Building Without a Permit


When is a building permit not required? How do I know what I can and cannot build? How do I find out this information?

First and most important thing to know is that each location is different, there are no set standards across the country so you need to check with your local County and City authorities. Thankfully much of this information is now online and you can do your research without talking to anyone.

I live in Sonoma County in Northern California. Here are the steps I went through to discover what the requirements were for building without a permit.

  1. I Googled “Sonoma County” and found their web site
  2. Than I did a searched on Permits on the Sonoma County website
  3. Clicked on Forms and Applications
  4. Found the form “When is a Building Permit Not Required?”

Not every county will be the same so this is just an example of how to start looking for the information. Here is the information I found doing this research:

The following is a list of work that may be performed without a building permit. If your project does notappear on this list of exempt work, you should assume that a building permit is required.

Note: Although some work is exempt from a building permit, additional permits or review may be required. Before a building or structure is erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished, it is important to contact the appropriate staff at the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) to determine if any other permit or technical review is required.

Although work may be exempt from a building permit, it may be subject to other county regulations (Well and Septic, Zoning, Drainage, Sewer, etc.). Although a building permit is not required, the exempt construction/work must be code compliant. For example, re-striping a commercial parking lot is exempt from a building permit, however, the striping must conform to building code standards for accessibility and Zoning standards for parking lot design. Failure to comply with code requirements may constitute a violation.


  1. Accessory Structures: One-story detached accessory structures used as tool or storage sheds, playhouses or similar uses when located on a parcel which contains an existing single family dwelling or other permitted primary use or structure. Such structures shall not have a floor area that exceeds 120 square feet and the height above grade shall not exceed 12 feet. No more than one structure may be allowed under this exemption unless separated from another permit exempt structure by more than 50 feet.

Note: Electrical, plumbing, or mechanical work in connection with such structures requires an electrical, plumbing or mechanical permit even though a building permit is not required for the structure itself.

To read the complete document go to When is a Building Permit Not Required?

This document tells me that I can build up to a 120 square foot structure without a permit. It can’t be higher than 12 feet and if I choose to put in electrical or plumbing I will need to get a permit for that only.

So technically I could build a Sonoma Shanty that is 120 square feet on a foundation as long as it meets these requirements. I would need a permit for the wiring and plumbing if I chose to put that in.

What if it is on wheels or considered an RV?

I was unable to find anything regarding this on the Sonoma County website. To my knowledge each town or neighborhood has its own rules regarding this. Some places allow you to park an RV at your home or on your property but only allow you to live in it for so much time and than you must move it. Others say it can only be parked but not lived in, and other areas don’t care one way or the other.

What About a Remote Area?

Often you can build in a remote area without permits. Here again it is important to check with your county requirements.

Many people just build and some areas are so remote that no one knows about your cabin or home. If you are reported by neighbors or someone else you may have to deal with the local codes and/or remove or tear the structure down.

Hopefully this article has given you some idea as to where to start looking for this type of information and also what to look for.


Kent Griswold

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

reader - August 31, 2009 Reply

I find the idea of getting “permission” to build on my own land absurd. I refuse to do so on principle, and have built quite a few structures, including buildings as large as 36 x 70 feet.

One day, the county will harass me, but what exactly can they do? Eviction is not going to happen, they can only demand their pound of flesh (extortion) for their “permission slip” and then I’ll drag these leeches through the entire process (costing them time and money).

They may yet get their extortion money, but in the meanwhile, I will do what I want, as I want.

    Aunt Raven - August 16, 2011 Reply

    I had a distant neighbour who could have been your soul-mate. He built similar to what you describe, and once the county found out about it, he did as you suggested and took them to court. However the judge and jury decided they didn’t like his attitude, nor want him setting a precident; so the county tore the building down and put a lien against his property until he paid it off.

      O'Hamill - July 16, 2012 Reply

      …which is a disgusting and anti-American thing for them to do.

    bob becker - September 27, 2013 Reply

    I gave 4 years of my life to serve my Country. It was for the sole purpose o preserving our LIBERTIES. I guessing not one of these Liberty stripping yahoos served! I am now building a “non permitted” timber frame shop/living quarters. Build it the way I want it! Besides, their “CODE” doesn’t even address the requirements for my horses water trough in the shop/living room.

nancy - December 23, 2009 Reply

add me to your mailing list

and do you have any of these buildings near corning california?

thanks..i need a granny or care taker cabin as i am very ill

jd - February 18, 2010 Reply

Your reading of the code is a bit focused. When I read the code you posted, your interpretation is accurate, only “when located on a parcel which contains an existing single family dwelling or other permitted primary use or structure”. You’d first have to have another single family dwelling, which did go through the permit process, *already on the property* in order to build a smaller unpermitted structure.

