Temporary living off-grid on vacant land in a big city

I’m looking into purchasing a vacant spot of land and building myself a house on it. During construction, I would be living on that same land in a temporary structure without running water or electricity. What sorts of permits/regulations should I expect with such a plan? What parts of the city government should I be concerned about? I’m confident that I can handle the logistics of living off-grid for six months–my concern is the legal aspect.

FWIW, this is in Oakland, CA.

umm…we need more details. Lots of 'em.
Why no water or electicity? How are you planning to build? No power tools, no concrete, etc?

Every construction site needs electricity (for the power tools), and water (for curing concrete,etc) not to mention just cleaning things up at the end of the day. I have no idea how the legal side works in your city*, but if you live in a trailer on-site, you’re going to have access to water and electricity.
And you’re going to receive regular visits from the municipal building inspectors-- who have a lot in common with IRS agents…you don’t want to piss them off…
*(and the place to ask is at the local municipal engineering dept, not an international messsage board)

Even if you have power tools that operate on battery, you’re likely going to need water. You’re also going to deal with charging said batteries, pretty often. I’ve only used them for little jobs, but in my experience, those batteries don’t last long at all.

Good luck. Better would be to buy the land and drop a construction box. It is like a modified shipping container with electrical outlets and lights. Run a generator outside. But you are going to need a construction permit, so where do you plan on telling them your permanent address is?

Oh, I just saw Oakland, CA.
I think a better idea for you is to rent a storage container at the Port of Oakland and live in there.
Ugh…that sounds so grim.

I don’t think a generator is necessary. If utility power is available (and I’m sure it’s available in Oakland, California), an electrician can set up temporary power, metered and with a breaker box, wired right into the utility pole. (This would of course be with the cooperation of the utility company, which is quite used to such things.)

Yes you can but it’s a hassle. You have to set up these temporary poles, that’s one company, then you have to call PG&E to hook you up. They will want to see the permits and it takes at least two weeks to get it turned on.


I think you’ve got two choices:

  1. Go to the City building department, the same place you get your building permits, and ask them if it’s OK. I’d avoid making it sound like you’re livingg in a building that doesn’t have an occupancy permit, and stress that you’re camping nearby but not in the building. I bet a camper or other vehicle would be even more acceptable. The building department might also refer you to the Health department or somewhere else. I don’t have huge hopes – the City may well prohibit camping anywhere – but you might be able to work something out, if you can convince the City that you’re responsible, and financially secure enough to actually complete the building, with some good reason for not living anywhere else during construction.

  2. Don’t ask. In this case, I’d work hard to avoid any signs of semi-permanent camping, so you could plausibly claim you just crashed there for a night or two during a stretch of long work days. Remember, there will be building inspectors, etc. coming by the construction site all the time, so somebody will notice eventually. They might be cool with some unofficial guerilla camping on a one-time basis, but could be upset about semi-permanent residency.

Wouldn’t tying into the grid be contrary to what the OP is trying to achieve? :confused:

It sounded like the OP was unaware that temporary power is possible during construction, so I wanted to let him/her know of the option. Plus, as chappachula said, doing any kind of construction without power tools is going to be difficult.

The way I read the OP was that possibly he was trying to avoid being detected by a Terminator and needed to be offline while he prepared his shelter for the upcoming apocalypse. :smiley: After all, the Govenator is tooling up.

yeah depends on what.

you may require an occupancy permit, requires adhering to building codes, in a fixed structure. the length of time you will be allowed to live in an unfixed structure will vary.

you can get electricity for construction easily. you will need an account with the utility and an electrical permit (often good for a year or half a year of construction) and a temporary construction set up made by an electrician.

you don’t need water for construction, that is brought in as needed, and might not get it without a fixed structure (at least without significant extra cost and effort).

In my city, without access to water, and provision for human waste, no permit to live will be issued whatever shape or size or material your temporary residence constructed from.

Wishing you good luck!

Once the house is framed and roofed it would be possible to sleep there. Don’t make it look obviously permanent. A sleeping bag and a foam mattress can quickly be put away. Be very careful with personal items or trash. Keep the site neat and professional.

