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"Pockets of Freedom" Places with lax housing codes?  RSS feed

 
Monica Mulder
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I have been doing some research on where would be best to buy land and set up housing. At the moment I'm a completely free agent so I could, potentially, go anywhere in the States or Brazil (dual citizenship) or anywhere else where land ownership and immigration are pretty simple. The problem I'm running into is that since the rules vary by county in the US and who knows what in other countries, trying to decide on a spot is so confusing! This is all still a few years off, I plan to save enough to buy some land outright but I just want to have an idea of potential places to get the price in mind.

I know the EarthShip site has this awesome little Pockets of Freedom map. Is there anything else comparable out there? As you can see, it's a bit incomplete.

I'd love to hear of others experience buying land and dealing with housing codes, etc.
 
John Polk
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Parts of rural Arkansas have no building codes now, but that could change.

I understand that the EPA has set standards for septic systems, and that many (if not all) jurisdictions will adopt those standards (so they can still receive Federal funds).

Most areas of New England seem to have very strict building codes, and it seems that each city/township has there own requirements.

It seems that the closer you get to population centers, the tougher the requirements (and higher the taxes).

 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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..... Arkansas has lots of beautiful rural land but still a bit of an undeserved "backwards" reputation.....fortunate for those of us wanting to live an uncrowded life. The tax assessor didn't walk up the trail to the land we lived on when we first moved here, just asked if we had electricity and when we said no he said "what are you trying to do ...live up there?" and taxed us for undeveloped land. Even now they stand in the yard and just look at the house and probably assume we have a septic system. I don't expect enforcable building codes out in the county here any time soon.
 
Nicole Castle
Posts: 151
Location: Madison, AL
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Nothing in Alabama either if you are "in the county" and not incorporated into a city, except your sewage system has to be permitted and approved by the health department. While that's a *good* thing -- while kayaking I've seen systems that just dump into the rivers -- I imagine a lot of inspectors here aren't up to speed on many of the alternate methods, just septic systems. If you want to live in a lean-to out in the woods, no one's going to stop you here.

I guess it really depends on what you mean by "lax" and what you want to do. Plenty of Earthship designs would meet the building codes in the next city over.
 
Ernie DeVore
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Here in my county in Texas there are no building codes for rural property. I came out here and built a 512 square foot cabin with no issues at all. No inspectors, no government busybodies, no nothing. Only a few nosy neighbors who showed up periodically to gawk at the hillbillies who want to live in a plywood shack.

There are some state regulations in Texas that are problematic, but they can be ignored so long as you don't build next to the road and don't invite bureaucrats into your home to show them all your violations. Nosy bureaucrats tend to not wander down dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. For extra bureaucrat protection, I put on some overalls without a shirt underneath and my old straw hat and go sit down by the county road and play the banjo for a little whlie.

Many of the requirements also have loopholes which you can exploit. For instance, properties require a septic tank to handle "waste". My property generates no waste, only compost, so therefore we do not fall into their septic tank jurisdiction. We don't require electrical inspections because we aren't hooked up to the grid. We don't require water inspections because we don't get their water.

If you go to the world and ask for worldly things then you bring yourself into their world and are subject to their regulations. If you withdraw from the world and live without their assistance then for the most part they tend to leave you alone.
 
LaLena MaeRee
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I'm from the state of Idaho, in the bigger cities and towns you can't even think about building a dog house without a permit. However, there are lots of old mining towns, and mountain areas where you can do whatever the hell you want. I have seen people living in shacks of all kinds, even junkyards. I lived in one of the old mining towns in my teen years and even the local cops had properties with multiple small shacks everyone lived in, they all let their kids have their own little house out back that was essentially a plywood shack or camper or old broken van, whatever they could sleep in and put a fireplace into usually. We still visit that area, everyone still lives the same way. You even occasionally see a 5 year old leading a gigantic mule down the street for exercise. I guess it is true the backwoods of Idaho are pretty "hillbilly." Beautiful area though, I haven't been anywhere with fresher air and cleaner rivers yet than the mountains of Idaho
 
Peter DeJay
Posts: 104
Location: Southern Oregon
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I'm from New Mexico, which is a rather well known "mecca" of sorts to unconventional buildings, especially in the northern part where the EarthShips are situated. I've noticed that the places with the lax building codes/restrictions tend to be somewhat featureless and dry. Not that that isn't beautiful in its own ways; I fully miss the high desert of my birth, but here in Oregon for example, when resources are more abundant restrictions tend to be higher.

