The Tiny house Blog

Do You Need Permission to Build a Cabin?

Updated on:
June 8, 2023
cornelia tiny home

You’ll need permission to build a cabin if the intended use is for permanent residency. The exception is if the cabin falls under a predefined size and is built for the incidental enjoyment of the main building.

Cabins have grown so much in popularity over the last few years. As a result, many people are interested in building their own cabins to serve different purposes. 

While it's common knowledge you need permission before building a traditional house, it’s sometimes difficult to state whether building a cabin requires one. 

As a potential cabin owner, you must familiarize yourself with laws guiding all constructions before you begin one. This would help you ensure you’re not breaking any law while pursuing your interest in having a cabin. 

This post examines laws guiding the construction of cabins while providing answers to questions you may have as a potential cabin owner. 

Do you need a planning permit to build a cabin? 

Cabins are classified as outbuildings, meaning they don’t need a planning permit provided they meet all conditions within the scope of permitted developments. These conditions determine the size, height, internal dimensions, and distance of the cabin to the boundary of your property.  

A planning permit is a legal document that approves the proposed use of a parcel of land. It is a building permit issued by the local authority to every individual for all construction or remodeling projects on their property. 

To avoid getting a planning permit, your cabin must be within a minimum distance of 2 meters of the boundary of your property. It must also not be used for residential purposes and must be a single-story at the house's side or rear. 

Additionally, the cabin must have a maximum eaves height of 2.5m (8.25ft), with a maximum overall (ridge) height of 4m (13.1ft) carrying a dual-pitched roof. The roof must have a maximum overall (ridge) height of 3m (9.8ft) if it’s flat. 

It must also not be built in a conservation area or used for commercial purposes (except home offices). It must be without a balcony, veranda, or other raised platform. 

if your cabin exceeds these specifications, you’ll likely need a planning permit. You can also check in with the local council to determine the local building codes for your chosen location. 

To begin obtaining a planning permit for your cabin, an application must be submitted to the Local Planning Authority for a decision. In addition to this, you’ll submit supporting documents and pay the required fees. 

Once all necessary documents are submitted, you’ll wait till the planning officer evaluates the application. Once the building permit is granted, you can begin construction.

Can I build a cabin on my property? 

You can build a cabin on your property as a primary residence or accessory dwelling unit. But you must first understand the local land use of the area before you begin construction. Whatever the purpose of building one, it must be done on your own land. 

One of the most exciting facts about cabins is they can be adapted to multiple uses. 

Some complications may arise from building a cabin on another person’s property. Firstly, everything built on the land is attached to the land and, by extension, belongs to the land owner. 

Secondly, whether this is deliberate or not, building on another person’s property is an encroachment. If the property owner finds out, you may pay legal fees and incur other costs of removing the structure. 

While there are other ways to resolve an encroachment, it is better to avoid it. You can do this by checking your property lines and observing building regulations before building a cabin. 

It’s also important to note that if the property is listed, you must obtain permission in advance before building a cabin.

Can I build a cabin in the woods without permission?   

You can build a cabin in the woods if you own a piece of woodland. The cabin would be subject to occasional use solely for forestry work. It is allowed under permitted development, but you must obtain permission from the local planning authority in the area.

The idea of building an off-grid cabin in the woods sounds appealing to so many people. The quiet and serene atmosphere with proximity to nature is desirable. 

If your intention is to use the cabin as a living space, the chances are slim that you’ll get permission to build it. However, you may be allowed to build a beautiful off-grid house and occasionally stay there for up to 28 days a year. 

The rule guiding this is that your reason for staying there must be for seasonal forestry purposes. That is, using the cabin as an overnight shelter while you maintain the woodland. 

Whatever your plans might be for building a cabin in the woods, ensure you seek planning advice before embarking on any construction. You should liaise with the local planning authority to learn about existing and evolving land-use regulations.  