I’ve heard of people using a tent on a construction site. The problem is locking up tools and building material.

Electricity is a must. You need it to work after dark and for site security. People will steal building materials and tools if given the opportunity.

Since this is a city lot. Be careful of irritating neighbors with noisy late night work. Nail guns and power saws can piss people off after 10pm and they may call the cops. I’d wait until 7:45 in the morning before starting the morning making noise.

Probably not going to happen.

Several things:

[li]Are you a licensed contractor? - If not, then you are not going to build your own home in California,especially inside of a major city.[/li][li]Are you a relative or very close friend of the contractor? - If not, their liability insurance almost certainly will not cover anyone living at the building site during construction. Not relatives or friends get passes from insurance companies. They do, however, get passes from relatives or close friends.[/li][li]**Is this in an upscale area of Oakland,especially the Foothills? **- Not going to happen as the residents of a nicer area would have numerous issues witha person living on the site of an unfinished home. Calling the police and building department style issues.[/li][li]Oakland, like most major cities, has a noise ordinance - That means after a certain time and before a certain time there would be no running a generator.[/li][li]What’s your plan for changes in the weather or delays in construction? - Building a home,especially in California, isn’t an Amish barn raising. It could take weeks or months to complete and it still needs to be thoroughly inspected before it could be inhabited. If it fails its first inspection, it will have to repaired until it is possible for it to pass an inspection and it can’t be inhabited will this occurs. Also, it does rain in California, sometimes to excess, which often leads to flooding. What then?[/li][/ol]

With deference OP, while seem you seem to have worked out the broad strokes of this matter, you are having some issues with the finer details.

Oakland,California is a major American city. Constructing a dwelling in that city is a major financial and logistical undertaking, which requires multiple levels of approval and insurance to complete. One does not simply build a house while they are living there anymore as this isn’t the 19th century. Not trying to sound like a dick; I’m certain the public official who you propose this to will do much better job of that than I can.

You need to find a nearby apartment or extended stay motel/hotel and plan on staying there while your home is being constructed. If you cannot afford to do that, then it’s probable that you really cannot afford to build a home at this time.

The reason for off-grid: I don’t have any romantic ideas of living off-grid. The grid is damned convenient. But this is raw land with no water, sewer, or electrical hookups installed. The water line will need to be dug out and electrical wiring run. I’m working on a worst-case assumption that these hookups will be installed after the major groundwork is completed.

Electricity, and tool storage: Generators to run electricity. The final plans include a locking tool shed, which will be the first thing I construct. I have somewhere else to store my leftover personal belongings. This is a shitty part of Oakland–theft is definitely on my mind.

Thanks for the information on temporary electrical poles, everyone. I will consider them.

This does not appear to be true. http://www.cslb.ca.gov/BuildingOfficials/OwnerBuilderOverview.asp

It’s Oakland West. A nicer part of Oakland west, but still not a super great area. There are dilapidated houses everywhere. I doubt I would be a concern if I just introduced myself to my neighbors. I’ll just leave this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HT3ttFhps9g

Absolutely. I need to be sure I can accomplish what I want legally before digging too deep. Thanks for all the help, everyone. Keep it coming.

I think that a generator is a noisy, expensive way to generate electricity for construction. If you can get a temporary power pole installed, I’ll bet that will be cheaper.

the temporary power pole can just be a 4x4 with an electric meter and breakers, this is likely allowed for the duration of your construction permit. it’s routine and part of your total package with an electrical contractor.

You may wish to consult Oakland’s municipal code which seems to address this particular situation especially Section 15.08.150. I have been a contractor in the past and I have never seen an urban area which will allow residence during construction of a dwelling.

Rural and suburban areas,perhaps. Never cities

Then you’ll run into issues with site material theft and a host of other problems (squatters,the police,etc). Oakland has had a number of issues for many decades and those don’t seem have abated in recent years.

Unless you have built a home on your own in the past and you know of someone who has done what you are planning on doing in the area where you plan on doing this, then you really want to give this idea very careful consideration.