Tiny House Consumer Information – Buyer Beware!
There are NO Tiny House building standards in Australia.
- Tiny houses on wheels (THOW) are both vehicles and buildings.
- While there are Australian Standards (AS) for building trailers, there are NO Australian standards for building the house part of a tiny house on wheels.
- The Building Code of Australia (BCA) is an inadequate standard to apply to tiny house vehicles.
- Too many commercially made tiny house trailers do not follow Approved Vehicle Examiner recommendations.
Tiny Houses on Wheels construction methods are NOT regulated by the Building Code of Australia (BCA).
This may be surprising, because we talk about them as tiny houses, yet because they are built on trailers they are not considered buildings, so the Code doesn’t apply.
This is a problem for three reasons:
1: Tiny houses on wheels might be made to a lesser standard than Code, not meeting strength requirements for a normal building.
2: Even if tiny houses on wheels did meet the BCA standards, they would not be safe vehicles, because the BCA is designed as a minimum standard for buildings on foundations, whereas a tiny house on wheels is a vehicle that needs to withstand extremely high winds and long periods of vibration. So even meeting the BCA would be inadequate for a tiny house vehicle.
3: There are NO government standards for how a tiny house vehicle is best constructed, including and most importantly how the trailer and house frame are connected. Amazing but true.
Legal recourse for buying a bad tiny house on wheels:
The only legal recourse you have as a consumer if you buy a tiny house that falls apart is the Australian Consumer Law.
The Australian Consumer Law states that: “Under the Australian Consumer Law, certain consumer guarantees apply automatically, including that a product must be reasonably fit for any purpose specified by the customer and agreed by the seller.”
Which means that if you buy a tiny house on wheels that falls apart during transport, you may be able to get your money back from the seller if you take them to court.
But that means that you’ve wasted, time, money, emotional investment, materials and stress on something that amounts to nothing. Or worse, on something that could cause a serious road accident.
While there is recourse, there is no prevention.
There are no regulations to stop the tiny house on wheels from being built unfit-for-purpose and sold to you. The onus is on you, the consumer, to make sure that the tiny house on wheels is built to a standard that you are happy with.
This case servers as a cautionary tale for tiny house buyers and illustrates that even though someone says they can build a tiny house vehicle, that does not mean they know what they are doing.
Fortunately Australian Consumer Law helped this tiny house buyer get out from under a tiny house vehicle not fit for purpose and yet she still didn’t get the tiny house she wanted. What a hassle. Read more here: (Haasz v Hankinson (Civil Claims)  VCAT 1507 (27 September 2018) from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Surely there’s a vehicle safety standard that tiny houses have to be made to?
Tiny houses on wheels are not yet legally defined as separate from caravans. That means that tiny houses are technically caravans and have to be made to meet national caravan standards.
These standards are in the caravan section of the VSB1 and cover compliance topics that are about visibility and door placement, not how the whole thing holds together when driving down the road.
So how do you trust a tiny house builder to build something that will last?
We are setting the standards.
While the regulatory bodies have not turned their attention to the production of tiny houses on wheels, we have been researching products; building methods; building standards in hurricane-prone areas and earthquake-prone areas; consulting vehicle engineers and building industry professionals since 2010 and have developed the Unified Construction Method® (international patent applied) for tiny house vehicles.
Fred’s Tiny Houses provides training for tiny house builders (DIY and professionals alike) on how to meet the Unified Construction Method® standard and provides the tiny house consumer with proof of their tiny house meeting each element of the UCM®.
To read more about our Gold, Silver and Bronze rating system for the UCM®, click here.
To get in-depth information on tiny house building, consumer information and building methods, attend a our highly regarded Tiny House Building Workshops.
Tiny House Trailer Standards: Engineering Recommendations Ignored
- It is the consumer’s responsibility to check the trailer’s ability to be registered, that it’s components are all rated to carry the correct weight, that the trailer will be appropriate for building a tiny house onto.
- Anyone is legally allowed to construct a trailer that is rated to less than 4500kgs (ATM – Aggregate Trailer Mass) in Australia, and sell it.
- Vehicle engineer recommendations can legally be ignored, and frequently are.
- There is nothing to prevent you from buying a trailer that is unfit-for-purpose.
There are roughly three general categories that tiny house trailers fall into:
1: Trailer unable to be registered:
Trailers in this category can be either made new or sold used and do not meet the VSB1 standards, therefore cannot be registered as a road vehicle.
Examples of ways that a tiny house trailer may be unable to be registered:
The tiny house trailer could:
- be too wide or long to be registered;
- not include the correct lights or no lights at all;
- not have a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and/or a compliance plate;
- be fitted with a coupling that is not capable of carrying the trailer’s load.
- the centre of the axle group exceeds the allowable 3.7m from the rear.
The list of problems is long and the risk to you as a consumer could be substantial in terms of time, money and the safety of the people around you.
2: Trailer able to be registered but not Fit-For-Purpose
Trailers in this category can be made new or sold used and can be registered as a road vehicle.
The registration process checks the individual trailer against the national standards for trailers as detailed in the VSB1 (Vehicle Standards Bulletin 1).
The checklist that trailers are required to meet is limited to basic standards, such as: the width of the trailer needs to be 2.5 meters wide maximum, the lights need to be working, the trailer has to have wheels guards, etc.
The registration process in your state will likely NOT assess:
- the structural integrity of the trailer,
- the type of components used or whether they are all rated to carry the load rating of the trailer, or
- whether (in the case of buying a tiny house trailer) the trailer will be suitable for carrying a tiny house. e.g. a way of attaching the tiny house to the trailer.
- the suspension for at tiny house should be a load sharing suspension, but the VSB1 does not require this.
The registration process does not require that trailers are made to vehicle engineer recommendations, meaning the recommendations are routinely ignored.
WARNING: Most tiny house trailers that are made new and sold by professional tiny house trailer manufacturers (even having tiny houses built on them for mass commercial sale) fall within this category.
3: Trailer made Fit-For-Purpose and follows vehicle engineer recommendations.
Trailers in this category are able to be registered, use all of the appropriately rated components AND follow vehicle engineer recommendations in their construction method. This makes trailers in this category strong enough to carry their rated load capacity, have the correct weight distribution (axle sets are in the correct location), all the required needed braking systems, have sound welding practices and materials used in its fabrication.
Approved Vehicle Examiners are engineers who have undergone extra training to be able to assess individual vehicles to make sure that the vehicle (tiny house trailer in this case) will be fit-for-purpose and meet the VSB1 minimum standard.
Different states and territories in Australia have different names for these Approved Vehicle Examiners. We talk a lot about VASS (Vehicle Assessment Signatory Scheme) Engineer recommendations at Fred’s Tiny Houses because that’s what they are called here in Victoria.
Fred’s Tiny House Trailers incorporate VASS Engineer recommendations for how to construct a tiny house trailer.
We have produced a FREE Tiny House Trailers magazine to describe some of their recommendations and how we follow them all the way through the manufacturing process of our trailers. Read it to find out more about how to recognise a well-built trailer when you see one.
For more in-depth knowledge of VASS engineer recommendations for tiny house trailers attend our workshop All Things Trailers for Tiny House Builders.
Our tiny house trailers are also made to provide the safest available attachment method between tiny house and trailer, as outline in the Unified Construction Method®, integrating a unified connection between trailer & roof structure for a THV that will be comfortable to live in year round.