Scott - March 27, 2010 Reply

That is the problem in most places, jd. You basically have to hide it where it will not be noticed, or place it somewhere remote where no one will care.

I personally plan on buying some remote land, in Northern Cali/Southern Oregon, and giving it a go. Although, I will probably test the waters with a yurt first.

Jamiko - March 29, 2010 Reply

Jamiko says,

You could dig a pond on your property, design your tiny floating home, then you don’t need a permit, it is a boat, really.

    David - May 25, 2010 Reply

    Most counties will require a permit to dig a pond, so that may not be feasible either.

Hermelinda Abelardo - April 25, 2010 Reply

I now possess the answers to my inquiries – at last! Thank you to get a good site. Gratefully, Beth

Me'chelle - May 10, 2010 Reply

I also find the law not allowing you to build what you want to build on YOUR land incredibly stupid, I live with my dad in a single family dwelling as the zoning enforcement said.

I live on half of an acre you would think I could make my own small place buy noooooo they won’t let me.

Now I have to buy my own property, I hate permits and zoning!

Davidfromcali - June 19, 2010 Reply

Insurance companies don’t have to pay off on damage, fire, personal injury if the buildings are illegal. If you are so financially independent that you don’t ever insure anything then this is fine but if you have a fire, for instance, that starts from an illegal installation they will tell you ‘Boy, that’s tough’ and leave you in the wind. I have known people caught in this one and they lost everything in the fire plus they were out the money.

If you hate permits and zoning picture what it would be like without them. On one side of your quiet neck of the woods someone opens an all night motorcycle tuning shop/gun range & minimart, and a mosque pops up on the other and you get to hear prayer 5 times a day.
I think that a lot of the regulations involve over-building but many are safety oriented. In a choice between maybe too much regulation and my upwind neighbor starting a home based meat rendering plant I vote for regulations.
If everyone thought of the neighbors and community first when it comes to safety and environment we wouldn’t need most of our laws but there are a lot of people that would build structures that would collapse and kill someone innocent like their own kids.

    Lazy Goat - June 20, 2012 Reply

    I agree with you that things would be far worse without requiring building permits, however I find the fees to be a far cry from reasonable.

    John - October 8, 2013 Reply

    Well, while the person opening an all night motorcycle shop/gun range/minimart may be an entrepreneurial genius (seriously, this is America, that would be a H-I-T), that business would become at least a private nuisance, if not a public one. In that case you have the courts at your disposal to remedy the situation, assuming that your neighbor isn’t going to do something to accommodate your need for peace and quiet, or even the police if the business is really posing that much of a problem.

    I personally think that zoning laws, while generally established to protect against those who would do something fooling (not as many people as you’d like to believe), have generally become a barrier to many people being homeowners. You can build a home for a few thousand dollars, and one that’s completely safe and structurally sound at that. No, the home isn’t going to be as nice as a $500,000 home, but when you consider the alternative – renting – allowing people to build on their land provides a greater benefit to society than trying to protect against idiots that would try to do it without thinking it through. Many zoning laws essentially help foster a permanent peasant class. Instead of allowing people to purchase land, which can be had relatively cheaply, and build homes on their land, which can be done relatively cheaply as well, zoning laws force people to remain renters. That’s good for some, bad for most.

    If you want to weigh the cost vs. benefit of either eliminating or loosening zoning laws, consider what’s better: one guy in 1,000 builds a house without thinking about what he’s doing and kills himself vs. 999 people having homes they will own for the rest of their lives, can continue to improve throughout their lives and can pass along to their children, or disallowing a major segment of the population from ever building any wealth? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    One last thought: what about homes that were built decades ago that no longer adhere to the zoning policies? They’re not torn down are they? Aren’t they, by current standards, unsafe? The answer is yes, but we don’t force people to tear down and rebuild. In that we have to be acknowledging that these structures are either a) generally safe and acceptable for use or b) provide greater utility in their existence than their destruction. Either way, once you really sit down & think about it, zoning laws are really just a class of statute enacted to give people jobs.

    Don Largo - February 10, 2014 Reply

    What do you suppose all those people did for almost 200 years, David? You know, before insurance mania. And when did I-mericans become such cowards, afraid of their own shadow.

