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Missouri Off-Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide


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Last Updated: February 24, 2021

Missouri is one of the best states for off-grid living.  The state already has communities of people living off-grid and there is minimum government interference.

However, there are still a lot of regulations to navigate if you want to go completely off-grid without breaking the law.

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Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Missouri?

Off-grid living is legal in Missouri and it is actually considered one of the friendliest states for going off-grid.  In rural areas there are very few or even no building codes other than for septic.  You are mostly free to do whatever you want on your own land.

Missouri Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

In many states, zoning laws can make it difficult to go off-grid.  These laws may prohibit you from using your land in certain ways or set requirements such as minimum lot sizes.  Luckily, there is still a lot of land in rural Missouri which has absolutely no zoning.

In areas with no zoning, you will be mostly free to do whatever you want on your land.  You will still need to adhere to local building codes though (which are put in place to protect you and your neighbors).

However, there are surprisingly many places in Missouri which don’t even have building codes.  For example, Osage County does not have building requirements or zoning. Rural areas of Douglas County also don’t have zoning or building codes.

The closer you get to cities though, the more likely you are to have to follow codes.  Also note that, even if the county doesn’t have building codes, the towns within the county might have their own codes.

Exceptions to No-Zoning Land in Missouri:

Even if you find land in Missouri which isn’t zoned and has no building codes, you will still have to follow state laws about wastewater removal.  See the sewage section of this article for more on those laws.

Also, most places in Missouri (even without zoning or building codes) have a Floodplain Management Ordinance.  Under this law, you must get a permit to build in a floodplain.  You will have to follow stricter rules when building and get an inspection.  You can see an example of Greene County’s floodplain rules here.

Qualifying As a Farm in Missouri

In Missouri, farm land has lower property taxes. As described here and here, agricultural land which is “actively farmed” is assessed.  The assessor will assign it one of 8 grades based on productive value, with Grade 1 being the best land.  The agricultural land is then taxed at 12% of its productive or market value.  Unused land is taxed at 12% of its market value.

Whether your land qualifies as a farm in Missouri will ultimately be decided by an assessor.  You’ll have to have the land reassessed bi-annually.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of inconsistency in how land is taxed.  There are reports of neighboring farm lands being taxed at drastically different rates.

Also Read: How to Declare Your Property a Homestead

Best Places to Go Off-Grid in Missouri

Southern Missouri, particularly in the Ozarks, is very popular for off-grid living because of the cheap land.

The south also tends to be more relaxed in terms to the legalities of off-grid living.

However, the land in southern Missouri is very rocky and not great for traditional agriculture.  A lot of people in the area pay for dirt to be hauled to their land and use raised-bed gardening methods.

The north has better dirt but land is pricier and counties are more likely to have zoning and building codes.

Off-Grid Electricity in Missouri

There are no laws prohibiting you from disconnecting from the power grid in Missouri.  However, many areas do have building codes.  You will be required to follow these codes when installing any off-grid electrical systems in your home.

Solar

Missouri offers rebates for installing solar panels on your property.  However, the rebates come from the utility providers, so they are not available to people living off-grid.

If you do stay connected to the grid, Missouri has good net metering laws so you can get money for any extra electricity you produce.  Missouri also has a property tax exemption on solar systems; if your solar system increases your property value, it won’t count towards your property taxes.

You can find more info on the Missouri Department of Energy website.

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Off-Grid Water

Missouri is a water-rich state and has very relaxed riparian water laws.  You are allowed “reasonable use” of all water which is on your land or under your land.  Reasonable use means that your water usage doesn’t adversely impact your neighbors or other water users.

The only time you need to register water use is if you divert or have the capacity to pump 70 gallons per minute or more.

Unfortunately, Missouri has a problem with water contamination.  Even deep wells may have water contaminated with (as one resident said) “an impressive array of agricultural chemicals in concentrations that should alarm you.”

Surface Water

Unlike in many other states, Missouri allows you to use surface water.  You can use as much water as you want.  The only limitation is that you don’t adversely affect other water users.

For example, you could legally divert a stream in Missouri to irrigate your crops.  But, if diverting the stream deprived your downstream neighbors of water, it would be illegal.

There are no laws preventing you from building water reservoirs, ponds, artificial lakes, irrigation canals, or cisterns on your property. The Missouri government even gives some great free resources on how to create water storage reservoir on your property, such as this guide to creating ponds.  There are even some cost-share programs for upgrading irrigation systems.

Navigable Waters

Under Missouri law, everyone has the right to use navigable streams and rivers.  This means that you cannot prohibit people from boating on a stream which goes through or next to your property.

However, there is no law stating you have to give people access to the water from your property.  Likewise, boaters can’t step foot on your property from the water.  You own the low water edge.

Well Water

Under Missouri law, it is your right to drill a well on your property.  However, the law states that you must use a licensed well driller.  You will be required to get a permit and pay fees. Water must be sampled, but only during the installation process.  After that, water quality isn’t monitored.   Read FAQs about Missouri well laws and the details of the law.

Rainwater

Rainwater harvesting is completely legal in Missouri.  However, some areas might have regulations about using harvested rainwater for drinking or other potable uses.  You’ll need to check the local building codes of your area and make sure any treatment systems you install comply with the rules.

For more, here is a good guide to rainwater harvesting in Missouri.

Graywater Recycling

Under Missouri law, it is illegal to dispose of liquid waste on the ground.  All liquid waste must go into a sewage tank.  However, graywater recycling systems are still legal.  You may be able to have your required septic tank size reduced by 40% if you install a gray water system. This is decided by an inspector on a case-by-case basis.  Read more here.

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Sewage and Waste Removal

In Missouri, sewage removal is regulated by the state and not the county.  So, even if your county has no building codes, you will still be required to have an approved septic system as required by Missouri law.  This means connecting to the sewage system or installing a septic tank.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resource is responsible for regulating domestic wastewater systems. You will need a permit and the installation must be done by someone registered with the department of health and senior services.

Read the laws.

Compost and Incinerating Toilets

Under Missouri law, composting and incinerating toilets are considered a “non-ground absorption sewage disposal system.”  However, these systems still exist in a legal gray area.  They can be used, but you will still need a septic tank for disposing of waste.

You may be able to have your septic tank size requirements reduced though for using waterless sewage disposal methods.

For more, see this fact sheet from the University of Missouri.

Outhouses/Latrines

In almost all cases, outhouses are illegal in Missouri.  They are only allowed in places which are:

  • Not continuously occupied
  • In remote areas not served by piped water

Even if you manage to get approval for an outhouse, you will still have to adhere to strict design regulations. You can’t even backfill outhouses; they must be pumped out by a registered septic tank pumper and disposed of in a municipal sewer system.

Also Read:

Other Off-Grid Laws in Missouri

RVs and Tiny Homes

Because so many places in Missouri don’t have zoning or building codes, it is one of the friendliest states for RVs and tiny homes.  In cities though, you will still come up against many restrictions which make it illegal to live in a tiny home, especially one on wheels.  Some cities have started allowing tiny homes in their zoning codes. These cities include Saint Charles, Branson, St. Louis, Jefferson City, Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield.

Homeschooling

Missouri is one of the best states for homeschooling.  The state government doesn’t monitor homeschooling.  No notifications, teacher qualifications, or assessments are required. The regulations about keeping records or work are very relaxed.  However, it’s worth mentioning that the Missouri educational system ranks very badly nationwide and rural schools are especially bad.  So, homeschooling might be the only option if you want your kids to have a good education while living off-grid in Missouri.

Do you live off-grid in Missouri? Let us know about any legal issues you had to deal with in the comments section below. 

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