Outlaw Building

This anonymous post comes from someone who’s fed up with intrusive government regulations that dictate how you can build on your own property. Disclaimer: We are not advocating breaking the law and are not responsible for anyone acting on the following experience of this outlaw builder. Your project could be tagged with a cease work order, your building condemned and you might have to pay to have it torn down.

“Thanks for the great info on your websites. I’ve been following your sites for a couple years and have learned a lot. I like your YouTube videos that show every step and free articles like Counties with Few Building Codes have been very helpful and gave me the encouragement to build my own home in a remote location.

I did’t want to deal with the whole process of getting a building permit and couldn’t afford all the added costs of building to code anyway. So why bother. It’s my land so I say screw em. But at the same time I realize there are risks involved and you need to take steps to avoid problems. So here’s how I built my home illegally without a building permit.

The first step was getting remote land with a certain amount of natural concealment. That’s the most important thing = no people, no problems. Hide it good enough and no one will notice. And if no one notices everything is fine. Scout out areas far from cities with irregular terrain and plenty of vegetation. This will make it much easier to hide your home. Choose a location close enough for convenient access, but far enough from roads and trails that no one will likely stumble across it accidentally. Plan for small south windows, water (small stream, spring, water catchment) and total concealment. Learn to live simply off grid.

Build small so if your home is discovered then you’re not out much. If I get busted I’ll do the same thing again somewhere else and be even more carefully next time. My place is about 8’x13’ on the inside. There is no house plan. It’s just a little area between large rocks. Earthbags filled with soil from the area form walls between bolders. Get creative – use soil you dig up for hidden caches, leveling the floor and outhouse. Earthbags are bullet proof and easy to work with. The roof is made with small trees cut from a place not too far away and covered with boards cut from shipping pallets, several layers of plastic and cardboard to prevent holes in the plastic. The roof is covered with a few inches of dirt and chunks of grass that I “borrowed” a little here and there from nature. There are several freebie windows on the south. Gotta have windows in a small house or you’ll go crazy. I cook in a small shelter next to the main living area to keep smoke out of my cabin. I keep my firewood nearby covered with a green army poncho. And remember what I said about concealment. Everything was covered the whole time during construction with army surplus camouflage net. Add some brush and clumps of dry grass to make it look more natural. This keeps my place nearly invisible. And the best part is no rent. The land was paid off in two years. Remote land with no power lines is often very cheap.”

13 thoughts on “Outlaw Building”

  1. Just keep in mind a few things:

    1. there’s a big problem of people growing drugs in forests and parks, and usually have tiny camps in the area. if you build something improvised like that, don’t be surprised by visitors no matter how remote the area.

    2. to deal with the problem mentioned, agencies have been using planes and helicopters to inspect forests and remote locations, and have nightvision and thermal imaging, so again hidden or not, it’s visible.

    3. just about every state agency is broke or going broke. they’re looking for any excuse to fine people, so if you do anything like fix a deck without a permit, you get a big fine (actual example from neighbor)

    I would say the safest financially speaking is something with wheels. If it’s not a mobile home, it’s a trailer and that’s a ‘car’ not a ‘house’ so you can always move it and it’s not permanent. In terms of earthbag structures, it’s hardly the cost that’s a problem, relatively speaking it’s almost free, but it’s the labor involved that’s the real investment. If i spent a long time building something up, I’d make sure a 3 minute visit from an inspector won’t result in a fine or tearing down the entire thing.

    • Good points. Thanks for sharing. Mobile housing is one of the best options for this type of situation. But then again you’re faced with getting a vehicle and driver’s license, buying gas, insurance, registration, vehicle maintenance and so on. Being totally broke puts people in very difficult situations. And in this economy many of us could fall into this category due to illness and/or loss of job.

  2. It just pays off in the long run to “try to do the right thing… even if it feels wrong.”

    I also write a blog on “family survival” that lives EXACTLY in the mindset that some like Richard present.

    Times ARE getting hard.

    Things ARE getting worse, despite the media’s attempt to recolor them.

    More and more people are facing really hard decisions.

    What scares me more than anything is that the farther from the mainstream you go, the more “outlaw” you become, the more potential there is for harm.

    It becomes a question of “manageable risks”. How much sleep do you want to lose?

    You can lose your land or your structures. It’s still the loss of an investment, be it dinero or labor. It’s still the loss of your shelter. It happens all the time.

    And from the authorities point of view; “It’s far easier to tear down your home than deal with a maverick/outlaw builder/squatter/troublemaker”.

    That’s exact quotes from both a marshal and a head planning and zoning guy, by the way.


    If you’re so “low-impact” that no-one knows where you are… no-one will know when the other “outlaws” (the “real” ones”) come calling to steal your stuff or do you harm.