    Interestingly, Japan, a rather successful economic model today, does not employ the kind of zoning itemized in your second paragraph. Japan, by the way, has a much higher population density than anywhere you live, so I wonder how they manage to do it?

    It looks to me like most of the naysayers could be accused of personal greed as their motive. Since they are plugged into the system, subscribers of the trickle-down system, they/you wouldn’t want to see their slavery be all for naught in the end, now would they/you?

    So, guys, don’t let your greed run stronger than your reason. If you are worried about the insurance companies, say so; but if you are just worried about your own personal investment in a system and believe that legitimate, put your cowardly heart where your mouth is and declare yourself openly, sans rationalizations.

    justanother pixel - October 1, 2014 Reply

    if you are not allowed to build extra things on your property EVEN in city limits get you some hogs or pigs and chickens and raise them even in the city.. a law that TRUMPS ALL OTHER LAWS states that a man can raise livestock in any city limits or in any location but it excludes large animals like oxen cows horses. but hogs pigs chickens are allowed. I had a city once tell me I could not build on my new land I said ok Ill make me a hog farm and when the wind shifts and they expensive moviestar spa place spells it they will ask why and I will divert them to your office.. the next day I had my permit

Concerned Citizen - July 16, 2010 Reply

“If you hate permits and zoning picture what it would be like without them.”

Probably a lot better.

Sorry, David, I have to respectfully disagree with you. People have reached the breaking point of overeager enforcers telling them what they can’t do that’s REASONABLE to build on their own property. No one here is talking about a meat rendering plant, gun range, etc. They are talking about adding a building or structure that meets the regulations. In Sonoma county, the building permit for a single family residence of 2000 square feet with a 2 car garage is $50,000. For just the permit.

If they applied the standards to existing buildings, 90% of them would be out of compliance.

This has nothing to do with protecting the health and safety of the occupants, neighbors or the living creatures around the property, they are for CONTROL, to stop ANY development and of course to MAKE MONEY FOR THE GOVERNMENT.

One thing I’m learning is that things get built a lot faster and just as well without permits (and I’d guess that 80% of everything in the country is built that way).

If you think buildings are bad, just try getting water.

    rk - July 10, 2011 Reply

    the permit (including the plan check fee) for building in Sonoma County top out at around $13,000…and that’s only if you’re building a million dollar home. If you’re building a modest $50,000 house, the permit and plan check fees top out at about $1200. I’m not sure where you came up with the $50,000 figure, but it’s incorrect.

      anon - July 16, 2011 Reply

      Modest $50K house in Sonoma county? Such a thing does not exist. You’d be hard pressed to find a run down shack in Lake County for $50K. Where are you getting your figures? Perhaps a link would be useful, because you’re house value figure is so out of touch with reality I have a hard time beleiving the permit numbers you provided.

        sn - February 27, 2012 Reply

        Sonoma County includes many fees besides the plan check fee (e.g. you ironically are required to pay a $5000 low income housing fee, $3000 for “parks abatement”, etc etc). The county has a handout detailing all the fees. The handouts details a number of house sizes, and their lowest figure is $20k (I believe for a 1500sq ft house with a 2 car garage).

        This isn’t even the main cost/issue.

        The main cost/issue is one of:
        WATER or SEPTIC

        They charge a lot to dig a well, and even more to build a septic system. Sonoma county has adopted extremely strict septic regulations, and will not let you build without septic (composting toilets etc are not allowed, they are running a 4-toilet pilot project and may be approved if everything goes well in approx 2015). Here’s the thing…. the county considers less than 5% of the county’s land area to be suitable for a conventional (moderate cost / self built) septic field. Everything else requires a $30,000 (if you’re lucky) to $50k (if you’re not) “engineered septic system”. The money is mostly required to be spent…. you can’t “do the work yourself”.

        Sonoma is listed in many places as having “class k” owner-builder code. The law is still listed on the books, but they effectively gutted it in 2010 (everywhere where they grant owner-builder’s discretion was replaced with conformance requirements to the CA Model code).

        If you want to build a weird/groovy thing, I’d suggest you look at Mendocino or Humboldt counties to the north. Both these counties have strict/costly septic requirements as well (forced on them by the CA Water Control Board), BUT they allow composting toilets, so you can dodge the bullet. They also have non-gutted class-k owner-builder laws that boil down to “keep it safe, and we’ll approve your structure”.

