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Is living off grid “legal”?  RSS feed

 
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Can you get in trouble with your health dept for going off grid? Off grid as in no utilities, no solar. Hand water pump. Like pioneers! Any experience in this? Or where to find information?
 
master steward
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It depends on your local laws.

Do you have a part of the world in mind?
 
Posts: 93
Location: out in the woods of Maine
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In my area a lot of people are fully off-grid.

No laws are broken by it.
 
Amanda Pennington
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Lower Michigan
 
gardener
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Maybe? The only way I can come up with where it might be is being smack in the middle of a city, and turning off all the utilities to a house. My imaginary scenario would have nosy neighbors reporting it.

If it's really off grid like in the remote woods or badlands or high desert, I can't imagine how "they" would enforce any law against it.
 
gardener
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I think the main issues in a remote off-grid situation could be when children are involved; I have heard of child protective services mandating that certain "conventional" services must be provided for the children, even if they are perfectly safe and healthy with more low-tech arrangements.
 
Galen Young
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We have a close friend [Jesse] who lives in an off-grid cabin.  All Winter they chop holes through river ice, to access fresh water for their home. They use an outhouse. They have a portable washtub that they take turns bathing in. For hot water they heat the water over a wood stove. Jesse works for the city as their Town Manager. Her husband Josh is the town Fire Cheif, and they are raising three daughters, the oldest girl is a high school senior.

Can you imagine raising three girls, and the entire family has to heat bath water over a woodstove?

Wow, they hosted us for Thanksgiving dinner last year.

 
master pollinator
Posts: 197
Location: Illinois USA - USDA Zone 5b
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Check your local laws and ordinances. The government (state and/or local) gets involved in things like wells and septic systems due to improperly designed systems polluting the ground water. In some areas an outhouse might be problematic; other areas might allow it. Other legal issues involve zoning and building codes. It is all VERY location specific, what state, county, town. It will come down to contacting your local departments and asking specific questions about whether what you want to do is allowed, depending on what you intend to build.
 
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Location: Winters, California
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In my county, an inspector has to check that all the water, sewage, electricity, etc is up to code before signing off on the building permit. In order to legally live on the land, I have to build an approved septic system, have a "will serve" letter from the local municipal water plant, etc.

I do know someone who has been "camping" off grid on a property that he owns. He brought in an RV and a generator. I suppose he could build a home there if he did it by hand or got contractors to do it without asking too many questions. He doesn't have many neighbors so he would probably be able to get away with it. It's not legal though, and the fines in this county are steep (tens of thousands of dollars) for anything that's not up to code.
 
pollinator
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Myrth Gardener wrote:Check your local laws and ordinances. The government (state and/or local) gets involved in things like wells and septic systems due to improperly designed systems polluting the ground water. In some areas an outhouse might be problematic; other areas might allow it. Other legal issues involve zoning and building codes. It is all VERY location specific, what state, county, town. It will come down to contacting your local departments and asking specific questions about whether what you want to do is allowed, depending on what you intend to build.



If you are wanting to live off grid and are not sure about the legality... it is possible that calling your local departments will not be the best decision. Maybe call them from somewhere else with another name.

Also, there is code, and there is enforcement, or lack thereof. Code applies in my whole province, set at provincial or city level with federal involvement. Enforcement is nonexistent in some areas, however. I'm sure you could find a desk jockey to tell you that you're obliged to follow it anyhow, if you went looking...

 
Juniper Zen
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Dillon Nichols wrote:If you are wanting to live off grid and are not sure about the legality... it is possible that calling your local departments will not be the best decision. Maybe call them from somewhere else with another name.



When I talked to my local department, they didn't ask for my name and had no idea where I currently live. They just answered my questions about the regulations and building process. If you say that you're interested in potentially living off grid but don't yet have property in the area, they're not going to go hunting you down a year later to make sure you complied.
 
pollinator
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Depends on the state & county where you live. Where I'm at (Stevens County, WA) it is legal, although I suspect in 10-15 years that may not be the case anymore based on the laws and regulations I've been seeing come out on a state level in the last decade or so.
 
Myrth Gardener
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Dillon Nichols wrote:

Myrth Gardener wrote:Check your local laws and ordinances. The government (state and/or local) gets involved in things like wells and septic systems due to improperly designed systems polluting the ground water. In some areas an outhouse might be problematic; other areas might allow it. Other legal issues involve zoning and building codes. It is all VERY location specific, what state, county, town. It will come down to contacting your local departments and asking specific questions about whether what you want to do is allowed, depending on what you intend to build.



If you are wanting to live off grid and are not sure about the legality... it is possible that calling your local departments will not be the best decision. Maybe call them from somewhere else with another name.

Also, there is code, and there is enforcement, or lack thereof. Code applies in my whole province, set at provincial or city level with federal involvement. Enforcement is nonexistent in some areas, however. I'm sure you could find a desk jockey to tell you that you're obliged to follow it anyhow, if you went looking...