    Guys like Owen are the front line in helping people discover viable alternatives to putting themselves and their families at greater risk. And he teaches them to do correctly and safely, on the strengths of their conviction and their shoulders. Good on him!

    Heck, if he slipped a shipping container in here or there… we’d probably adopt him… ;)

  3. For our place, we’re planning on taking the “accessory structure” approach Richard mentions above – and which I first read about in one of the classic Ken Kern books. We’ll probably be forced to do at least a minimal “official” residence that meets code, has the government mandated # of windows in each room, has a septic system we’ll never use (we intend to compost instead), etc. Once that is done, everything else will be “outbuildings” that happen to connect to the “residence” via breezeways or somesuch thing.

    Trying to go totally outlaw is just not an option for us, as our land is too far from our current home, and our time too limited – we have little choice but to have some things (major tree clearing, pond excavation, etc.) done by hired help, which makes it impossible to stay under the radar.


  4. BTW, when I was having a conversation with a County Zoning official, he did not even know where my subdivision was. He had never been there, and i doubt he could have found it on a map.

    I have faith that I won’t see dudes falling out of choppers to stop me from digging a hole.

    Because this hole will be dug.

    • There’s probably a million people in the US doing something similar. Spend enough time in remote areas and you start to see all kinds of stuff — people living in trucks, vans, campers, long term tent living, lean-tos, likely illegal immigrants on the move near the border, etc.

      The economy is busting apart. What can people do? Did you read about the homeless camp near Disney World in Florida? Lots of people are living in the woods because they can’t afford rent. And things may get worse before (if) they get better.

  5. That is exactly what I am doing, too. I found out in some areas they can actually fine you or take the land for building without a permit.

    There is some debate about the building codes (statutes) not overruling state constitutions. If they tried taking the land I would press that point.

    The way I see around the matter is to build each room separately (small cabins), and claim them to be “accessory structures”, and not put in a septic system. The septic is what they are freaks about. Some rules on accessory buildings vary, but most times it is 120-170 square foot limit, no 110v permanent power, and the buildings have to be 10 feet apart.

    I think with the problems that local governments are facing, some lone builder making a cabin in the middle of nowhere is not a concern. That is what I hope, anyway.

    Post your experience when you build! I will be building this summer, and I will let you know if I have issues with anyone. I think if they come out at all, it would be a curious sheriff…not someone who would know what to look for like an inspector.

    • Living in a structure under the minimum required size can still get you in trouble because it’s inhabited.

      The sheriff may not know all the building codes, but they work for the same system as building officials and will likely report any suspicious building activity. Same goes for mail carriers, game wardens, power company workers, etc. I’ve been told they are all to report suspicious activity. You could be a criminal in hiding, building a meth lab, growing weed or even a turrerist. If you do something like this it has to be totally concealed 24/7. They even have spotter planes for DEA, immigration, etc. all out the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

      • When I read things like this, there are times when I wonder what country I’m living in. DEA spotter planes? Mail carries and utility workers enlisted as snitches? Government forcing you to tear down your own house? Good god, what’s happened here?

  6. Owen,

    I get the same thing on my blog, which assists people in building structures using Corten Steel Shipping Containers.

    I call it “Fallback Fundamentalism”.

    While it’s a great example of building “in the wilds”… it doesn’t really bear the test of scrutiny in the mainstream.

    We’ll have to go back and forth, aiding those who might discover our “nest.” The truck or SUV will certainly leave tracks. We can’t use anything like wind turbines or photovoltaic panels… or even generators, for fear them may draw attention. For that matter, even a fire will have to be carefully regulated.

    I’ll also point out that even remote properties are patrolled by air, nowadays. Sooner or later a helicopter or spotter aircraft will see you and GPS your location.

    And then, you’re gonna get a visit. Worse than that, it’s gonna be authorities like the ATF or DEA, thinking that it’s someone with something to hide.

    Drama, drama, drama…

    Do yourself a favor. Pay for the permits. Do the minimum if you have to, but keep it real.

    You’ll sleep better.

    • It’s high risk for sure. And I imagine the DEA won’t come a knockin’ during business hours. More like 3 a.m. raid.

      A safer option is to buy a place with an existing crap trailer house on it, preferably with well, septic and power in place. Then you could build the outbuildings you’re discussing and attract way less attention (and likely get away with it). There are countless places like this at reasonable cost.

      But my gripe is what do people do who have practically no money?

    • Well, some of us don’t have the spare change to pay outrageous fees and “permits”, or the tens of thousands for a septic and well. Are you kidding?

      I’m not a meth cooker, and they can visit if they want to. I’ll give them a tour and a cup of coffee. Law says I can make it, and live in it for 1/3 of the year without paying a dime. I will push that as far as it will go.

      Yay liberty. Find the loopholes for pretend freedom.


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