          Alex O - July 1, 2012 Reply

          So am I reading this right, building a house in Sonoma County means you have two shell out around $70k before one bit of work really gets started?

          Corey - September 11, 2012 Reply

          We will pay approx 55K for an 1100sft home when all is said and done. This number includes permits, county fees, water and PG&E. Obscene!

          justanother pixel - October 1, 2014 Reply

          build it yourself

InSonomaCounty - July 30, 2010 Reply

reader – the county’s not just going to “get extortion money” from you, they can and quite possibly will force you to pay to have your illegal structures demolished. If you happen to be in Sonoma County you may even go to jail.

There are other places in the US that are less regulated (Missouri seems to be often cited as one such) but California’s pretty strict in terms of building & zoning.

    Cez Quias - August 17, 2014 Reply

    I heard my contractor friend, Alaska there is no require a permit to build a home.

InSonomaCounty - July 30, 2010 Reply

Kent – you asked regarding the circumstances in which living in an RV is legal in Sonoma County. I happen to do so 🙂 so let me add what I know.

You can get a permit to live in an RV under the following circumstances:

1) While you are in the process of building a home on your property, assuming all permits have been obtained and the utilities are in.

2) Either the person occupying the RV needs to require medical care by a person living in the home on the property, or vice versa. A letter from a doctor is required.

I’ve looked at the laws for most of the counties in California and all of them have have similar laws.

Without a permit, it’s possible to live “temporarily” in RV parks, although many people actually do so permanently.

Finally, I’m legally living in my RV under a loophole so tiny you have to dig WAY deep into state law to know it is there. My fifth wheel is in a mobile home space in a mobile home park … which makes it in most ways legally a mobile home, go figure. One difference: I do not need to get permits to remodel my RV, which I would have to do if it was really a mobile home.

Sorry, I know that’s confusing, but that’s the clearest I can make the explanation!

The places closest to California in which someone can (pretty much) freely live in an RV full-time are Humboldt and Elko Counties in Nevada. Even there the properties need to be 5+ acres and a permit is required.

I hope that was of interest.

    Alex O - July 1, 2012 Reply

    Yeah, the only other way to do it is to control what is allowed into a trailer park. You can have private requirements in a private trailer park that everyone must have a tiny house with garden and deck, no conventional trailers, but that means controlling the park or a section of the park and having the living structures on wheels.

    The issue though, is parking. Tiny house communities don’t look right with a bunch of vehicles crowded around every tiny house. Trailer parks are often laid out to maximize profit for the park owner, not look cute or like a little village.

Mike M. - August 23, 2010 Reply

I rather deal with what might be built near me than having authorities dictate to me where, when and how I can build something. I think our minds are wired lately in this authoritarian society we live in to believe government is helping us with these services. Imagine, all the services that are regulated by the government that are inflated in price because of this. Imagine, if they wouldn’t get in the way. Yes, it may take some research on our part and discovering what the good path should be.. At least, in the end, it would be our choice not some authority above us dictating our plans.

Not only that.. Quite possibly people who are homeless now would have a home.

Jason - September 9, 2010 Reply

One of the most important aspects is good relations and communications with your neighbors. These are the people that will call the county. I want to build an off-grid property in Sonoma, no sewer, water collection, solar, etc. Trying to get permits for all of this (some of which you can’t) would be a nightmare. I am going to proceed slowly and talk to as many people as I can.
It’s about community.

Teresa - September 13, 2010 Reply

Look out folks, there is Agenda 21 (sustainable development) this is going to be in every city and every town. It will dictate every aspect of your live from were you live to what you eat and if you drive.

Connie A. Watkins - September 27, 2010 Reply

Mostly I manage to take away my junk responsibly but it’s oftentimes demotivating when I check out just what many countries are doing to our wonderful planet!

JKonsen - October 26, 2010 Reply

This article is helpful for at least knowing how to find the information one might need – good job to the author on that.

As to the discussion and comments(I’ve quoted from several different of the above comments so bear with me):

I’ve been very “old school” – whatever you do on your property is your own business, BUT my views have changed since I became a volunteer firefighter seven years ago and have experienced what happens when people do whatever they please on their own property/with their house.

I live in Napa County (next door neighbor to Sonoma) and we have pretty strict building codes here as well, however building is only a SMALL fraction of the hazards we encounter on private property. If you have hazardous materials leaking into the ground, you’d better hope it can’t be traced back to you because you will get the bill for the cleanup- And ordering someone who can do Hazmat cleanup costs FAR FAR more than a few simple precautions/permit, etc.

