Small Cabin Picture

Small Cabin Building Permit - Do You Need One?

Small Cabin Wooded Property Picture Many municipalities will allow you to construct a structure (small cabin, shed, veranda, gazebo, etc.) under a certain size without requiring a construction/building permit. The typical size limit is 100 sq. feet (or 10 sq. meters = 107.639104 sq. feet).
In other words, if your cabin is 100 sq. ft. or less, you generally don't need a building permit.

For waterfront properties, some municipalities have specific regulations regarding structures built close to the water - for example, a minimum required distance between your cabin structure and a "high water mark".

There could be other restrictions if your area is considered to be environmentally sensitive.

Usually there is a minimum distance required between your structure and the property edge.

It is important to check your local municipality's regulations and clarify the exact requirements in your particular area. In many municipalities/townships all cabins need zoning approval.

Keep in mind that it is almost certain your property taxes will be raised if you apply for a building permit and construct your cabin accordingly. You may also be required to build a larger cabin structure than you may need for your recreational purposes.
Utility hookups will be required as well, leading to another set of monthly bills.

The bottom line: You need to decide between two options: stay within no-permit limits (if this is an option, up to 100 sq. ft. cabin in most cases), or go for the permit and build a larger, more expensive cabin.

Your choice will depend on your intended use of the property, personal preferences, and municipal regulatory requirements.

Here are some building permit-related summary points to consider:

CriteriaNo Permit RouteWith Permit Route
Initial construction costs - materials, labor, paperworkLowHigh
Ongoing costs - property taxes, utility bills, etc.LowHigh, paying for services used occasionally
Flexibility in cabin sizeLimitedNot limited
Requires professional help (i.e. certified workmanship - electrician, plumber, etc.)No (optional)Yes
Reasonable undertaking to build cabin on your ownYes (generally)No
Off-grid option vs. utility hookupYour choiceFull hookup required in most cases

Also keep in mind that even if you don't get a permit to build your small cabin, some areas will still require the power company to obtain a permit from a building inspector in order to turn the power on when connecting to your small cabin. For example, your phone, commercial electricity, and gas lines must be inspected.

Many Small Cabin Forum members shared their experiences with building permits.


I have chosen a "no permit required" route.

If you decide to go the no-permit route, the use of your property should be stated as occasional recreational (it's a section in some legal papers).

Two other points:

  1. Later you can construct multiple smaller size structures to provide a more pleasant homelike recreational environment.
    (Keep in mind that there is probably a minimum space requirement between structures for them to be considered separate).
    See later section on choice of Other / Auxiliary Cabin Structures.
  2. Consider building your small cabin in a manner and in a location where, if you later decide to extend the structure, your existing cabin will become a natural part of the new, larger structure.
    For example, the small cabin you built first will become a bedroom in a larger cabin or cottage.