Wisconsin Tiny House Laws

Tiny houses are hard to come by in Wisconsin and will usually have to be constructed as secondary dwellings on the lot of an existing primary dwelling.
Written by Andrew Biro
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
When it comes to tiny houses, the state of
makes it fairly difficult for homeowners wanting to go minimal or downsize. You’ll find that tiny home laws and regulations vary from county to county, with even the most populous cities only allowing tiny homes to be built as accessory dwellings on the lots of primary residences.
With rent prices and housing costs rising across the country, tiny homes have become more and more desirable over the last few years. Unfortunately, Wisconsin has been slow to adopt laws and regulations that accommodate the construction of tiny houses, making it difficult for prospective tiny house owners to build their dream homes.
Navigating the tangled mess of Wisconsin’s tiny house laws is no easy feat. That’s why licensed home and
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This is a tricky question, and tiny house regulations will invariably vary depending on the town, city, or county you’re in. For the most part, however, Wisconsin state law makes it difficult for prospective tiny-house owners to build tiny houses, especially as standalone structures on permanent foundations. Many zoning codes actively prohibit them.
Building codes and zoning laws are often in flux, so it’s important to be thorough when checking the legality of building a tiny home regardless of where you live in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin cities that allow tiny houses

Only one county, Dane County, has clear stipulations regarding the legality of tiny homes, permitting them only in the form of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) of no more than 150 square feet. 
Madison, WI—a city in Dane County—also allows “portable shelters,” or tiny houses on wheels that are at or under 150 square feet.
Laws and regulations for other cities are less clear, so you’ll have to check with city and county planning or zoning offices for more concrete details. Cities like Marshfield, WI may not have clear laws regarding tiny houses, but may still allow them due to having no minimum square footage requirement.
Key Takeaway Wisconsin is not a very tiny-house friendly state and many cities either do not allow or do not have clear laws pertaining to the construction of tiny homes. If you are set on building your tiny home in Wisconsin, make sure you do your research.

What kinds of tiny houses are permitted in Wisconsin?

While tiny house type primarily depends on your local zoning laws, the most easily permitted tiny home option is an accessory dwelling unit (ADU)—these are accessory structures less than 150 square feet in size, with at least one habitable room. They must be built on the same lot as a primary dwelling and can either be attached or detached from said dwelling.

What does a tiny house need to be up to Wisconsin building codes?

If you’re trying to build an ADU in Dane County, you’ll have to make sure it adheres to the following regulations:
  • Can be no larger than 800 square feet and functions as a secondary residence located on the same lot as a primary residence
  • Cannot be smaller than 120 square feet
  • Must have their own entrances separate from that of the primary residence (if the structure is attached).
  • Cannot contain more than two bedrooms
  • Must meet residential sanitary and building codes
  • ADU lots must comply with the zoning district’s minimal dimension requirements and have room for off-street parking so as not to block the road or hinder traffic in any way

What about tiny houses on wheels?

The city of Madison, WI allows tiny houses on wheels as long as they are under 150 square feet, considering them to be “portable shelters.” Some counties may allow larger portable shelters, but regulations may differ, so it’s best to inquire as to the specific local laws for yourself.

Where can I park my tiny house in Wisconsin?

If you have a tiny house on wheels in Wisconsin, you should be able to park it in an RV park, though each park may have different restrictions and rules for you to abide by. The same will usually apply to state parks, campsites, and other public recreational areas.
If you have friends, family, or know someone with a house in Wisconsin, there’s also the possibility of parking your THOW in someone’s backyard, sort of in the same way ADUs are set up.
Key Takeaway Many cities in Wisconsin do not allow tiny houses on wheels in certain zoning districts, but may have more lenient stances when it comes to parking THOWs in campsites or RV parks. Check with your local zoning authority to make sure you are in compliance with the law.

How to build a tiny house in Wisconsin

If you’ve decided to construct a tiny home in Wisconsin, follow this checklist to make sure you’re in compliance with state and local laws: 
  • Decide on the type of tiny house you want. You won’t have too many options in Wisconsin, so your choices are more or less limited to THOWs and ADUs, though standalone single-family dwellings are possible (but also a lot rarer).
  • Research your local zoning laws and building codes. These may not always be available online, so check your local library for potential resources that outline what your legal building requirements are. If you’re still unsure, call or visit your local zoning or permit/planning office.
  • Find a tiny house building company. Northern Tiny Living and Wisconsin Tiny Homes are two Wisconsin-based companies that specialize in tiny house construction and design. Most tiny house companies will be able to offer assistance in navigating local laws and regulations.
  • Settle in the right place for your tiny house. In most cases, and especially for ADUs, this will be in someone's backyard.
  • Add your ADU to your existing homeowners policy. If you’ve decided to build an ADU, be sure to add it to your homeowners policy—either as an attached or detached structure—to ensure that it is protected from named perils.

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As is the case with most states, needing a permit for a tiny house depends on the type of tiny house. Per their movable nature, “portable shelters” do not require a permit, but you may have to obtain a permit to build an accessory dwelling unit, either as an attached or detached structure. If you’re lucky enough to be allowed to build a tiny house separately on its own plot of hand, you will definitely require a permit before construction begins.
By law, tiny houses in Wisconsin must be a minimum of 120 square feet and contain at least one room considered “habitable.” Depending on where you live—what city or what county—and the building codes they have set, the minimum square footage requirement may be higher, closer to 150 or 200 square foot.
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