In what circumstances are you allowed to build a cabin without permission

You can build a cabin without permission if the proposed cabin adheres to the standard requirements for buildings exempted from planning permits. These requirements may differ because each state has its own regulations. So it’s advisable to seek professional advice. 

The general rule of thumb is that you can build without permission if your proposed cabin is within permitted development limits. 

In addition, if the cabin is incidental to the major building for enjoyment and recreational purposes, you can build without permission. 

You can be within the scope of permitted development if your cabin is within 100 square footage or less. As mentioned earlier, the log cabin must also be a single-story with a maximum height of 4 meters if you use a dual-pitched roof. 

If a flat roof is used, the maximum height must be 3 meters. 

While you may be invested in constructing the cabin yourself, it’s better to use the services of professionals. They have the right skill and expertise to create the cabin you want. 

All you need to do is to highlight the custom features you desire, and they’ll create them while prioritizing every detail in your description.

Can you live in a cabin permanently?

A cabin can be used as a permanent home if insulated and well-furnished for full-time occupancy. However, you may need to obtain planning permissions, and the cabin must meet all building standards and follow local guidelines.

Cabins are generally used as getaway houses far from the city and away from the rigors of daily routines. Some people even use them for summerhouses and vacation spots for a short period. 

If you’re building in your garden, you may not need planning permission as long as the cabin is within 2 meters of the boundary of your property. If you intend to build the cabin in a remote location, you must first own the land you’re building on. 

After requesting planning permissions, you must also thoroughly assess the location. Since you’ll be living there permanently, you must be sure the location is not prone to flooding and environmental noise will not be a problem.

In addition, you must set up the place with basic amenities, including electricity through a generator or solar panels, fresh water, an internet connection, proper insulation, and lighting, among many others. 

Putting all these in place will offer the cabin a homely feel that’ll make  living there worthwhile. Understanding how to keep your cabin in good shape will help make the house a worthy investment. 

However, you may need a permit before you connect utilities to your cabin to make it livable. Most municipalities prioritize property inspection. That's why they send a building inspector before allowing occupants to connect utilities.

This inspector works as a building code enforcement agent. Their duty is to ensure your building project meets local zoning regulations. You can find them at the county planning department or the local city hall.

If you apply for a permit and are rejected based on the chosen location, your proposed structure, or its visual impact, you may be able to appeal the decision.

What happens if you build a cabin without a permit?  

When you build a cabin without a permit, you could be in trouble. This usually leads to the issuance of cease-and-desist letters, followed by multiple fines and penalties if you fail to obtain the permits.

As a prospective cabin owner, you're advised to get a permit if you plan to live in your cabin and it exceeds the scope of permitted developments. 

In a worst-case scenario, if the cabin doesn’t conform to building codes around the area, you may be required to tear it down. Building a cabin that exceeds permitted development is a risky and ineffective approach you should totally avoid.  

Some other people think building a cabin in a remote area sets them free from obtaining building permits. The reality is that the local authority is now equipped with technological tools that allow them to carry out inspections. 

Should you fail to obey and respond to the local planning authority within a specified time frame, you may be fined and mandated to make adequate modifications that meet the area's building codes. You may also experience issues in selling the cabin without a permit. 

Some states allow you to obtain a retroactive building permit to formalize an unpermitted cabin if you bought an unpermitted existing cabin.

Takeaway: Be aware of the required permit before building your log cabin

Trahan tiny house on wheel
View the Trahan tiny house on wheel

Considering the functions of a cabin, building one is as fascinating as building a regular house. However, you must find out whether the proposed cabin falls within the scope of permitted development. If it doesn’t, you must act accordingly. 

In this case, you must obtain a planning permit from local authorities before any construction commences. This saves you from receiving enforcement notice and consequences accompanying failure to obtain necessary permits. 

Tiny House can provide you with the necessary guidance and information you need to build your cabin based on your demand and in adherence to the regulation of the local authority. 

Find out how much you should spend on a cabin if you desire a great experience.

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