Tiny houses may be the darlings of the green-living set—with their own blogs, TV shows and documentaries, and cottage industry of builders, planners, and consultants.
But they’re usually illegal.
Across Cascadia, to pass legal muster, residential structures must comply with one of three sets of rules: building codes, manufactured home codes, or recreational vehicle certification. They also must comply with zoning codes, which dictate not how they’re built but where they may stand and how they may be used. In most places, tiny houses run afoul of every one of these sets of rules, and often in several ways. The net effect is to make tiny-house dwellers a band of outlaws.
Removing the legal strictures could quickly provide affordable, sustainable housing choices to thousands of people across Cascadia and beyond, at no cost to public treasuries, in neighborhoods already provided with urban infrastructure and well served by transit, schools, community centers, libraries, and parks. And some cities, such as Portland, are already working towards policy solutions that will bring tiny houses in from the cold.
Tiny houses on foundations: Size matters
In Oregon and Washington local laws specify that permanent homes must be built to one of two standards: the locally or state-adopted building code, typically adapted from the International Residential Code (IRC), or the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s national standards for manufactured homes. Tiny houses have a terribly hard time fitting these regulations, not so much because of the safety and fire protection provisions, as because of things like minimum size and height rules. The IRC, for example, requires that habitable rooms have at least 70 square feet of floor space, and not be less than 7 feet wide and tall. This rules out many tiny home designs.
Though 70 square feet is still a rigid requirement for habitable rooms, it’s actually a step in the right direction. In 2015, the International Code Council reduced this requirement from 120 square feet, making building tiny to code much more feasible. Continuing to adapt existing building codes to tiny abodes, or creating a new certification process specific to tiny homes, would be a big step toward unbanning a housing form that’s as old as the sheepherder’s wagon.
Tiny homes on wheels: You can park it, but don’t live there
Many tiny home builders construct these houses on wheel beds, making them more mobile. Dee Williams, a tiny house advocate in Portland, Oregon, and co-founder of Portland Alternative Dwellings, parked her tiny house on wheels (THOW) in a friend’s backyard in Olympia and enjoyed not only lower living costs, but also closer connection with her neighbors.
But these wheels present another challenge to legalizing tiny houses, placing them in a regulatory gray zone between standard houses and vehicles. The wheels often lead cities to classify them as recreational vehicles (RVs) rather than houses, which moves them from the frying pan of IRC and HUD into the fire of RV certification—a different fire, as it turns out, in each state.
One hurdle this creates for tiny housers is the problem of parking, since it’s illegal to live in an RV full-time outside of an official RV park. This is the case in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Cities are not teeming with RV parks, and what parks do exist are often far from amenities like public transportation and commercial services. For example, inside city limits, Seattle has only two mobile-home parks where you can live full-time in an RV or camper.
This paucity of legal parking places leads many THOW dwellers to take their chances and defy regulation. THOWs parked in the backyards of friends or family members, or even on property by themselves, likely stay there without official permission. Many tiny housers accept this precarious living situation, relying on the fact that these codes are not typically proactively enforced. Online tiny house advocacy groups encourage prospective tenants to get to know their neighbors and make sure they’re happy, because code enforcers are unlikely to knock on the door unless they receive a complaint. Regardless of these precautions, sooner or later, many tiny houses are forced to move or lose their wheels and find a foundation.
Tiny houses on wheels: Permitting predicaments
Tiny houses on wheels have developed a big do-it-yourself culture, with tiny house hopefuls wanting to take a major hand in the design and construction of their future dwellings. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get RV certification without a professional dealer, something inaccessible to most DIYers.
In a step forward, Oregon and Washington (see Washington’s official self-certification code here) have both instituted certification processes for self-built RVs, making permitting for DIY THOWs a possibility. The American Tiny House Association has also created construction guidelines to assist DIYers in building their homes to recreational vehicle codes, but even these don’t guarantee certification as an RV.
In Portland, Eli Spevak of Orange Splot is working to use the city’s property maintenance code to create a broader legal path for THOWs. The code applies to existing structures, allowing them to be considered habitable even if they don’t meet current building codes. Spevak argues that since THOWs meet performance standards outlined in local building, zoning, property maintenance, and landlord-tenant rules, they should be permissible so long as they undergo annual inspection.