While most building regulations are WAY OVER THE TOP and not proportionate (someone living on a 60 acre parcel shouldn’t have the same size regulation for a shed that someone on a small city lot should – duh!), consider what happens when a house or outbuilding catches on fire. Simply, depending what is stored in the shed it very well could accelerate and intensify the flames, catching the surrounding grass/trees on fire and IT WILL SPREAD FASTER than your garden hose can keep up! Then goes your house, car, the neighbors yard, their house. Keep in mind YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT IS ON YOUR PROPERTY – legally and financially.

As population density increases so does the need for more regulations so that there isn’t PREVENTABLE loss of life and/or property.

Once again regulations are stupidly usually a one-size-fits-all scenario. Someone on a 2,000 acre ranch in Montana should have far less regulations than someone in a townhouse in San Francisco….you could have “an all night motorcycle tuning shop/gun range & minimart” on your 2,000 acres and not bother anyone whereas in a place like San Francisco, well of course not!

Once again I do think regulations and taxes have become so burdensome and unreasonable that “people are at a breaking point”.
Consider a few things though 1)those regulations CAN be changed, yes with hard work and PROACTIVE involvement in you local/state government-don’t just complain, do something to change it! 2)while $50,000 for a building permit is WAY excessive, you will CLEARLY see that MOST building standard ARE for “protecting the health and safety of the occupants, neighbors or the living creatures around the property” and NOT just to get money when you see the charred corpse of a small child and the cause WAS PREVENTABLE by following building codes. That is something that will convince you even if there were a 120 sq ft shed full of doubts in your mind, that CERTAIN regulations DO SAVE LIVES! 3)when your house is on fire, you fall from a ladder, crash your car, or your child stops breathing suddenly, you will be thankful for the big red very expensive fire engine that you helped to pay for (not sure where the rest of the tax money goes though!).

It really comes down to respecting and taking care of: yourself, your family & friends, the environment on which you depend in order to breath and live, and personal property(land, vehicles, household items).

In the fire service our objectives are pretty straightforward when encountering a danger. First protect ourselves will the proper gear, equipment, and training. Second, in order of importance, prevent or lessen 1)loss of life 2)loss of property 3)damage to the environment.

If everyone who wanted to build a shed took those things into practice (first of all, protect yourself by building something correctly and safely) we all would be a lot less taxed and coded, regulated and permitted. Very few people want to or would take the time to research how to mitigate all the variable safety issues nor take into thought the impact on the neighbors, wildlife, air and water. So we’ve ended up paying the government to tell us and enforce it….which SUCKS for those of us who would have due diligence and could thus have more freedom. Just remember your freedom ends where another person’s freedom starts.

Above, Jason said it best, “It’s all about community.”

    greg - March 4, 2011 Reply

    Yes, the tax money goes to fire and police equipment and I am very happy for that. The rest of the money however, goes to killing people (but at least terrorists in other countries right?); about 50% of our taxes go to OUR (yes, we are all responsible) military. I am more in favor of having high county taxes, lesser state taxes, and even less federal taxes. We can have our own melitias, zoning policies, and FIREFIGHTERS, without contributing to things that do not concern us. So ultimately, I choose to avoid/disregard taxes, codes, etc., just simply because I disagree with the giant organization the taxes they support. That said, I will build a very safe home (maybe that would comply with code), I am starting a local business, donating money locally, eat and drink locally, and know what i’m paying into.

ProfessorRico - December 30, 2010 Reply

I have been looking into this, and the very few counties without building codes are adopting them due to suburban sprawl. Sucks.

The main concerns I have are the electrical and plumbing components to the building codes. My home is designed for twelve volts of DC, without 110 AC at all. I hate septic systems, and have designed around reusing as much water as possible. I just think that the codes are ridiculous, especially if you are planning on building a sustainable home in the middle of nowhere. It’s just ANOTHER freaking RACKET where one group of “official” people want to vamp your account with laws and regulations.

The whole concept of the United States Constitution is that I have the right to be left alone. Building my great house on my own land would be complete bliss for me…sometimes referred to as Happiness. What happened to THAT liberty? Technically, I can build whatever I want, but can’t live in it without greasing the palm of some paper pusher for a ‘Permit for Occupancy’. The cost of the Building Permit increases for square footage?? WHAT? That is so profoundly corrupt. WHY is the cost of the permit relative to the square footage? If I build a 500 sf cabin it might be $1200 in permits, but if it is 2000 sf it would be over $3000!!

