Tiny Homes Permission.

Rules, Laws and regulations

Raphael Silvares Jerónimo, from Ecositana, is a professional builder of wooden houses in Portugal. He shares his knowledge on building and permits for Tiny Homes in Portugal. This is part 1 in the series, it is a big topic asked about by many people.

A wooden house needs a permit, just like any other type of house. A regular building permit with a very important «licença de utilização» (given at the end of the project) that allows you to insure the house and potentially sell it one day farther down the road. It doesn’t matter if it’s on wheels or on wooden pillars. Is it a house? Then it needs permit.

Even modular houses need a permit. If you put a house on wheels or use a mobile home, it might be considered «wild camping» and town hall might require you to remove it. Even if it truly serves as temporary housing, the law says temporary cannot go beyond 365 days. And to qualify as temporary, the house cannot have foundations or be connected to public utilities such has electricity, water and sewage. Because, taxes.

The law states very clearly what kind of construction does not need licensing: «construções de escasso impacto urbanístico». Certain types of land – not all, only those specified in each district – can build a small construction, under certain requirements (first building, height, dimension) and usually with a very small interior (between 15m2 to 30m2, tops).

The law is not open for interpretation. There is no loophole in the law regarding this subject. Be careful of promises made by sellers, whether online or in-person. I can tell you I have a house that doesn’t require licensing, but it cannot be true in all cases. Each land is different, size and classification matters, and each district has different requirements. Be smart. The government is not stupid.

What about yurts?

It all depends on dimensions, quantity, and use. If you have a comfortable land size, and want to install only one small Yurt (let’s say 30m2) for your own use or as a guest house, then you will probably be ok (that is not to say you will be legal, which is different). But if you want to install several units to rent or for tourism, you must check the town hall requirements. For instance, Law 128/2014 for alojamento local. But imagine you want a bigger Yurt (let’s say with several divisions) made with clay and a stronger wood structure, it will be considered a construction for habitation. Hence… licensing. Licensing ensures people are protected, have decent electrical and plumbing installations, and a structure that is safe and sound.

Can you make a general statement about the acceptability of modern prefabricated houses to the local authorities? I am thinking of the very modern-looking ones.

They are perfectly acceptable. No questions asked. As long as your construction is legally licensed and that your architecture project is approved by your local Câmara (municipality), you are good to go. They might require a certain exterior aspect depending on where you are building (some areas must respect a certain architecture because of its historical value). But regarding prefabricated house, modern, rustic, or whatever, the Câmara has nothing to say as long as the house respects the law. The problem might be of another level: there are numerous prefab houses on sale that do not respect Portuguese architectural guidelines, such has width of doors and corridors, electrical system standards, etc. So licensing certain prefab houses can become mission impossible.

You mentioned living temporarily on land for up to 365 days. Do you think it’s possible to stay on your own land in a motorhome or camper van while doing a rebuild or would this be considered ‘wild camping’?

I believe it would not be a problem. In our experience, town halls are not unreasonable. If you have a motorhome on your land, to accommodate your family during a rebuild, or to receive friends, even for several years, you would probably have no problems. It is all about being reasonable and to keep the land ordered, clean and within regulations. Imagine on the other hand you put a motorhome on a land that is a protected natural reserve, or a REN/RAN, to use as a house. With lots of structures around it (water reserve, generator, tools, sheds, etc.). You would very probably get fined and ordered to remove it. The 365 days is a law that exists to allow town halls to protect themselves from abusive behaviour. It is there to make sure that ‘temporary’ is different from ‘movable’. A motorhome can move. But it can also stay on the same spot for 10 years. So this law exists to prevent people to interpret the law as best suits them. But no one is measuring time to check if you have been there for 365 or 366 days. Also, when building or exploiting land (for agricultural purposes, for instance), there is the possibility to install structures ‘de apoio’ (to serve as shelter for people and/or tools [depending on the case]). These structures can be as simple as a caravan or as complex as a wooden cabin.

