Less is more for tiny houses

Tiny houses don’t necessarily come with a tiny price tag.

Less is more. Unfortunately, in the tiny house’ market in Wanaka, this motto can be taken literally. If a tiny size is matched with tiny prices, the Wānaka tiny house community is an exception. 

Tiny Houses are a recent movement towards a more sustainable future for those who are looking to both reduce their environmental footprint and save on endless mortgage repayments throughout their life. The idea behind this architectural revolution consists of encouraging density in otherwise unaffordable areas. Nevertheless, the main challenge for tiny house owners in Wānaka involves finding a compromise in regards to comfort when seeking greater affordability, which currently isn’t an option. 

Whether tiny homes are an affordable alternative to traditional homeownership depends largely on an individual’s ability to access low-interest financing to purchase them. However, this is not the only issues faced; a common problem associated with tiny homes is where to put them. 

Rebecca Pitts from Queenstown Lakes District Council said “There haven't been any consent applications specifically for tiny homes recently. However, under our District Plan, there is nothing that differentiates a tiny home from any other home, both are considered residential units”. The contradiction is further confused by the view of banks, seeing them in the same light as cars as opposed to local government seeing them as buildings. Like a car, tiny homes are a depreciating asset, because they don’t grow in value like traditional homes, in large part because they are often not attached to the land, which is the most valuable resource in the cities. 

The question remains: are tiny homes all that affordable? It’s almost like buying an old car, financially it doesn’t make sense. “Every council is different. Most tiny houses I know of are under the radar and being tolerated, as long as no one complains to the council, then they tell you to move or get building consent” a representative from the Wānaka Tiny house community commented. 

People keen to buy tiny homes to avoid the material accumulation of things for something sparser and more focused on experiences rather than possessions might fall into an expensive rabbit hole of compliance caused by a contentious municipal regulation. “Tiny houses are subject to building regulations and district plan regulations, as well as a range of other policies including development contributions, airport noise regulations and rubbish and recycling services. A key trigger distinguishing whether a residential building, such as a tiny house, is subject to rules on residential units is whether the house contains a separate kitchen and stove. This allows it to operate as a standalone dwelling. Several residential zones now allow a small residential unit — which could include tiny houses — to be added as a permitted activity. This allows for gentle intensification in most residential areas. Residential buildings require resource consent in most rural zones because of the overriding importance of protecting the district’s rural landscapes. Even in the higher density zones, which don’t limit the density of dwellings, parking standards and development contributions still apply to tiny houses” explained Jack Barlow from QLDC. 

For now, there is no specific solution in the pipeline to enable tiny house owners to pay proportional tiny council costs.


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