In 2015, Fresno, California, became the first large city in the United States to define and allow tiny houses, including those on wheels, in its local codes, making it a model for other communities looking to create paths for tiny houses on wheels. Still, Fresno’s rules are quite prescriptive. A tiny house on wheels must:
- be built to RV standards,
- be highway legal,
- be capable of being towed,
- be unable to move under its own power,
- look like a conventional house,
- have at least 100, but no more than 440, square feet, including a
- bathroom, and
- sleeping space, and
- comply with owner-occupancy restrictions.
Though most of these code requirements accommodate THOWs as they are now typically built, they could limit future innovation.
Zoning out tiny, by lot, by style, or by occupancy limit
Although the fact that most cities call THOWs campers is probably the single largest barrier to tiny living, local zoning ordinances also clamp down on tiny. Assuming you’ve built a tiny house to building code and want to set it on a foundation in the backyard of an existing single-family home to save on land costs, your next challenge would be zoning codes. Your best bet would be to find a city that allows Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs), or laneway houses, as they are called in Canada. DADU regulations allow a second unit on a single lot, something often prohibited.
Even then, many tiny houses may not find relief in DADU-friendly neighborhoods. Vancouver, British Columbia, has some of the most forward-thinking and flexible DADU regulations in Cascadia. But there, too, city regulations require laneway homes be at least 280 square feet, which is larger than most tiny houses.
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Other zoning restrictions also hamper tiny houses in single-family neighborhoods. Many communities require DADUs to match the exterior design of the single-family home where they are sited. This means matching things like roof pitch, window style, and exterior material, all requirements that add to the cost of building tiny without improving functionality or safety. Portland made tiny home progress recently by relaxing its design standards for DADUs less than 15 feet tall.
Finally, occupancy limits restrict the number of unrelated individuals who can live in one house, no matter how large it is. In Vancouver, BC, only five unrelated people may legally share a home, six in Portland, and eight in Seattle. While Vancouver allows ADUs their own occupancy limit, Portland and Seattle require that the maximum occupancy be shared between the primary house and DADU.
Tiny home communities, where multiple tiny homes share a lot, bump up against several of these zoning restrictions, as existing categories have yet to accommodate this new way of living. Single-family zones that allow DADUs usually only allow one such additional unit per lot, outlawing community living. Conversely, multi-family-zoned properties typically come with minimum density requirements as they anticipate apartments, not a handful of tiny houses. As a result, these communities rest in their own legal gray zone, waiting for outdated zoning definitions to catch up.
Lina Menard, a tiny house dweller in Portland’s Simply Home tiny cohousing community, experienced firsthand how occupancy and zoning requirements could quash her community. After Lina and her neighbors bought property in Portland, they went to the City to figure out how to live legally on their new land. The residential lot has an approximately 1,400 square foot single-family home, a garage, and three tiny houses on wheels in the backyard. The City’s zoning department worked with the community to clarify what was happening on the Simply Home Community lot. The community describes its permitting interaction with the City on its FAQ page:
“Let me get this straight. You have 6 unrelated people who share a big house and some of them park their vehicles on the property?” And when we said, “Well, sort of…” They winked and said, “Right?!” And we said, “Yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing!” So with a wink and a nod, they helped us figure out that we are basically sharing a house and a yard. Which we are.
Though Portland’s willingness to find a work-around for the Simply Home residents is laudable, it cannot be anticipated in other communities. Further, many potential tiny home dwellers may find a wink and a nod an uncomfortable resolution when they are seeking long-term housing security. Until cities amend their zoning codes to clearly allow tiny homes of all sorts in residential communities, including communal living situations, living tiny will remain an uncertain proposition.
A future for tiny?
Cities in Cascadia can embrace tiny living as one small piece of our housing future.
Cascadia is teeming with single-family houses. Portland and Seattle’s residential zoning is predominantly single-family, with 42 (see page 46) and 54 percent of each city covered by single-family residential zoning, respectively. Statewide, Oregon and Washington’s housing stock is over two-thirds single-family houses. In British Columbia, nearly half of all homes are single-family.
All three jurisdictions would benefit from more housing variety, including multifamily apartments, townhouses, and mixed-use buildings. They would also gain from integrating more housing into the existing single-family neighborhoods that dominate the region’s cities and towns. These small dwellings can increase density in existing neighborhoods without changing the look and feel of the community.