However, there is a rather large middle area as far as just how unrestricted you need it to be. If you are willing to work with local jurisdictions and have a well thought out design you might be surprised at an areas bureaucratic willingness. Jackson county, OR for instance, while listed on the "pockets of freedom" map on the EarthShip website as a "red" zone, which is true it does tend to have some strict building codes, also has quite a few strawbale, cob, and light clay-straw type structures. But if you wanted to have zero restrictions/meddling then I would suggest northern NM. I guess in the end it depends on the climate you want to live in, and the type of structures you are looking to build.
 
Monica Mulder
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Ernie DeVore wrote:Here in my county in Texas there are no building codes for rural property. I came out here and built a 512 square foot cabin with no issues at all. No inspectors, no government busybodies, no nothing. Only a few nosy neighbors who showed up periodically to gawk at the hillbillies who want to live in a plywood shack.

There are some state regulations in Texas that are problematic, but they can be ignored so long as you don't build next to the road and don't invite bureaucrats into your home to show them all your violations. Nosy bureaucrats tend to not wander down dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. For extra bureaucrat protection, I put on some overalls without a shirt underneath and my old straw hat and go sit down by the county road and play the banjo for a little whlie.

Many of the requirements also have loopholes which you can exploit. For instance, properties require a septic tank to handle "waste". My property generates no waste, only compost, so therefore we do not fall into their septic tank jurisdiction. We don't require electrical inspections because we aren't hooked up to the grid. We don't require water inspections because we don't get their water.

If you go to the world and ask for worldly things then you bring yourself into their world and are subject to their regulations. If you withdraw from the world and live without their assistance then for the most part they tend to leave you alone.


I wish that was true but in a lot of places it's not. I mean sure, maybe they'll never notice or care but all it takes is one nosy neighbor or jerk to tattle on you and get you evicted or fined or whatever the case may be.
 
Monica Mulder
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LaLena MaeRee wrote:I'm from the state of Idaho, in the bigger cities and towns you can't even think about building a dog house without a permit. However, there are lots of old mining towns, and mountain areas where you can do whatever the hell you want. I have seen people living in shacks of all kinds, even junkyards. I lived in one of the old mining towns in my teen years and even the local cops had properties with multiple small shacks everyone lived in, they all let their kids have their own little house out back that was essentially a plywood shack or camper or old broken van, whatever they could sleep in and put a fireplace into usually. We still visit that area, everyone still lives the same way. You even occasionally see a 5 year old leading a gigantic mule down the street for exercise. I guess it is true the backwoods of Idaho are pretty "hillbilly." Beautiful area though, I haven't been anywhere with fresher air and cleaner rivers yet than the mountains of Idaho


I can see that in my head and it sounds pretty cute. I've only ever briefly passed through Idaho. Talked with my couchsurfing hosts about the wolf problem (killed em all, realized it was a mistake, brought in Candian wolves, realized that was a bigger mistake).

Are there many natural disasters there? I've lived longest in LA and Florida so earthquakes and hurricanes are always on my mind. Individual shacks sound nice if the earth cooperates and keeps you safe. I was reading that's why the earthquake in Haiti was so devastating, because there aren't building codes, or at least none really enforced and the shacks and rickety buildings did all that damage.

Debbie Downer I know... just something that def takes considering. Not all codes are bad... then again if the Haitians weren't allowed to build their cheap houses they may not be able to have one period so... that's a pickle.
 
Monica Mulder
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Peter DeJay wrote:I'm from New Mexico, which is a rather well known "mecca" of sorts to unconventional buildings, especially in the northern part where the EarthShips are situated. I've noticed that the places with the lax building codes/restrictions tend to be somewhat featureless and dry. Not that that isn't beautiful in its own ways; I fully miss the high desert of my birth, but here in Oregon for example, when resources are more abundant restrictions tend to be higher.

