Movable vehicle is not a building: Victory for tiny homes in a landmark case
A tiny homeowner in North Canterbury has won his landmark court battle and says the judge’s clear decision should help many others living small.
Alan Dall said it had been an incredibly stressful 16 months since the Hurunui District Council ordered his tiny home be demolished or comply with the Building Act.
He had applied for a determination from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to determine his caravan was not a building, but it sided with the council.
He appealed MBIE’s decision and finally got his day in court on Tuesday. By Thursday, he was celebrating the judge’s decision – that his home is indeed a vehicle.
“It’s great news – it definitely will help others because it puts clarity on what you can and can’t do,” Dall said.
“I’ve been in limbo, the Notice to Fix [ordered by the council] meant I couldn’t do up the outside.”
Dall said the hold-up had left his caravan looking like “an ugly brown box”.
Now he could carry on and put cladding on the exterior, make it an attractive dwelling, and live happily, he said.
Dall, who moved to New Zealand from Scotland 15 years ago, lives off the grid, generating his own solar and wind power.
He lives in a self-built caravan on his section at Amberley Beach.
The structure measures 8.1 metres by 3.1m and 4.2m, is not connected to any services, can be towed away with 30 minutes notice, and is registered and warranted as a vehicle.
However, following a complaint from a neighbour in 2018, the council told him the caravan needed to comply as a building and issued him with the Notice to Fix.
While MBIE upheld the council’s view, this week Christchurch District Court Judge Mark Callaghan deemed Dall’s tiny home was a vehicle after all.
The judge was satisfied the structure was a vehicle because it was registered and warranted, and was not immoveable.
A building can only be deemed such if it is immoveable and permanently occupied.
Judge Callaghan concluded MBIE had erred in its decision.
Tiny home fabricator Colin Wightman, who has been supporting Dall and other tiny homeowners, said the result was huge.
“This decision will put probably 100,000 people at rest.”
Wightman is leading a hikoi of mobile and tiny homes to the steps of Parliament in March, hoping to put pressure on Government to provide adequate legislation for tiny homes.
For families like Charlotte Murray and her two children who live in a bus in Selwyn, it is a huge weight off their shoulders.
Council staff claimed her bus was a building, but her mind had been put at ease by Dall’s outcome.
“No longer can they say a tiny house is a building purely because it is lived in fulltime.
“I feel really safe now, there is no way the council has a leg to stand on.”
However, the ruling is unlikely to help everyone claiming their house is a vehicle.
Last month, another well-publicised case in Upper Hutt ended in eviction for owner Jono Voss, who was forced into emergency accommodation.
While Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer said the Hutt City Council had “mucked up” in its dealings with Voss, he found Voss’ contention that his tiny house was a vehicle was “a flight of imagination”.
While Dall’s caravan can be easily moved, Voss had not yet fixed the axel and wheels to his structure, and could not easily move it from its current location – a friend’s garden.
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