North Dakota is known for its affordable land, tradition of homesteading life, and culture of self-sufficiency. While it is generally considered a good place for off-grid living, there are some legal issues you may encounter when trying to live completely off the grid in North Dakota.
Want to more about living off grid? Read:
- Overview of the Off Grid Laws of All States
- Steps to Take to Get Off Grid
- Ranked: The Best States for Homesteading
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in North Dakota?
Living off the grid is completely legal in North Dakota. ND is very relaxed in terms of water rights, zoning rules, and permit requirements compared to other states. However, North Dakota law is not very progressive when it comes to newer off-grid technologies. Because of this, you could come across legal issues if you want to use a compost toilet, install a graywater recycling system or use other alternative systems.
North Dakota Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living
Most land in North Dakota is under some form of zoning. The local zoning laws vary by county but are generally divided into the following districts:
- A – Agricultural
- R1, R2, R3 & R4 – Residential
- R5 – Mobile home district
- RM – Manufactured home district
- RR – Rural residential
- RC – Rural commercial
- B – Business
- I – Industrial
- PR – Parks and recreation
- E – Estate
For off-grid living, agricultural and rural zoning is usually the most permissive. You will be able to farm, raise animals and run some businesses from your home. Manufactured homes are even allowed in many agriculture zones, which isn’t the case in many parts of the USA.
Expect to come across many restrictions on how you can use your land, though. For example, Grand Forks zoning laws require the minimum lot size for agricultural land is 15 acres. The minimum parcel size for rural land is 2.5 acres. But, if you want to run a business from your rural land, you’ll need at least 10 acres.
It’s also worth noting that ND has a more relaxed view of what counts as a “family,” so unrelated groups of up to 4 can live together in most residential districts.
Some parts of North Dakota are in flood plains. Special zoning rules usually apply to homes in flood plains. For example, you may be required to elevate your home or anchor it down to prevent floatation. Sewage treatment standards will also be higher.
As of January 2020, the North Dakota Building Code consists of the:
- 2018 International Building Code (IBC)
- International Residential Code (IRC)
- International Mechanical Code (IMC)
- International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC) published by the International Code Council (ICC)
On top of this, your county or city may have additional codes to follow. For example, Williams County also follows the 2018 International Fire Code (IFC).
For most work on your property, you will be required to get a permit. North Dakota permit fees tend to be much lower than those in other states, though.
Off-Grid Electricity in North Dakota
Off-grid electricity is legal in North Dakota. There are no laws requiring you to hook up to the electric grid. However, there are good incentives for homes that do connect their solar systems to the grid, such as rebates net metering.
All renewable electricity systems are exempt from property taxes for the first five years.
Off-grid solar is legal in North Dakota. Systems must be installed according to the fire, electrical, residential, and international building code. Unless you are installing a very small system, you will need to get a permit and have it installed by a licensed electrician.
- What to Expect When Living Completely without Power
- Solar Power Explained
- Best Off-Grid Refrigeration Options
Off-Grid Water Laws in North Dakota
North Dakota has some of the most relaxed water rights laws in the USA. It follows the doctrine of prior appropriation, or “first in time is first in right.”
You are generally allowed to use the water on your property or even water that isn’t located on your property. Permits usually aren’t required for domestic or farming uses, but you may want to get one anyway to establish your right to the water.
Who Owns the Water in North Dakota?
Under the North Dakota Century Code (N.D.C.C. § 61-01-01),
“All waters within the limits of the state from the following sources of water supply belong to the public and are subject to appropriation for beneficial use.”
These waters include:
- Surface waters in well-defined channels or which constitute integral parts of a stream system, or waters in lakes. Does not include “diffused surface waters.”
- Residual waters resulting from beneficial use, and all waters artificially drained.
- All waters (except privately-owned waters) in areas that are noncontributing drainage areas
Because all of the water belongs to the public, you have a lot of freedom to use water on and around your property. However, it also means that your neighbors also have this right.
You can read more details here.
Water Use Permits in North Dakota
You do not need a permit to use water in North Dakota so long as it meets these requirements:
- Put to beneficial use
- The water is used for domestic use, livestock, or fish, wildlife, and other recreational use
- For wells, no more than 12.5-acre-feet of water will be appropriated annually
- For water-holding impoundments, the impoundment is not capable of holding more than 12.5-acre-feet of water
Under these laws, you do need a water permit for agricultural irrigation. If the land to be irrigated is less than 5 acres, though, it likely falls into domestic use, and you won’t need a permit.
