Off-grid addressing

This post has been a long time coming… A topic of high interest for many people wanting to live off-grid, we are now legally addressed and can reveal our methods without fear of negative recourse (we gamble). While our solution may not work for everyone depending on location and circumstance, we hope to give some ideas and advice for setting up an off-grid address. Feedback is welcome and encouraged.

To start, our property does not have a legal address. In our county, the only way to secure a legal property address for vacant land is to enter the permitting process for development. This was not our bag as it was never our intent to build a conventional structure or start a subdivision. We thought in the very least we could permit for a water well, but alas, the county does not issue addresses for well permits. The permit requirement for addressing demands you have a plan for wastewater and sewer.

Instead of planning for a complex septic install, we opted to go with a simple above ground composting toilet outhouse. Interestingly, the county will approve a traditional pit-style outhouse in a permitting plan, but not a composting toilet.

The other caveat we learned was that the county will permit an array of temporary structures, but a yurt doesn’t count. A mobile home is okay, as is a travel trailer. You could even permit a pre-built tough shed or a conversion van (with approved wastewater and sewer systems). Our portable dwelling which has been in practical use in the world for thousands of years is not a legal residential structure. There are plenty of articles online that outline the nuances of local codes and permitting for yurts across the US.

Bottom line, for our first four years living full time off-grid, we were completely illegal in the eyes of the local government. And without an address.

One of the first things we did when we bought the land was to secure a paid PO Box at the local post office. We were able to do this because we still owned our house in Florida and could use that legal address to apply for the PO Box in New Mexico. With this PO Box, we could leverage the USPS Street Addressing Service. The Street Addressing Service allows you to use the post office physical address as your street address for incoming parcels delivered via UPS, FedEx, or other carriers. By law, you are NOT allowed to use the PO street address as a physical residential or business address, but there are some folks who do. We did not.

All was well and good until we sold our house in Florida after we moved off-grid full time. We really and truly had no legal physical address now to use for registering vehicles, opening up local bank accounts or getting licenses to drive or do business. The solution came when we saw an ad in the paper for a room to rent in town. The property owner was receptive to our challenge and offered to write a lease agreement for that address at a minimal monthly cost of $50. Lease in hand (also the self-haul water utility bill), we wasted no time in marching to the bank and the MVD to run the paperwork drill.

Things became a little more complicated when the owner of the room we rented had to terminate the lease a few months later because of a family dispute. We now had a physical residential address where no one could vouch for us, but we managed to keep up the charade over the next few years. We would have been more than happy to find a similar arrangement, but nothing turned up over the course. In the long run, the benefit was ours when qualifying for a mortgage on the new place because we had an established place of residence with no interruptions. We just had to remember to stick to our story of having a housing budget of $50/mo for a room rental while applying for the mortgage.

On the business front, we had to meet the state’s requirement to visibly post our business license at our physical office location. Seeing as we weren’t actually staying in the room we rented for the residential address, we needed to find another ‘friendly’ location in town that could serve as our storefront and physical address for the business. We asked a business-owner friend if we could park our license in their established office building on Main Street. Kindly enough, they agreed. Luckily, no one ever actually came looking for our business office over the last three years since we incorporated!

Again, we were pretty well set now as far as all the legal stuff was concerned at startup. We had real addresses on all our official documents while we squatted on our land just a few miles out of town. Sometimes we would run into trouble with deliveries, such as when we ordered the Grip-Strut stock for the deck stairs. The post office could not receive the freight delivery, it could not go to the residential address, and we didn’t want to trouble our friend with the office on Main Street with such a chore. We ended up asking the owner of the tire shop in town if he would catch the truck, to which he generously agreed.

We also ran into a bit of trouble when we ordered some special apple brandy from Ireland. Not fully understanding the limitations of the Street Addressing Service at the post office, the bottles of booze were slated to be returned to sender because USPS is not allowed to handle alcohol. Had we known this was going to avert delivery of the sweet elixir, we would have shipped instead to a friendly street address. Lesson-learned.

The point can be argued that deciding to live off-grid means you are detaching from the mainstream institutions. In theory, that is a glorious position. The reality is something different. In our case, we needed to haul water from the municipal tap, so we needed to open up an account with a local address. We brought our vehicles with out-of-state license plates, so we needed to bring them current in order to drive to haul water. We needed to open a business bank account with a local address to process online payments for said water, auto insurance, business license, etc.

For us, there really was no other way for us to work around not having an address. Some folks have family or friends nearby who will loan their address to be used by off-gridders. Our nearest people were across state lines. And, while we certainly skirted the law in several other aspects of our arrangements, our feeling was that the more ‘legit’ we looked on paper, the less hassle we would get should we be confronted about living in a yurt on our land without 911 service.

Needless to say, we are very fortunate to have this web address so people can find us- Visit often and bring friends! We look forward to sharing more about our new street address in Cuba as time goes on.