Hey, howabout just making a ‘Permit for Standing and Breathing’ and just get it over with??

I am now researching countries with more liberty than the US. That is just sad. This place is like a slave camp.

    greg - March 4, 2011 Reply

    Good thing our ‘Democracy’ is spreading throughout the world. Chances are, you’re either going to find a place with no resources and absolute poverty, or else one that is heavily exploited and regulated (like the U.S.). Good luck though.

    Kurt - October 18, 2011 Reply

    Could the per sf cost reflect that people with lots of money often build houses with lots of sf?

    The reason liberty is being curtailed all over the place is that the self-professed libertarians are to dumb to see beyond their own little world.

Aunt Raven - June 20, 2011 Reply

Places where you may not be bothered by permits will be poor places where local gumment is too poor to police properly. Try the bleaker remote parts of New Mexico, west Texas, Mississippi. Water will be an issue and you might have to invest in drilling a well (for “livestock”) before you start to build. And there’s always Canada and Alaska, but you better learn your survival and bush skills before you move up there or in your first winter you will be dead real fast. That said, there are many happy Alaskans like yourselves who emmigrated from some warmer state with lotsa regulations.

Christine C. - August 20, 2011 Reply

Plan on putting a tiny home on my 40 acres in Wy. Was told that if it was less than 120 sq ft. no permit was needed. Plan on alerting my semi-distant neighbors first to build community and gain their support.

    Aunt Raven - September 30, 2011 Reply

    Humm– build one small permitted building. Then, next couple years, a little space away, build another one for “storage” parallel to it. Next year after build a roof between the two to make a “dog-trot” house doubling the indoor and giving 1/3 to roofed outdoor work-space, which you could gradually screen in as a porch.
    build a little bit at a time, all permitted, –and call only your original structure your “House” 😉

      Ron - May 15, 2015 Reply

      Code cops will eventually figure it out.I had a lady tell me of her husband doing this kinda work.He used an airplane on more remote places. I imagine drones will be used for this also.
      I’m not saying i don’t like your idea though.If you left the buildings unattached it might make a difference.Several buildings,Each under 120 sf or whatever your area says,code wise. A 12 by 10 room could be about anything from a bedroom to a kitchen.

Komunikacja internetowa - September 15, 2011 Reply

In line with my observation, after a in foreclosure home is sold at a bidding, it is common for the borrower to still have the remaining unpaid debt on the mortgage loan. There are many loan companies who seek to have all expenses and liens paid by the future buyer. Nonetheless, depending on certain programs, laws, and state laws there may be some loans which are not easily solved through the transfer of loans. Therefore, the duty still remains on the customer that has acquired his or her property in foreclosure process. Many thanks sharing your opinions on this blog.

Nick - November 25, 2011 Reply

There are places without a residential building code, unless you’re committed to living in Sonoma. The one’s I’m personally aware of are: Cheyenne, Conejos, Custer, Delta, Dolores, Kit Carson, Mineral, Phillips, Prowers, Saguache, Yuma in Colorado, Pulasky Co in Kentucky. Idaho Co. in Idaho. Much of Missourri is unregulated, outside of the big cities.

Other states, like Texas, Tennessee and New Mexico have state wide codes, which are only enforced in densely populated counties.

These are the places I’ve run across so far, because I’d like to build my own strawbale or earthbag house, but I’m sure you can find many others, if you’re willing to browse county websites for the states you’re interested in.

aude witt - February 3, 2012 Reply


Adela Malachowski - March 2, 2012 Reply

At present I am not proud of what I do, but yet I’m not ashamed either.

Joe - March 14, 2012 Reply

Hey, remember the Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics?

Now you can get a piece of it to.

Welcome to tyranny.

tim - May 25, 2012 Reply

Well, there are over bearing, jerk clerk types that enforce the building codes, just as there are jerks elswhere. But the intention, to avoid paying a share to the community for the services it provides and keeping it safe and pleasant for everyone is purely a selfish, infantile response. But understandable given the attitude and actions of so many public officials.
But as with the rendering plant that moves in down wind –
I wouldn’t want to have an unregulated septic system built by one of you guys near my water table. There may be atheists in fox holes but there are no libertarians down stream from a leaking nuclear power plant. Consider paying your share and being a good neighbor – or move very, very far away.

tim - May 25, 2012 Reply

All that said, I like the spirit of independence and self-reliance and personal responsibility – I’d just hope one is up to all that before they subject the world to theirs.

tim - May 25, 2012 Reply

And, thanks for a great blog site and BTW, here in un-encorporated Lake Co, we can go 200 sq. ft. without a permit – came as a pleasant surprise to me.

