30 Aug 2019

Tiny house owners lobby to secure renters' rights

6:46 pm on 30 August 2019

Some tiny house owners are thinking big when it comes to protecting their tenancies and complying with building regulations.

Damage to the property.

Damage to the property. Photo: Supplied / Sharla May

They have said they were being tripped up by a tricky clause in the Tenancy Act, excluding them from the rights of other renters.

It's the second piece of legislation they would like to see changed as they push for better recognition and fair treatment under the Building Act.

Tiny house owner Sharla May discovered she wasn't covered during a rental situation turned sour on the Kāpiti Coast.

Her converted refrigerator truck sank into the land she rented, so the landowner dug out space for a driveway to stop it happening again. But realising she could not build the driveway on that part of the property, she tried to charge Ms May for filling the hole back in.

"I was happy to pay some but I felt $3500 was a bit excessive... It ended up with her increasing my rent by about $500 a week until it was paid off."

Ms May tried to tow her house away and ended up in a dramatic stand-off with the landowner.

"We ended up with the truck driver there, the police there and [the landowner] refusing to move their vehicle from the driveway which is the only way in and out of the property, to pick up the tiny house.

"Because it's on private land the police couldn't make them move their vehicle to allow access, so they were there for quite a few hours trying to negotiate and get them to see sense and let us remove."

Tenancy expert Scotney Williams, of tenancy.co.nz, said section five of the Tenancy Act exempted mobile homes on bare land.

Landowners charging rent to tiny house owners - and tiny house owners paying rent - could not use the Tenancy Tribunal and had no easy way to resolve disputes.

But under section eight of the Act, he said the landlord and renter could opt into those rights, if they had the foresight to write it into their tenancy agreement.

Ms May spent the two years after her stand-off warning other tiny house owners to do that, and was now turning her attention to possible legislative changes.

She said, ideally, tiny house owners would be automatically included in the Act.

"It's no different to other people in the rental market. You need rules and regulations to protect the renters and to protect the landowners.

"If you don't have legislation in place then you're going to have more issues where people flaunt it and take advantage of the loopholes and exploit people."

Those rules and regulations are something she is working towards with other tiny house owners, who have banded together as the New Zealand Tiny House Association, to share tips and tricks to negotiate muddy legal territory.

They want tiny house owners to be treated fairly and consistently under the Building Act, including a building code that caters for portable houses.

Association spokesperson Nathan Orr said the first step would be defining exactly what constituted a tiny house.

"At the moment it can be anything from a yurt to a caravan to a more conventional looking house, but on wheels. How you actually amend a piece of legislation without that definition I'm not too sure."

Another founding member and tiny house maker, Rebecca Bartlett, had seen her clients operating under the table and sticking to friends and family's properties, amid worries laws put them at risk of prosecution or mistreatment.

"We definitely want to work with councils and government to have a solution for everybody," she said.

The Tiny House Association has its first South Island conference in Christchurch on 19 October. People are invited to discuss issues and possible solutions, as well as ideas on building and living in tiny houses.