Attempts to evade the laws and ordinances of one's location are unwise, at least in my opinion. At best you won't be caught. But you will also likely never be able to sell the property with the illegal improvements. Or, you could face very stiff fines and possibly face contempt of court (jail) if you don't quickly bring the property into compliance with the law, which happened to a fan of shipping containers in a nearby county. At worst, you could be forced to tear down/dig up/fill in your outlaw improvements. I cannot in good conscience recommend to anyone to attempt to violate or evade the law. But the decision and risk to violate the law is each person's decision. I know that plenty of sites advocate anarchy. I just think caveats about consequences are important.
 
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In addition to legality, you must also evaluate enforcement, as mentioned a bit above. Here are some scenarios:

1. It's legal.
2. It's illegal, but not enforced.
3. It's illegal, but only tangentially enforced (meaning, inspectors don't go around looking for violators, but if they run into one or a neighbor complains on you, you're in trouble)
4. It's illegal and actively enforced.

Obviously, the further down you go on that list, the higher the risk. It's possible to live off grid in all those situations, but perhaps not wise at about 3, unless you have a way to quickly comply should you be caught. An RV or towed tiny home? You get caught, you move it. You've made illegal improvements or construction of a permanent nature? You're really rolling the dice.

Don't take this as advice either way. Just pointing out that the letter of the law and the actual enforcement are both factors that should be considered.

Also, it is important to note, that while many may disagree with the various codes, permitting, red-tape, etc. that comes with local government construction and zoning regulations, the end goal of these things is to ensure safe, effective buildings. That's not to say the codes or bureaucrats actually do that, but only to say - if and when you decide to live off grid and engage in such activity as providing your own shelter, heat, utilities, waste management, etc. the burden of responsibility is now fully on you. Not just for the health of yourself and your family, but the community.

Going off-grid half-cocked without an idea of how to make the system work and not damage the soil, water, or health of the community is a bad idea. And if the shit hits the fan (literally in some cases) you can't fall back on a passed inspection, or the go-ahead from the "experts." I've met a few too many folks living off-grid who don't take it seriously, just see it as a vacation from higher standards, and do things that endanger themselves and their community out of indifference or ignorance (not in the insulting sense, just lack of knowledge).
 
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We're from KY. Because we have mountains, and plenty of hicks and amish to go along with it, there are zone free counties. We gave up our home 5 years ago to live off grid. And its been a big experience. Not all good. But thankfully I'm no dummy when it comes to bureaucracy. Even though our rural property was in a zone free county, when the inspector got wind that we set a camper there, he showed up to see where we put our sewage. First thing I let him know is that we don't live there. It was our property for recreation and farming. And that we transport our sewage every two weeks when we go home for the weekend. Truth is, we compost. But I would rather tell them something they understand. To shut them down using their own policies. If you don't admit you live some place, then you DON'T, unless they spend the time and money trying to prove otherwise. That's the thing with government. It's best to MYOB, don't go around telling on yourself. Stay private. Live in a gray area where the government is concerned. Then they can't touch you. People can't keep secrets. They like to talk. So living off grid is far more sustainable if done privately and secretly. As far as how much money you can save, you trade for labor and alternative methods. We had it made. Problem is it turns out I am a naturally anxious person who had a breakdown from the lifestyle. And it took almost a year of suffering to realize what was happening. When you live in the wild, your senses run closer to the fight or flight. Worrying and being careful can keep you on alert. Dogs barking often. Wondering if someone is coming down the drive. Ayehole neighbor who doesn't belong in the country. After a few years of being constantly "on" you can get stuck in fight or flight. Then you think youre dying of different illnesses. I am technically still recovering. And my itch to live off grid has evolved more into buying a cheapish home with acres and retrofitting the home SECRETLY to be more self sustaining.
 
pollinator
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Your toilet situation is going to be the stickiest issue for you. There are often rules about dealing with human waste and lots of municipalities don't even allow composting toilets. If you want to give yourself the best shot at avoiding issues I would take the time to build a quality composting toilet that you could defend to a county health department should it ever become an issue. Other than that there's nothing I'm aware of that governments have a say in as far as power usage. Assuming your water is legally acquired and you don't go off grid by building your own mini coal plant I think you're in the clear
 
Posts: 8
Location: Bosque Village
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It is quite legal in rural Mexico. That is one among many reasons I moved here.

Composting toilets: no problem.
Off the electrical grid: no problem
Collect rain water: no problem

Nobody cares what I do which is just the way I like it.

Come with me on a little tour of my place:
 
Posts: 139
Location: Ontario, Canada
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From the south central part of our province to the north, we've mostly got unincorporated townships.  That means there's no permitting process except for septic beds and electrical hook-up.  You are required to build to the building code, but they will tell you that they would only inspect based on complaint, and that, if they can't see it, they won't inspect it, unless it's an official complaint from the cops, in which case you're already screwed, so having 13 outlets on a circuit isn't going to hurt you any more.  I think a lot of the Uppie is like that.

If you don't have access to the above, there are some good points here about trying to make it work and some good points about being cautious.

edit:  I do have to say that it's a very good idea to build according to the building code, unless you know what you're doing.  There's a pathway of failures as a reason that it exists.  
 
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