    Alex O - July 1, 2012 Reply

    I helped build a tiny home there and the guy had to make sure that it did not have any combination of three of:
    A sleeping area, bathroom, kitchen. You can have two of the three, but once it has all three, then housing code kicks in.

    The way you make this work on a community basis is each cabin has a sleeping area and little bathroom. The trick is using movable components for the “kitchen” which all go in after the housing inspector leaves. The only thing you cant get away with is the second sink for the kitchen, Lake county called it as one sink only, and you have to decide whether it is a bathroom or kitchen sink. The guy I helped situated the single sink between what would be the “bathroom” and the “kitchen”.

    Another way to do this on a small community scale is each cabin is just a sleeping and living space, then you have a centrally located building that was done with permits, a lodge with big kitchen, big bathrooms with showers, and then a big dining area with couches along the sides that people could sleep in short term or during particularly cold weather when it is not cost effective to heat the individual cabins.

      Charris Ford - March 20, 2015 Reply

      Hey Alex, Was that in Sonoma county that you helped build that Tiny Home? Thanks! Charris (

B - June 25, 2012 Reply

Good post and comments. I just thought I would clarify a few things about “libertarian” belief, and so the founding of our nation. The core is a law against aggression. If someone aggresses against me or my possessions, I can take them to court and if found guilty (having first been presumed innocent of course) they would be required to do whatever is necessary to repay me for my loss and to cease their aggression.

So the examples of motorcycle shop and meat plant should not be restricted by policies anywhere. Rather, if anyone violates my personal or property rights, I can take them to court over the issue. If they can build a meat plant without destroying the air quality of my land, then they are welcome to do so. If they can build a bike shop without damaging the noise quality of my land, then they are welcome to do so. And if I want to build a structure which may or may not endanger my own life, I am welcome to do so.

When policies are enacted in an attempt to “protect” individuals rights, often they stifle innovation (creating a meat plant that does not create any bad smells) and essentially treat people as guilty until proven innocent.

As policy is removed from it’s current state, courts would need to be drastically changed to provide quick, cheap, and efficient service to all. This was the original intent of the founding fathers, something we do not even closely resemble any more, and the underlying reason why this country is slowly deteriorating.

Steve - August 28, 2012 Reply

I know this is an old thread but thought I would add my thoughts. Welcome to civilization. As to the building codes, they relate to fire and safety/ingress and egress. That is to say that they are there to insure that future occupiers of the dwelling, regardless of how short the stay, will have a reasonable expectation of safety as they enter, occupy and leave during most anticipated conditions. Most people who build eventually have visitors, need assistance from emergency personnel, sell or die so they can’t realistically say they will be the only one at risk. As to the fees, there are two kinds. Basic fees are suppose to cover the cost of the city/county oversight and then the really nasty ones, impact fees, are suppose to cover the new housing units “impact” on local services.

While I don’t like them or the cost I do understand and appreciate their original intent. It does seem that they are now being used to curtail growth which is sad because without growth the US economy languishes.

Corey - September 11, 2012 Reply

Here is a link to Sonoma County’s R1 zoning regulations…

Among other codes, no tents erected for more than 180 days, a six hen limit, and accessory buildings must be 50′ from each other…absurd!

Jennifer - September 14, 2012 Reply

We just bought a property in Sonoma Co. that has 6 little cabins that are legal non-complying and were once a motor lodge in the early 50’s. Can we restore them to that or can they be rented as artist retreat space or ? They each had a little kitchen type area (no cooking) with a sink and the toilets were male and female, one each in a separate building. It is on a septic and we were told could be used for what they were initially designed for or for our own use. But if we want to do something we would charge for they would have to be up to current code and only used for what they were originally used for. Anyone have a comment or info on this? Or where to go for info?

    Kent Griswold - September 14, 2012 Reply

    You will need to go to the county and find out what is required. I don’t know the specifics but they should be able to guide you to the right people.