However, there is a rather large middle area as far as just how unrestricted you need it to be. If you are willing to work with local jurisdictions and have a well thought out design you might be surprised at an areas bureaucratic willingness. Jackson county, OR for instance, while listed on the "pockets of freedom" map on the EarthShip website as a "red" zone, which is true it does tend to have some strict building codes, also has quite a few strawbale, cob, and light clay-straw type structures. But if you wanted to have zero restrictions/meddling then I would suggest northern NM. I guess in the end it depends on the climate you want to live in, and the type of structures you are looking to build.


You just named 2 of the 3 states I would most like to live in (the third being California). I don't deal well with the cold but desert cold is usually alright. I just need sun is the main thing or I get that seasonal grumpiness.
 
Tristan Vitali
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Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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Monica Mulder wrote:
You just named 2 of the 3 states I would most like to live in (the third being California). I don't deal well with the cold but desert cold is usually alright. I just need sun is the main thing or I get that seasonal grumpiness.


It's too bad because I'd also recommend the unincorporated areas of Maine - pretty much only get into issues with building codes and permits when you put in a "foundation". Build yourself a cabin on skids and you're golden - no permits necessary and thus no codes, inspections, etc. Also, Maine has several pretty good programs for reducing tax burden on acreage that's being kept natural/scenic, providing wildlife habitat, being used for wood harvesting (including firewood, building materials) and even farming. Acreage is fairly cheap compared to most of the country as well, though they're not big fans of selling to us "flatlanders" apparently (will have to share my experience at some point)

It's getting harder and harder to find decent land out there far enough from HOAs, etc, to "get away" with such things as rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling and the like. Seems there's a story in the alt. media every day about another person facing fines for daring to grow a vegetable garden ... but they do exist. The building code issue is only one of the concerns.
 
Kitty Leith
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Location: Oakland, CA
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Hey - that earthship pockets of freedom map isn't trust worthy and is too general, painted with too wide a paintbrush. I wish it could zoom and be more detailed, as there are some jurisdictions within the "free" areas that have some of the most expensive restrictive permit processes in the planet. Many of the free areas are barely inhabitable...and, like some are a little of both - have a permit process but are reasonable if you can demonstrate what you are doing. I have a tendency to gravitate toward the word "unincorporated"...

I highly recommend this blog by a code inspector/regulator by profession, with a place in his heart for sustainable building. He's got a lot of worthwhile things to say and advice for people
on his blog

Here's a link to a guy who publishes a book of supposedly every no code jurisdiction in America
I'll pony up the money for it when I actually have enough to start hunting for property.
 
chip sanft
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I'll just throw in that before you buy, make sure to talk to the right people.

At our property (rural central MN) there are some things under the jurisdiction of the county and some things that the township does. But different townships are set up differently, and in one place the township handles, say, wetlands stuff and in another the county does -- even though both are in the same county. So you have to make sure to find out who makes decisions about what before you commit.

On the plus side, I've found the closer you get to talking to neighbors, the better. The folks at our township are downright helpful. For example, the township roads guy put in the culvert in the ditch and covered it up, enabling us to drive onto the property, all for free. On county road, well, they only allow their guys to do it ("to make sure it meets the standards") and they charge you several hundred dollars for the service.

So if you find a place you like, it's worth making a few calls and asking a few questions about the things you want to do. You might be pleasantly surprised. And keep in mind: if there are no codes hampering you, there are also no codes hampering your neighbors, either, and that's not always pleasant.
 
Jay Green
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WV is wild and wonderfully free in most of the state if you stay out of town.
 
John Polk
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I have also seen that the places with lax codes seem to have lax tax assessors.

The stricter the codes, the higher the property taxes.

 
Tristan Vitali
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Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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Another thought comes to mind on some of this - RV's

Often, you can buy land in a rural area with building codes, etc, and may not even be able to build a small cabin on skids without permits, but you can certainly pull or drive an RV onto the property. One place I was looking/trying to buy some land in, an organized township in rural Maine, asked only for us to provide receipts to the town that we were using a dump station or having our black/gray water tanks pumped (proof that we weren't just dumping our waste water on the ground) to bypass the requirement for soil tests. Just a thought

Also related, avoid areas with known and established retirement communities, especially those with lakes and rivers touting "waterfront property". They tend to breed bad neighbors, high taxes and less than cooperative town officials. "Pockets of Freedom" generally exist where people that enjoy sterile lawns and white picket fences don't.
 