Even if you aren’t required to get a permit, you still may want to get one. Because North Dakota uses the “first in time, first in right” doctrine, getting a water permit will establish your priority date for that water.
In North Dakota, you are allowed to use surface water on your property without getting a permit. The water must be put to beneficial use.
It is also legal to use water that isn’t on your property, so long as someone else does not have priority rights to it. This is why it is important to establish your priority date in North Dakota by getting a permit.
If the water you want to use is in a wetland area, you may encounter legal issues. Wetlands in ND are regulated on both the federal and state levels by the Department of Health and Consolidated Laboratories, Game and Fish Department, and Water Commission.
You’ll need to get a permit to use this water. Read more on that here
Building a Pond on Your Property in ND:
It is legal to build a pond or other water detention basin on your property in North Dakota. You don’t need a permit if the water is put to beneficial use and the containment is less than 12.5-acre-feet. However, there are some situations where you may need to get a permit – such as if the property is in a wetland or the pond will obstruct drainage.
North Dakota has very relaxed rules on private wells. You do not need a permit for the well so long as it does not remove more than 12.5-acre-feet of water annually and the water is for domestic use or livestock. Wells must be drilled and made by certified contractors. However, there is a loophole that allows you to drill a well on your property. Read more here and here.
Also, see best hand pumps for wells
Rainwater Harvesting in North Dakota
Rainwater harvesting is legal in North Dakota. Currently, there are no statewide laws regulating rainwater harvesting systems.
There also don’t seem to be any laws that prohibit you from building a structure to collect rainwater or collecting water in large tanks – though you will likely need a building permit to install underground water tanks. Some counties are even encouraging rainwater harvesting with free workshops.
Sewage and Waste Removal
In North Dakota, you will need to get a sewage permit before getting a building permit for your property.
It varies throughout the state, but the law generally requires you to have at least 1 acre of property to have a private sewage treatment system. This system will most likely be septic.
Some alternative off-grid systems are allowed. However, the law is very vague, and it will ultimately be up to the local authorities whether you get a permit or not.
Most simple graywater recycling systems are illegal in North Dakota.
The law states,
“Water-carried sewage from bathrooms, kitchens, laundry fixtures, and other household plumbing will pass through a septic or other approved sedimentation tank prior to its discharge into the soil or into an alternative system. Where underground disposal for treatment is not feasible, consideration will be given to special methods of collection and disposal.”
Compost toilets are not mentioned in North Dakota sewage laws. Instead, they fall under “alternative design.” All alternative design systems must be submitted for approval. It will ultimately be up to the local authorities whether you get a permit to use a compost toilet or not.
Because of how the law is written, it is highly unlikely that you will be legally allowed to use just a compost toilet. You’ll likely still need septic, especially because the law requires you to dispose of graywater through a septic system.
Most other states have a similar law that only allows compost toilets as a primary sewage treatment system when the home does not have running water.
Pit Privy (Outhouse)
Pit privies are legal in North Dakota. However, the pit privy must have a watertight structure in the pit.
You will need to have the pit pumped much like you would with a holding tank. You will also need a permit for a pit privy.
If your property is small or you live somewhere with a higher population density, you probably won’t be granted a permit for a pit privy.
Other Off-Grid Laws in North Dakota
If you plan on working from home in North Dakota, you might come across problems because of zoning laws.
Most land in North Dakota is zoned as agricultural or rural. There are often restrictions on how you can use this land for home businesses. For example, Grand Forks County requires you to have at least 5 acres to run a home-extended business. The law isn’t always clear about how this applies to people who work remotely online from their homes.
Manufactured homes are allowed in many parts of North Dakota. They are defined as factory-built structures which are transportable in one or more sections. While legal, they are often regulated to specific zones. Some other additional requirements may include:
- At least 6,000 square feet in size
- Minimum width of 20 feet
- Lot with not less than 45 feet and 120 feet deep
- Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974 (24 CFR 3280) certified
Because of zoning, living off-grid in an RV is not legal in many parts of North Dakota. The law defines an RV as a mobile structure in which the chassis is an integral structure, is transported to the site on wheels, and comes fully equipped with toilet and shower facilities, is ready for immediate use once connected to the utilities, and is not on a permanent foundation.
Many areas of North Dakota are not friendly to tiny homes. For example, Mandan County requires homes to have at least 3,500 square feet in some zoning districts.
The laws are generally more relaxed if you have a large parcel of agricultural-zoned land.
Depending on how the tiny home is built and transported, it might be considered an RV instead of a manufactured home, meaning it is subject to more stringent zoning rules.
Do you live off-grid in North Dakota? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.