Ivan - October 25, 2012 Reply

When attemting to go it alone away from the mainstream and construct a little place on your own, it is important to conduct your busniness as if you are a big bank or multinational corporation. Use the law to hid behind (its not a cabin, its a shed. Its not a shed, its sculpture that just looks like a dwelling. Its really just a piece of art). Use every loophole available, deny fact, ignore regulation and act freely. If your a large corporation and this is done in the name of profit then all would be forgiven. Take the same attitude, just be ready to jump ship when the s*&! hits the fan.

    Kozak - March 9, 2015 Reply

    Hi guys, i read all post and comments and i don’t see anybody to be worried about legal address.You need address were you live which could be given to you only by Local or County government You my use POBox like i do but again it need letter from government or bill from Edison with you address.Life without legal address is very complicated.I hope America wakeup and drop one hand in order to smell real freedom.In one comment somebody says;government tread as like slaves i say because we are sheep.

michelle cole arnold - June 23, 2013 Reply

My neighbors are right now still working on there “Studio”. It is 8:30 pm pacific time on a Sunday!! This is an outer building from the”getaway home” on 1/3rd of an acre right next to my property. They come up from San Francisco on a weekly basis to “Improve” their property with- as far as I know illegal building. The building is less then 15 feet away from my building behind a shabby fence. Who should I call to make sure my and my other neighbor’s property’s are not put in harms way of fire and illegal plumbing- septic run off??? I live in Guerneville California. On Old Cazadero Road. They simply don’t care- and rent their “Getaway” home often but don’t live on the property. I need some help from Homeowner’s views and who should I contact first? I just downloaded a bunch of local phone #’s Senior code enforcement etc. Have any ideas?

home addition tracy - September 24, 2013 Reply

I want to build an addition in my own back-yard and wanted to know how close I could possibly get to a current garage. Thanks!.

Robert - December 19, 2013 Reply

As far as I can tell, the ‘no permit required’ is only for parcels which ALREADY HAVE a ‘home structure’ on the parcel. I wouldn’t try and build a 12′ X 12′ structure on a vacant parcel even if it was properly zoned. And they would definitely get you if you tried to dig a well or septic system :/

Tony Sampson - October 10, 2014 Reply

Have you ever noticed the way professions are regulated? If you take the time to compare the difference, you may find a rather large difference when compared to those who serve in the profession of public law enforcement. Most people have some knowledge of the kind of tools commonly use. They are considered what is called, “tools of the trade”. For those of you who may not know, let this give you an idea: 1) handgun 2) billy club or night stick 3) tear gas, mace or pepper spray 4) tazer or stun gun, etc. They wear these kind of tools cause that’s the kind used by them and members of their trade. They’re prepared and ready to use their tools on people, regardless of size or number. Why? Cause of the way their profession must use force, even deadly force at times. It can be justified at times. Though other kinds of professions are too numerous to name, let’s just pick one so that I can get to the point of comparing what is different. We’ll use the plumber. The tools most commonly used by members of that trade are simply: 1) plumber’s tape 2) sink or toilet plunger and 3) various pipe wrenches. In the State of California, the plumber is required to be regulated by a state agency, Contractor’s State License Board. Also, required to have a license which may be cancelled, suspended, revoked, etc. Now compare the difference of tools used by each trade. One fixes leaky pipes or plugged drains. The other uses physical force and weapons on people. Yet, plumber’s can be stripped of their license; However, members of law enforcement are not required to be “licensed” and in addition, state law specifically forbids cancellation, suspension or revocation of the “certificate” they obtain during the few hours received in training. With a high school diploma and enrolled to get a few hours of training they can walk the beat and police the community. Justification to kill is certain to result from a carefully worded report. They police themselves, the state does not. But that’s not case for the plumber. Nor other professions for that matter. Though our Constitution requires equal treatment, you may discover just how empty those words are if you take the time to really look to see the manner in which your profession is treated when compared to the way members of law enforcement are treated. In California, unequal treatment of the law can be found by comparing another profession to the profession that uses force, even deadly force allowed by law. Wake Up America!!! Since members of public law enforcement are treated unequally to other professions, I can say, “Justice is caught wearing filthy rags in California!”

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Kaysha Turner - July 16, 2015 Reply

Did you guys see the Press Democrat paper today?
Front Page: ‘Size Limit Criticized’

SMH….the County says it’s because of the “increase in permits” they’re seeing. BS

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Elizabeth Bradburn - October 13, 2020 Reply


    Kent Griswold - October 13, 2020 Reply

    Hi E, you will need to check with your own town or county the requirements. Unfortunately, it varies in each location.

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