Devon Olsen
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Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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places with little to no building codes or DO NOT ENFORCE THEM are best imho and way better than any place that requires you to have PERMISSION FROM THE GOVERNMENT TO BUILD YOUR OWN HOME ON YOUR OWN LAND A CERTAIN WAY
the government having a say in matters like this is simply oligarchial and though some places may now recognize designs such as earthships... with specific information and REQUEST from someone that has no rightful ownership of the land
that doesn't mean that you can build a walipini or any other home of your choosing, that means if master says OK, then yeah you can build it

Delta County, CO i know has no building codes at the moment, but thats my jewel so noone else take all of it ok?

can't read on the map but IRON or RON county, UT has building codes but if your in the modena area, or other less populated areas they are not enforced.

Arizona is currently on the forefront of pushing the federal government back into its own CONSTITUTIONAL jurisdiction, and though there is a long way to go along this path before AZ (or any other) is a free state, that may be a good place to search for a nice permaculture friendly county as the states general direction indicates a certain respect fro private property rights and ability to allow you to build what you want on your own land, so long as it doesnt put their land at risk
 
Karen Crane
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I have some acres near Balen, NM ( about an hour south from Alburquerque) and that whole area
does not hve any building codes and
people are building all kinds of altenative housing there. Property taxes are also cheap. ( $25 year)
Lots of land available there as well. High desert though and the biggest cost is drilling a well.
 
Devon Olsen
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thank you for the input karen, i have an aunt that lives in the Ribera, NM area at the time being so that may evevtually prove to be quite helpul
 
Brenda Groth
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NW quadrant of Missaukee county in Michigan is pretty doggone free of regulations..
 
jason herrick
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Location: ocean view, hawaii
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I live in hawaii on the big island of hawaii....i live in the largest subdivision in the world...12,000 one acre lots....you can grow all year...water is free at the well...compost is free at the dump...and lots still sell for 5k its zoned agricultural residential..... hardly anyone lives here its a vacation/retirement community...its a dieing ohia forest...not alot of rain...part of the kau district...anyways....a nice place and i love it herw...not humid not to hot....great midday cloud cover....elevations from 1500 too 5000 feet. Hope someone likes this.
 
jason herrick
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As far as building...just use concrete....keep it simple...concrete is cheap and lasts for a long long time. Plus its a high thermal mass (htm) so it will stay warm in winter and cool in summer if built right....
 
jason herrick
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Location: ocean view, hawaii
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If your trying to build in city limits its not going to happen...but in most rural area anywhere you can build whatever you want without permits as long as you dont try to pull utilities....have to be off the grid. You have to work up to living on it....lots of weekends.... the reason i like hawaii is im out of tsunami range...im 50 miles from a wallmart or city.....the light cycle is 12/12 so bloom all year round.....it gets cold enough for apples and peaches and such up here also....you can grow anything here if your smart all year round.....
 
Stacy Thomas
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LaLena MaeRee wrote:I'm from the state of Idaho, in the bigger cities and towns you can't even think about building a dog house without a permit. However, there are lots of old mining towns, and mountain areas where you can do whatever the hell you want. I have seen people living in shacks of all kinds, even junkyards. I lived in one of the old mining towns in my teen years and even the local cops had properties with multiple small shacks everyone lived in, they all let their kids have their own little house out back that was essentially a plywood shack or camper or old broken van, whatever they could sleep in and put a fireplace into usually. We still visit that area, everyone still lives the same way. You even occasionally see a 5 year old leading a gigantic mule down the street for exercise. I guess it is true the backwoods of Idaho are pretty "hillbilly." Beautiful area though, I haven't been anywhere with fresher air and cleaner rivers yet than the mountains of Idaho



I've spent most of my life in Idaho, and have putzed around a bit in the "backwoods" and am curious as to where you were. There are some towns that are very lax and not too far from Boise, even. I think in general, there are many areas you could get away with a lot, but remember the Ruby Ridge incident happened in Idaho, so don't get too secure in the thoughts of "I can do anything".