From what you say, it seems you can only only have a concrete base and be connected to services if the building is legal?

You don’t need a concrete base to be legal. You decide what you want. You could go 100% ecological. But you cannot legally build without checking with town hall if what you are doing needs a permit or not. Example: some districts don’t require the licensing of a pool anymore, but they require information. They want the owner to inform them he intends building a pool. And sometimes a small fee (tax) will have to be paid. Inform town hall. Sometimes you get good surprises. Although, regarding concrete (waterproofing of the soil), if it is a foundation, normally they require a permit. Because it will be a permanent building. Again, a lot depends on the size, purpose, location, and so much else.

Raphael produced a YouTube video to explain more:

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Architect Paulo Borges, shares his insights on legal permissions around Tiny Homes

Following on from our Tiny Homes Permission, Part 1. Paulo Borges, a professional architect, from Plataforma – arquitectura, shares his insights on legal permissions around Tiny Homes.

Is there such a thing as ‘non permanent dwelling’ in the Portuguese system?
It’s a difficult question. In the Portuguese system there’s no definition for a non permanent dwelling.
What we have is a definition for camping and a definition for dwellings. Camping is a temporary installation of a portable shelter to be placed outdoors, with the purpose of serving as temporary accommodation. All the other types of accommodations (non portable or permanent) are considered dwellings and they have to fulfil the laws. The difficulty here is to clarify what we can consider to be a non portable shelter or what we consider temporary installation.
Some councils have rules that clarify this question but most of them do not specify this. But basically for the Portuguese common sense, the authorities will consider a portable accommodation as something that you can build and take off in some hours or one day. Also they will consider it a temporary installation if you don’t live there. If you built a kitchen or a bath, this are signs that you live there and it’s not a temporary accommodation, and all types of permanent accommodations are mandatory to be licensed and they have to follow the rules.

For the different types of dwellings should they be described in a certain way/ under certain categories?
If you are camping, there’s no need for a planning application. There’s some rules about were and when you can do camping but you don’t need to apply for planning application to the council. For any other kind of accommodation, you will need to get a building license. In this case you can apply for a private house, a camping site or any other type of tourist project. They all have different rules and restrictions.

Is there a specific type of home where there is more of an issue, i.e. yurt versus caravan?
A caravan is considered as camping. In some councils they have specific rules about were caravans can stay and how many hours a day. The same for yurts but with different rules.

Is there different laws applied to private homes versus tourist projects?
Yes. The laws changes regarding if it’s for a private house or a tourist project. Usually private houses have less restrictions but also a smaller footprint. This depends a lot on the type of land classification.

Is there a restriction for how long a ‘non-permanent dwelling’ can stay?
Some councils have specific rules for camping, but most of them do not specify that.

What are the implications of being in or near a national park?
National parks have specific rules. Some only allow camping on very specific places. Even in private proprieties you may not be able to camp. In this case, if you want to camp on a propriety that is on a National Park, you will need to get a license for a private camping site. This will obey to certain rules and may need the approval of other authorities. The same for any other kind of construction.

Taking all the Tiny Homes names, how would you name them so it was easy for the Municipals?
A house it’s a house. They all need to fulfill the same rules.

Will a Tiny Home always be allowed on an urban article?
Not always. It depends on the restrictions that applies on the urban article.

Is it true that any structure less than 30m2 doesn’t need planning permission?
Not always. It depends on the restrictions that each council applies on “constructions that does need permissions”. Some councils only apply this rule until 10m2 and they need to fulfil other restrictions. Others councils may not have this rule at all.

What is the best way to approach the Camara when asking about planning permission for a Tiny Home?
The best way is to ask first what are the restrictions for constructions that doesn’t need planning permission. If your construction fits in this category, you probably just need to fill a form to inform the council about your project. If it’s a house, even a tiny house, you will need to hire an architect to apply. He will know what’s the restriction for a planning permission.

Is it true that if the structure has no foundations it doesn’t need planning permission?
No. It depends of what you are building and the waterproofed area.