Is living off the grid legal? ( 11 Rules to Follow )

A lot of people think that living off the grid is illegal in some states, the truth is that there is no law prohibiting anybody to live off the grid. However, in some states, there are some restrictions that make living off the grid extremely hard or expensive. One of the basic requirements for living off the grid is to have a steady source of freshwater, in most states you can easily harvest plenty of rainwater, but in some states harvesting rainwater is either illegal or there are certain restrictions on how much you can actually harvest.

Living off the grid is legal in all states, there are no laws prohibiting you from living off the grid but you will have to abide by the following laws and restrictions. Generally speaking, states and counties which have strict restrictions and regulations for rainwater harvesting and septic systems tend to make living off the grid legally a bit difficult but still doable.

For the most part, your biggest issue will be with disposing of your own waste, generally speaking, composting toilets are ideal for this, my personal recommendation is to use that comes with a 5 year warranty and has a fairly large capacity Click here to check it out on Amazon.com

Generally speaking in states with a low population density, where a lot of people have no other choice but to live off the grid, the local authorities help them out with rebates and tax credits if they invest in renewable energy. In some states living off the grid is seen as something normal, while in others it is actually frowned upon. If you want to move to an off grid location, make sure you check the local laws, what is permitted, and what is restricted.

If you are planning to move to an off grid homestead with your family and you follow the local laws then you will probably never be bothered by the authorities. If you are following the news regarding off grid living you have probably noticed that in some counties the police have made several arrests in certain off grid communities. The main problem with new off grid communities is that you never know who is your neighbor.

Some people move off the grid to hide their illegal activities, and sooner or later they will be caught. This is hardly a problem in established off grid communities, everybody knows each other and they are very picky in who they let join their community, better safe than sorry. If you are wondering what are your off grid options when it comes to the internet then check out my recent article How to have off grid Internet? ( Top 15 Ways ).

You have to own the property where you live off the grid

One of the first mistakes of a lot of people who think that living off the grid is illegal is that they set up their homestead or off grid cabin on land which they do not actually own. A lot of people actually think that in remote areas nobody will find out, just to be blindsided when the cops show up. If you want to live off the grid then you will have to own the land where you live, otherwise, you are trespassing.

Finding an off grid cabin or homestead in the middle of nowhere is extremely easy, in fact, local authorities and large landowners often use satellite images to check on their lands, you don’t have to be a genius to be able to do this. Even if you plan to set up your homestead in a dense forest, the smoke from your chimney will still be visible, and if you generate power with solar panels then these are extremely visible from satellite images.

You have to have the water rights if you live off the grid and want to access groundwater or surface water

Water is one of the most important resources for off grid living. You have only a few options when it comes to water, find groundwater, use surface water, harvest rainwater, or buy and transport water to your location. There are some states with an arid climate where harvesting rainwater is illegal like it was before 2012 in California. Generally, speaking states where harvesting rainwater is illegal are the worst for off grid living. Harvesting rainwater in Colorado used to be illegal, although it is somewhat allowed now, but in certain areas of the state, it is still illegal for more information check out my recent article Off grid living in Colorado ( The Centennial State ).

You need a septic tank to live legally off the grid if you are not connected to the sewage system

If you live off the grid you will need a septic system, the problem is that most people think that they can just dig a hole and call it a septic toilet. All states have strict regulations on how large the septic system has to be, and where you place it. You will have to make a percolation test, which determines the absorption rate of the ground, the higher the absorption rate the better it is. In areas where the ground is fairly hard and dry, you will have problems with a septic tank.

In most states camping on your own property for loner periods of time is illegal

Even if you own the land you can not legally camp there for more than two weeks, this period is different from one state to another, but the general rule is the same. You can extend the camping permit for more than two weeks in most cases, but you should have a good reason for it. Although the law regarding camping on your own land is present in most of the states, but not all of them actually enforce it.

However there are some workarounds to this law, just apply for a building permit, and in most areas, you will be allowed to camp on your land this way. Once the building permit is close to expiring than you can ask for an extension, in most cases you won’t even have to build a structure, just have the permit and camp on your land.

In some states disconnecting from the power grid is illegal

A lot of people think that they can simply disconnect themselves from the power grid in the middle of an urban area and live off the grid. It will be extremely difficult if not impossible to disconnect yourself from the power grid in most urban areas. The local authorities do not allow it, and the neighbors definitely don’t like it as it reduces the price of property. Not being able to disconnect from the local power grid is one of the main reasons people think that living off the grid is illegal.