To the question of disasters, etc... In general, Idaho has fabulous seasons, gorgeous scenery (some of the best on earth, IMO), and for the most part, really nice people. Idaho does occasionally experience earth quakes, and when those volcanoes eventually blow, it's all over. Other than that - there is nothing going on that would cause any disaster prepping to be necessary.

I would tend to agree that the farther out from the bigger towns/cities you are, the "safer" you are as far as freedom to do what you want without too much hassle. I am pretty sure that is the case in most places. I can tell you this, though. Not too many years back, a land owner approximately 30 miles out of Boise wanted Idaho Power to bring out power. He was quoted a rediculous price for them to drag the lines out to him. He did his homework and put up a wind turbine, eventually put up 3 of them. Because he was producing extra power, Idaho Power drug the lines out to buy his excess. He's producing enough for himself, a few "neighbors", and selling the rest to Idaho Power. Smart guy. Granted, he's out in the open desert area, and turbines are totally legal, with no height restrictions. Let this be an example, just because they tell you one thing, doesn't mean that's the definitive answer... do your research!
 
Stacy Thomas
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Location: Sacramento
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I'd like to know land costs of various places, too. It's not just about the regulations, but how much is the land going to cost me?
 
wayne boardman
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Location: Southern Maine, nudged by climate change into zone 6a
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It might be wise to also consider of some of the downsides of living in a place with so-called lax housing codes.

1. If it's extremely rural, you are going to have to do a lot of driving if you should need any of the comforts of modern society--like coffee, toilet paper, building supplies, fuel, vehicle maintenance, health care, veterinarian services, etc. To say nothing of a paying job and human companionship. If (when) the price of gas goes through the roof, you may be more vulnerable than someone closer to town. But if course, that's all just fine for some people.

2. If you do have somewhat closer neighbors along with lax housing codes, your neighbor might be "free" to knowingly or unknowingly pollute your groundwater and/or air, whether you like it or not. Or burn down his and your woods because of an unsafe wood stove. In that case, you could just move again, but don't expect to sell your property for what it's worth if your neighbor(s) has degraded the whole area.

As oppressive and inflexible as some building codes are, most every part of them were put in for a good reason, generally involving safety or health. HOAs are another matter--there's no reason to tie your fortunes to the whims of some idiot neighbors.

If I had it to do it all over again, I'd probably look for a medium- to small-sized progressive community with building inspectors who have a reputation for open-mindedness. If I had enough land to grow my own food and it was a reasonably walkable/bikeable community, I could put up with some building codes. But that's just me. YMMV.
 
jason herrick
Posts: 27
Location: ocean view, hawaii
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Check out ocean view estates hawaii....coffee is bad for you...growing veggies is your new job....who cares about gas prices...ride a bike? Do you realize how much you are limiting yourself? Wayne - if its easy....its not worth doing.
 
jason herrick
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Location: ocean view, hawaii
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People live here in plastic shacks no power no hot water and people in hawaii are happiest in the country...we are also one of the poorest districts in the union..... the best thongs in life are free....living near a city is just going to make you a consumer.....homesteading is all about being a provider.....200 years ago people did this and had wonderful happy lives...u can too.
 
jason herrick
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Location: ocean view, hawaii
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Dont believe everything you see on tv....question everything.
 
Cerridwen Philemon
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Peter DeJay wrote:I'm from New Mexico, which is a rather well known "mecca" of sorts to unconventional buildings, especially in the northern part where the EarthShips are situated. I've noticed that the places with the lax building codes/restrictions tend to be somewhat featureless and dry. Not that that isn't beautiful in its own ways; I fully miss the high desert of my birth, but here in Oregon for example, when resources are more abundant restrictions tend to be higher.

