After local zoning laws forced them out of their tiny house, a couple spent months sleeping in their truck and an abandoned barn

After local zoning laws forced them out of their tiny house, a couple spent months sleeping in their truck and an abandoned barn
This couple was forced out of their tiny house.Courtesy of Hannah Cole
  • Hannah Cole and Tom Tarczon were living in a camper while building their tiny house in 2018.
  • A local zoning board passed an ordinance that people could only live in a camper or tiny house for 2 weeks.
  • For the next few months, they slept at a hotel, in a dilapidated barn, and in their truck.

After living at her grandparents' house in Wisconsin for two years and paying off her student loans, Hannah Cole was at a crossroads.

She could have bought a house, but that would have given her debt after she just got rid of her student loans. She could have rented a place, but she felt like renting would be like throwing away money.

"I didn't want to owe anybody anything, and I didn't want to be tethered to anything," Cole said.

Eventually, she found the perfect compromise: a tiny house.

Cole and her partner, Tom Tarczon, decided to do a "tiny house test run" by buying a cheap camper for $5,000 in 2017 to try out tiny living before making the bigger investment of a traditional tiny house.


After remodeling the camper in Cole's grandparents' driveway, they posted a listing on Facebook and Craigslist to find a place to park their camper, and they ended up parking on a cornfield in small-town Wisconsin. But when they decided to move across the country, they began to encounter the full force of strict zoning laws, and ended up without anywhere to live.

Read more: A woman was forced to live in her tiny house secretly for 2 years after learning her local zoning laws didn't allow it

The couple says the problems started when they moved to Colorado and neighbors took issue with their home

When they moved to Colorado in February 2018 with their dogs, Cole and Tarczon parked their camper on a piece of land in a small town called Littleton. They had no issues there until the owner of the property decided to move away and they had to find a new place.

They ended up in Evergreen, Colorado, a town near Denver located in the picturesque mountains - but then the problems started.

After local zoning laws forced them out of their tiny house, a couple spent months sleeping in their truck and an abandoned barn
The camper van Cole and Tarczon first lived in.Courtesy of Hannah Cole

"When we first moved onto the property, we thought it was great," Cole said. "We were exactly where we always pictured we would be. Things started falling apart when we heard from the person we were renting from that neighbors were starting to ask questions. We got the feeling that we weren't wanted there."


Cole said a neighbor reported them for illegally dumping blackwater waste, even though their camper does not have any blackwater. She said an official from the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Division and two officers came to inspect their home.

"It was frustrating," Cole said. "I wanted to live the way we wanted to live. We just wanted to live in our home. It was very disappointing."

The couple also said it was especially frustrating because it seemed the neighbors thought they were taking from the community, even though they both worked in the area.

"A large part of our finances were going toward the small town," Tarczon said. "We loved being in the area."

After local zoning laws forced them out of their tiny house, a couple spent months sleeping in their truck and an abandoned barn
The tiny house they were building next to their camper.Courtesy of Hannah Cole

They decided to move their camper to the other side of the property so that they were more hidden. At the same time, they started building a traditional tiny house. However, according to Cole, neighbors were sneaking onto nearby properties and using binoculars to see what was going on.


"It was very scary," Cole said. "It got to the point where we would run out for an errand and get nervous about what would happen to our house while we were gone."

Everything hit a fever pitch one day when the couple found out the local zoning board passed a new ordinance: an axle vehicle could only be parked on a property for two weeks out of a year.

Cole and Tarczon felt the "timing was very weird." They said they attempted to talk to officials at the planning and zoning division, but they had no options. The Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Division has not responded to Insider's request for comment on the couple's account.

The couple had no option but to move out of their half-constructed tiny house and camper.

This is a fate many tiny-house owners face across the US, as most local zoning codes categorize tiny houses as RVs, and you're not allowed to live in a recreational vehicle full-time, leading to evictions across the tiny-house community.


Read more: Tiny-house owners must adhere to strict and often confusing zoning laws - here's what you need to know

"It was heartbreaking, to say the least," Tarczon said.

Cole and Tarczon ended up sleeping in a rundown barn and their truck

They were determined to keep building their tiny house on the property, but they had to find another place to sleep because of the new zoning ordinance.

"We had to scramble," Cole said. "Finances were very tight. We were putting all of our income into building this house."

They decided to stay in a hotel for two months, but that became expensive quickly. In the first month, for example, they spent $2,800.


Eventually, the property owner allowed them to stay in an old barn, and they lived there for a month: They laid out makeshift flooring and tarps, hung up hammocks for their beds, and used camping gear to make the rundown barn as livable as possible.

After local zoning laws forced them out of their tiny house, a couple spent months sleeping in their truck and an abandoned barn
The couple lived in this barn for a month.Courtesy of Hannah Cole

After a while, they realized they couldn't live like that anymore, so they decided to live out of their truck for the next month just as winter hit. Cole slept in the backseat with one dog, Tarczon slept in the driver's seat, and the second dog slept in the passenger seat.

"I couldn't wrap my mind around how we got to this point," Cole said. "I went to college, I got a good job, how am I homeless? I couldn't understand. Another difficult part was just going to work in the morning, just knowing what you have come from and being by your co-workers who are in a totally different situation."

Read more: A woman who parked her tiny house on her parents' property in New Hampshire was forced to move out after the local government said it was illegal

Over a year later, Cole and Tarczon are now living in their completed tiny house on property they own

Once they completed the construction of their tiny house, they decided the best option for them was to move back to Wisconsin. They spent the next three months looking for property where they could permanently park their tiny house. They started researching zoning laws diligently because they "didn't want to go through anything like that again," Tarczon said.


In November 2019, Cole and Tarczon bought a "dream" piece of property in Holcombe, Wisconsin, that is properly zoned and away from neighbors - something they both joked about being very important after their ordeal.

After local zoning laws forced them out of their tiny house, a couple spent months sleeping in their truck and an abandoned barn
The tiny house on their new property.Courtesy of Hannah Cole

"I still have to pinch myself that this turned out to be our reality," Cole said. "There were so many times that we felt like the dream was falling apart."

They both agreed that the unnecessary obstacles they faced were due to zoning laws that they felt punished them for living outside the box.

"I think it's important for lawmakers and everyone to understand that not everybody wants to live the template that society has handed them," Cole said. "Not everyone wants it. [They need to be] OK with people wanting a different life."

Echoing others in the community, Tarczon added that local zoning boards need to be more open-minded.


"[Tiny house owners are] not people moving in to absorb the resources," Tarczon said. "We're people moving in to enjoy the community and to have a happier, healthier lifestyle."

Read more: After a year of booming tiny-house sales, experts say the movement is at a turning point