As a yurt dweller, people often ask me if I can consider my yurt to be a permanent place to live. While the laws aren’t always perfectly clear on this, I thought I would pass I what I know about the status of yurts as permanent structures
Are yurts permanent structures? The majority of the time, yurts are not considered permanent structures, rather they are a temporary structure or a tent. In most areas, yurts with foundations would be classified as a permanent structure.
Since there are a lot of ways to build a yurt, or yurt like structure, you need to get in to a bit more really know if your yurt is a permanent structure or not.
Yurts as Permanent Structures
Yurts are light tent like structures that are commonly made with a wood frame and plastic or canvas outer layer. The original design of yurts (aka ger) was to be strong yet lightweight and portable, to accommodate the nomadic lifestyle of the inhabitants. This original design, even though the year round abode of the inhabitants, is clearly tent by modern standards, as they were erected directly on the ground without any floor or foundation.
More modern yurts have kept the same short round walls and conical roof design of the originals, but they have increasingly incorporated floor decks to provide a comfortable foundation. This can be anything from a simple “raft” of pallets, to a full on insulated deck on pillar foundations.
Yurts on Decks
If the yurt is erected on top of the deck without a permanent connection, then the yurt itself would not be considered part of the deck structure, and thus still temporary. However, the deck itself may be considered a permanent structure if it has a foundation, or if it is connected to another structure. City or county building codes would govern in this situation.
Occasionally, people are also building yurt like structures using standard construction techniques. They may have framed walls, steel walls, or even concrete wall. In this case, since the walls and roof themselves are permanent, and have a foundation on which they are permanently attached, they would be a permanent structure.
Because the International Residential Code, which is the bases for most local building codes in the United States, only requires building permits for structures with 200 sqft or more of floor area, most permanent yurts would not need a building permit. However, that determination falls on to the county building officials in most jurisdictions, so you would need to contact the county building department to determine what paperwork is necessary in your area.
Can I Legally Live in a Yurt All Year Round?
The question of what you can legally do with your land is a complex on, because there are so many laws and red tape. There are certainly many examples of families out there who live or have lived in yurts full time, and have not had any issues with public officials.
Yurts in Rural Areas
Unless you live in a large yurt yurt with a foundation considered to be a permanent structure, your activities in the yurt are probably classified as camping. In most rural areas, there is no law against camping on your own property.
However, it is increasingly common for land to be sold with covenants on the deed which can limit yurt living. Some of them are worded such that you must build a stick frame home if you live on the land. While others may limit camping time, or how long you can keep temporary structures on the lot.
Yurts in the City
In city areas, you are much more likely to have restrictions against yurt living. Many municipalities have laws that limit camping within city limits. There are also many varied forms of neighbor nuisance laws, which could come in to play. Unfortunately, many of these are written so vaguely that almost anything you do that happens to annoy your neighbor could potentially be an offense. So, the only legal way could be to keep the yurt well hidden, or to bring your neighbors pie now and again.
Can I Claim My Yurt as a Permanent Address?
The main difficulty in having an address while living in a yurt is getting the address assigned to the property.
If your yurt is on a piece of land with another residential structure already built there, then the property would have been assigned an address, and you would use that address if you lived in the yurt.
For those of us living on “raw” land, with no other structure, that piece of land generally has not been assigned an address. In many counties, addresses are assigned as part of the building permit process, however, you don’t need to necessarily get a permit or build a permitted structure to get an address assigned to your lot.
Most of the regulations around getting and address have to do with the driveway. Specifically the driveway must approach the road in a safe manner, and be the appropriate size and shape to accommodate emergency vehicles. What exactly this means varies from county to county, but they usually specify a minimum width for the driveway, steepness, angle of the connection of the road, and how much room there must be at the end for a turn around.
Once you have the required driveway in place, in many cases you can apply directly to the office which assigns addresses, the name of which varies quite a bit from place to place. Be aware that it may take a little convincing to get it through the process, since direct applications like this are generally not very common, but usually with a little perseverance, you can get an address assigned to your land without a permanent house in place.
How Long Will a Yurt Last?
It is very common for a yurt to last 20+ years without any major replacements or maintenance required.
How long a yurt lasts depends a lot on the conditions to which it is subjected and the means of construction. Believe it or not, usually the biggest cause of damage to yurts is the Sun, which tend to degrade the exterior layer over time. Keeping you yurt out of direct Sun can increase it’s lifetime significantly.
The most common way for yurts to fail is by leaks developing along the roof seams, or by holes forming in thin spots that have been warn in the fabric.
The structural components of the yurt are typically made of wood, and will last indefinitely so long as they aren’t subjected to excess moisture. Exposed wood supports may need an occasional resealing or wood treatment to keep them in top shape.
Luckily, because of the modular nature of yurt construction, you can most manufactures sell replacement parts, which allows you to extend the life of your yurt forever by replacing warn out parts over time.
Do I need a permit to build a yurt?
No, in most cases you do not need a permit to build a yurt, unless you intent to build it on a permanent foundation. Many counties / cities require a permit to build a permanent deck structure depending on the size.
Can you keep a yurt up all year?
Yurts are designed to be livable structures all year round. They may need to be anchored down in high winds. And heavy snow build up should be avoided, either by removing it or keeping the yurt heated and melting it off.