However, there is a rather large middle area as far as just how unrestricted you need it to be. If you are willing to work with local jurisdictions and have a well thought out design you might be surprised at an areas bureaucratic willingness. Jackson county, OR for instance, while listed on the "pockets of freedom" map on the EarthShip website as a "red" zone, which is true it does tend to have some strict building codes, also has quite a few strawbale, cob, and light clay-straw type structures. But if you wanted to have zero restrictions/meddling then I would suggest northern NM. I guess in the end it depends on the climate you want to live in, and the type of structures you are looking to build.


I am in Medford, so I am happy to read your post. Where do you find the strawbale, cob and clay type structures in the area?
 
Doug Mac
Posts: 79
Location: Humboldt County, California [9b]
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I have had some minor issues with the building dept. in northern California but we worked them out. They are not the 'Evil Empire'. They are cautious because developers have lied to them before. Treat them with the courtesy you would expect to be treated with, make sure you understand exactly what their objections are and be ready to explain your project with facts not intentions. Inspections, building codes and zoning laws are a hassle sometimes, but they are also what makes your property saleable if the unforeseen happens and you have to sell and protects you from a neighbor that decides to generate power by burning tires or opening a quicky mart.

 
Cerridwen Philemon
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Doug Mac wrote:I have had some minor issues with the building dept. in northern California but we worked them out. They are not the 'Evil Empire'. They are cautious because developers have lied to them before. Treat them with the courtesy you would expect to be treated with, make sure you understand exactly what their objections are and be ready to explain your project with facts not intentions. Inspections, building codes and zoning laws are a hassle sometimes, but they are also what makes your property saleable if the unforeseen happens and you have to sell and protects you from a neighbor that decides to generate power by burning tires or opening a quicky mart.



Doug, where in Northern California did you build? My husband keeps talking about some land in Hornbrook as being a possibility for us.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Thanks for all of the info here. This thread ties in nicely with my "Free Permaculture State" thread under intentional communities. I am looking for a place where the county regulations are open to letting a permie be free on thier own land, as long as the permie does not harm their neighbors !
 
Dustin Nemos
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Location: Central TN
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I would love to garner some wisdom from those with the knowledge in this area (I am researching full speed for months now, but still have more questions and concerns than solutions and answers)

I seek unrestricted land (so that I may build my own home, without the costs and red tape associated with the gubment) My home will be CEB and far beyond anything contractors build these days - it will probably last 500+ years.

  for CEB info.)

Furthermore I seek an area where I can still find income/work as I am not wealthy and will need to scrape a living until i can learn to be self sufficient. And yet I need to keep the purchase price down, I can't afford much land!

Dustin & Ping, future homesteading family. (And once we build a house, maybe a few kids!)

 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 746
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Dustin Krieger wrote:And yet I need to keep the purchase price down, I can't afford much land!

Most of us need to keep the price down, but that doesn't necessarily mean we can't afford much land. Finding a good deal does require patience, persistence and a thorough understanding of what you want and which compromises you're willing to make.
 
Eddie Conna
Posts: 88
Location: Los Angeles for now, Maybe Idaho soon...
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Having lived in Southern California for the last 20+ years, I'm DONE with Building and "safety" BS.

I'm all for making sure stuff is done properly, but in Los Angeles, that's NOT what they are concerned about.  it's about revenue gathering, and little else.

Since I'm getting ready to bail and go live off land somewhere, I've been doing a LOT of research on this, and here's what I've found:

Generally speaking, I've found the following to be true when looking for lax/non-existent building codes:

Avoid being near large cities or counties with large cities in them.  The more spread out people are, the less codes there are.

States that tend to run liberal, (CA, Mass, etc) tend to also want to micromanage every damn thing you do, and they want their "cut" of the pie



 
 
Dustin Nemos
Posts: 95
Location: Central TN
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https://www.tn.gov/assets/entities/commerce/attachments/FireResidentialOptOutCounties.pdf

TN is good for this, other places such parts of KY, TX, Missouri (lots there) and NH are potentials as ell.
 
John Elliott
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GA and SC as well.  The attitude at building departments seems to be: "You're the owner, you can do what you want, but if you are building habitable living space to sell to other people, we'll check to see if it meets minimum standards".
 
John Skaggs
Posts: 15
Location: Boondock, KY
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Second on east KY.  Some places so rural nobody cares what you're doing.  Plenty of trackless woods. 
 
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