 7 839 4771

Is a tiny house a structure under the RMA?

Is a tiny house a structure under the RMA?

Is a tiny house a structure under the RMA?

Wednesday 1 April, 2020

Tiny houses are becoming popular throughout New Zealand.  In a recent decision of the Environment Court, Judge Dwyer considered whether a tiny house being constructed in Hutt City was a “structure” that required resource consent under the Resource Management Act 1991 “RMA”.

In Fadi Antoun v Hutt City Council [2020] NZEnvC 6 the owner of a tiny house appealed against an abatement notice issued by the Council requiring him to remove the house as it contravened the provisions of the district plan. The appellant argued that the tiny house was a vehicle, and that it was not a structure as defined by the RMA.

The tiny house measured eight metres long, 3.2 metres wide and 4.5 metres high.  It was a two-storey timber construction on a steel base. The house was uncompleted, but was intended to have bathroom/laundry, kitchen and living areas on the ground floor with a mezzanine bedroom.  While services such as electricity, water and drainage were not yet connected, the plans showed an intention to do so.

The appellant argued that the tiny house was a vehicle and therefore could not be considered to be a structure under the RMA. On this issue the Judge found that, while the appellant had two unconnected axles and separate wheels which he had apparently registered as a trailer, there was no evidence that the tiny house could be incorporated into a roadworthy vehicle. He found “the contention that the tiny house is a vehicle to be a flight of imagination advanced to justify the failure to apply for any necessary consents to construct it.”

The Judge then considered whether the tiny house fell within the definition of “structure” in section 2 of the RMA as follows:

“…any building, equipment, device or other facility made by people and which is fixed to land;”

The Judge traversed a number of definitions of “fixed to land” and the cases which have considered these words.  He decided that, in this case, the tiny house was fixed to land in such a way as to be a structure as defined in the RMA for the following reasons:

  1. The appearance, design and capacity of the tiny house as a dwelling house capable of being used for permanent occupation;
  2. The intention to connect the tiny house to services;
  3. The method of construction and that it sits firmly on the land in a stable position; and
  4. That the tiny house was not a vehicle and could not be converted into a trailer or loaded onto a vehicle.

Accordingly, the tiny house was required to comply with the rules of the district plan.

Unfortunately for the Council, the Court declined to confirm its abatement notice issued under s322 of the RMA as the notice referred to the incorrect subsection of s322, and it failed to allow adequate time for the tiny house to be removed.  This is a warning to Councils to make sure that abatement notices are carefully worded and meet all of the requirements of s322 of the RMA.

This case can be contrasted to Alan Dall’s case before the Christchurch District Court which found that his self-built tiny house at Amberley Beach was a vehicle as it was registered and warranted, and was not immoveable.  While Mr Dall’s case has been reported in the media, we have not yet had a chance to review the full decision of the Court.


For questions relating to this article, please contact one of our experts below. 

Related Articles