Backyards are the most logical and accessible location to build and live in a tiny house. For a tiny house not on wheels and placed in a backyard, in most cases a permit will be required for a second dwelling, or more likely a dependent persons unit or ‘granny flat’. Many tiny house dwellers, however, are faced with the restrictive rules for dependent persons units, that being the requirement for a dependent person to live in it.
By definition, a dependent persons unit is ‘A movable building on the same lot as an existing dwelling and used to provide accommodation for a person dependent on a resident of the existing dwelling’. This means, that if a permit is required for the use of land for a dependent persons unit the occupant will need to prove that they are in some way (physically, financially, mentally) dependent on the occupants of the main dwelling. This definition suits those wanting to house their teenager, grandparent or dependent in the dependent persons unit, however not so much the majority of tiny house dwellers who have no requirement for support or assistance.
This is not the case in other states of Australia where dependent persons unit are known as ‘secondary dwellings’. In NSW, WA and QLD, a secondary dwelling is code assessed meaning it does not require development approval from council as long as it complies with a set of development standards. As a guide, in NSW these development controls include:
The development of a granny flat can only result in there being one principal dwelling and one secondary dwelling on the site.
The maximum floor area for the granny flat is 60 square metres
The site that the granny flat is to be built upon must be minimum of 450 square metres.
All relevant requirements within the BCA apply
A building height above ground level (existing) of more than 8.5 metres.
A landscaped area of at least 20 per cent, if the lot has an area of at least 450 square metres but not more than 600 square metres
If tiny houses are to become a more accessible housing option, the current restriction on dependent persons units in Victoria needs to be removed. The advantages of an amendment such as this are plentiful. Private landowners could supplement their income by renting a space for a tiny house in their backyard; the disadvantaged and homeless would have access to an affordable housing solution; downsizers could sell the family home and move into a tiny house without having to leave their neighbourhood and local community. Further, underutilised land in the suburbs could be released and tiny house dwellers would have access to existing services and infrastructure in the area. Not only this, backyard tiny houses provide opportunities for urban infill and increased density in the suburbs that are continually expanding and contributing to urban sprawl.
With adherence to proper planning and building controls, the amenity impacts of a tiny house in a backyard are minimal. Neighbours concerns can be dampened with a limit of two dwellings on the lot, standards for setbacks from side and rear boundaries and standards for site coverage and building height. With tiny houses located in backyards, there will be little impact on the appearance of the existing dwelling from the street ensuring that neighbourhood character is maintained.
An amendment to the rules for dependent persons units in Victoria and the introduction of a set of development standards like other states of Australia would see tiny houses become a more accessible housing option. This will afford tiny house dwellers an opportunity to live in a safe and secure environment and to contribute to housing affordability and sustainability in Victoria.
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