If you already live in a house which is connected to the power grid and you do not want to move, then your best option is to live partially off the grid, for more information check out my recent article How to live partially off the grid? ( In 9 Steps ).

You can legally generate your own power

Most states do offer some kind of rebate or incentive for renewable energy, if not then you still have the option to use the federal tax credit which is around 26%. However there are some states where you will have to have a permit to use renewable energy, and most likely you will also have to pay a fee. One of these states is Nevada, although this state is excellent for generating power with solar panels, but the local authorities try to discourage it as much as possible.

You must abide by the zoning laws to live legally off the grid

The zoning laws apply even if you are planning to build in the middle of nowhere. All states have a minimum square footage requirement to get a building permit if the cabin or the homestead is smaller than the minimum requirement than you will not get a building permit. The permits are different from one area to another, so you will have to check with your local authorities. There are some workarounds to this, in some areas.

There are some counties that do actually let you build without a permit if the building is so small that it doesn’t need a foundation, usually these are tiny houses or cabins. Just make sure that you can build a tiny house in your area before starting. You can also get a variance which simply means that in certain conditions you are exempted from the local building code, although these are only offered in certain conditions, and odds of getting a variance are slim to none.

The size of the lot is extremely important to live legally off the grid

All states have a minimum required lot size, in urban areas, these tend to be fairly small but in rural areas, these can be fairly large. Parceling up your land also comes with a lot of problems like you will have to build a road, connect to the grid, and so on in most cases. Although if you want to buy a small parcel for a homestead then you shouldn’t worry, the laws regarding the lot size are mainly for landowners.

It is illegal to raise livestock and grow crops in areas that are not zoned for agricultural use

If you are planning to grow your own crops and to raise livestock than your land has to be zoned for agricultural use, even if you are not planning to do either of those you should still zone your land for agricultural use as who knows you might change your mind and changing the zoning can be fairly difficult in some cases.

You can legally sell your own products while living off the grid

If you are planning to live off the grid and make money from selling your own products like livestock, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, and so on then you might have some problems as in most areas it is illegal. In most states, it is illegal to sell unpasteurized milk, while in others you can not sell homegrown vegetables, chickens, or eggs. If you want to do it completely legally then you will have to make a lot of investments, and for most people, this is simply not a viable option.

The truth is that most people who live off the grid and grow their own food and livestock still sell them, to neighbors mostly, and honestly, nobody cares if you sell on a small scale. People who want to turn off grid living into an enterprise selling various products without having a permit will get in trouble, but people who sell just to a few people tend to have no problems what so ever.

You have probably seen in some areas that people will set up a small donation box right in their garden, and people can pick the vegetables and donate as much or as little as they want, it is basically an honor system which in most rural areas work great. This is technically not illegal, they are not selling the products, they give it away for free and people can donate, but only if they want.

So if you have seen some of these vegetable gardens with a donation box and you thought that they are being generous, they are not, this is just a loophole in the local laws to allow them to sell their own products.

Living off the grid is legal although there are some states which do have several restrictions

On top of the above-mentioned laws and restrictions, some states have additional restrictions which make living off the grid illegal, although not by making off grid living illegal but by setting up restrictions. All other states which are not listed below do not have any special restrictions when it comes to off grid living or the resources you need for off grid living.

  • Alaska: getting water from the ground is regulated and you will need a permit.
  • Arkansas: restrictions for rainwater harvesting, and you have to comply with the Arkansas Plumbing Code.
  • California: restrictions for rainwater harvesting.
  • Colorado: harvesting rainwater is legal but you are limited to 110 gallons and the water has to be used on your property.
  • Georgia:  you can only use the collected water for outdoor purposes like watering your crops.
  • Illinois: harvesting rainwater is legal but it is regulated.
  • Kansas: you will need a special permit to legally harvest rainwater.
  • Nevada: restrictions regarding rainwater harvesting, and for renewable energy, you will need special permits.
  • Ohio: harvesting rainwater is legal and you can also use it for cooking and drinking.
  • Texas: harvesting rainwater is legal, but you will need to notify the local authorities once you set up the system.

In conclusion

As you can see living off the grid is not illegal, although some states make it extremely hard with certain rules and regulations. If you want to live off the grid legally than you will have to follow all the rules, the good news is that there are some workarounds for some laws, but they are not available in all of the states.