Can You Live Legally in a Yurt in California?

I worry that by writing this post I am signing myself up to write the next 49 logical posts for each state. Maybe I will—or maybe it’s a Sufjan Stevens situation. We’ll have to see.

California specifically came to my attention because someone commented on one of our Facebook posts, lamenting that certain restrictions in California prevent legal full-time residence in a yurt.

So I got curious, figuring that the situation on the ground is probably a bit nuanced. For instance, in Vermont you can live legally in a yurt full time, but you have to have a septic system—otherwise you have to classify it as a “camp,” like a hunting cabin, and can’t be there year round.

Also, the state of California gives us the most readers of any other state, so I figured I’d return the favor.

Here’s the short answer to the issue of full-time yurt living in California: in theory it depends on the county, and in reality it depends on the local building officials. Some people have had success and others haven’t. You’ll need to do your research but yes, it is possible.

From a 2001 article on SFGate.com:

A number of California counties, including Napa and Mendocino, and cities such as Los Gatos and Eureka, have granted permits on yurts for a range of uses, including housing. In Marin, yurts are permitted as non-habitable structures only. However, in every county and state, decisions are made individually, and outcomes vary.

It’s worth noting that the article is nearly two decades old—a lot has changed in the perception of yurts, and even just the level of familiarity with yurts.

But in Encinitas back in 2011, two yurts were required to be taken down because “yurts do not comply with state safety codes because they are unable to contain a fire within their walls.” And these yurts were for businesses (yoga, of course), not residences.

On the other side of the coin, there is often a gap between building codes and actual code enforcement. (This forum thread, for instance, notes that Del Norte County “has virtually no code enforcement.”)

And many rural areas have a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” ethic, which is the case in our community in Vermont.

It’s also worth noting that some counties in the U.S. have no building codes at all. I am currently unsure whether any such counties exist within California, but it’s just to say that deeper research county by county might bear out some possibilities.

When you do get in touch with the building department and start speaking with building officials, you should also know which questions to ask. There is a super helpful article on this over at YurtInfo.org. Here’s an excerpt:

Which set of code regulations is the department using? Are they using the 2003 or 2006 ICC (International Code Council) codes, or are they still using the UBC (Uniform Building Code)? The two ICC rulebooks are: the residential IRC (International Residential Code) and the commercial IBC (International Building Code). The IBC is more comprehensive than the IRC and supersedes the IRC in the case of conflict.

What are the local planning regulations (these vary per jurisdiction).

What are the specific local requirements for snow load, seismic rating, and wind speed? Are there any other special requirements?

What are the fire-rating requirements (for the insulation and outer fabric)?

The bottom line is this: building codes might be a bit more strict in California, but if you do your research it’s highly likely you can find a location in the state to build your yurt and live there legally. Or at least out of sight and legally enough :) There was at least one person doing it in Fairfax way back in 2001, and more recently there’s this couple:

Is this useful? What do we need to add? Drop a line: thatyurt at gmail dot com