A growing community of tiny house enthusiasts is devoting itself to taking on tiny house challenges. Advocates such as Eli Spevak and Dee Williams are working to find new legal pathways for tiny houses. And organizations such as the American Tiny House Association provide educational resources for tiny house hopefuls.
Whatever the path, cities in Cascadia can embrace tiny living as one small piece of our housing future.
Great job compiling a list of the regulatory barriers that tiny homes on wheels face.
It seems that even with political support, the regulatory barriers to tiny homes on wheels are somewhat insurmountable. Furthermore, forcing tiny homes to fit into the realm of mindless regulations innately ruins the enterprising and unencumbered ethos of what enthusiasts find endearing about tiny home design.
Rather than trying to make tiny homes on wheels meet IRC or HUD codes, it may be more palatable to pursue a change to municipal zoning regulations to allow for homeowners to have mobile dwellings on their properties, provided the dwellings are placed in appropriate locations. The infrastructure for the utility connections to those dwellings could be regulated and built to the same code that an RV park must use.
The city could then issue a permit to the property owner to have a temporary mobile dwelling on the property. The owner would then be responsible for insuring the use of the dwelling; but the city wouldn’t be involved in regulating the ‘structure’ itself.
I fear that attempts to box in tiny homes on wheels to current regulated forms of housing, will not accomplish any effective goals. Spur, TX’s codes are not for tiny homes on wheels, and Fresno’s codes are never going to be used widely (way too cumbersome).
It would be good for a city with an affordable housing crisis, to take the lead and think outside the box a bit.
The right building codes already exist in their RV park codes; some subset of those codes just need to be applied to driveways and backyards on residential lots.
Vote libertarian and get rid if ridiculous regulations such as these!
Unfortunately many of those rules are there for a purpose. Many “tiny homes” are firetraps. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have myself a tiny house, but I cringe at some of those I see out of safety concerns.
Well said, Josh. I agree. Cities can solve their own housing crisis by opening up to alternative solutions.
Actually, my note was for Ken. This site doesn’t display well on mobile.
I suppose a tiny house is still better than living in a car
What is the purpose of not allowing a smaller house in a smaller space? I agree there was a purpose. It was not for fire safety.
It was for Status and a right to vote. Thats right when the colonizers got off thier boats they decided what made you important was the size of your fancy house and everything of value you could fit inside of it.
It was the American way….until americans began to question if it was important at all to them? Or did they want to get out and live life…rather than clean a huge house and work 2 jobs to have this house. Just to show off the house? And the. Amount of TAX !
Could it be significant?
Safety? I live in a townhome owned by the city of Seattle. I can assure you safety is not a concern of thiers.
I was thinking about buying a 2021 4 bedroom manufacturer home ,but by purchasing my OWN land , but the stupid rules they have in Portland Oregon they want to sell us property in the middle of nowhere !🤬 how crazy is that!! It’s a House, I think Portland Oregon is just being greedy with there cost of land not to mention buying or renting a house is CRAZY TO AFFORD so they
rather have there people living trashy in tent’s and being homeless , ,but no regulation there ,I don’t see a bed room ,bathroom and running water in a tent ,tiny house & mobile homes, modular homes or manufacture homes should be eligible to be in your own land to purchase, and not put our hard living investment in the hands of a trailer park , to continue making the poor people poorer and the trailer parks own more richer ….we as the people we have rights to purchase what we choose to live in, we are the ones that are paying for it ,we work hard and pay our taxes !! I give my applause to the homeless living in tent’s ,because they don’t have to pay any living expenses ,while I pay for an apartment that I only get to sleep and shower because I spend 12 hours a day going and coming from work 7 days a week ,I don’t get to enjoy the comfort of my apartment because I’m always at work ,but for now I’ll continue to save my money and buy a brand new house in Katy Texas or brookshire Texas,for under 20,000 I’m able to buy 2.5 acres for a mobile home or a brand new house 2020 built for less than 150,000 and ask for a transfer since I work at Amazon they pay you 17.00 an hour so Portland Oregon you can keep your filthy land ,I’m packing and moving back Texas,,,,and don’t have any intention of coming to this weird filthy stinky prostitute & drug addict STATE, I’M DISCUSTED OF MY SURROUNDINGS HERE 🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊
Libertarianism: the Scientology of Capitalism. As if these right wing Republicans are on your side. Most of the bad regulations were pushed by the deeply conservative real estate and builder lobbyists who despise tiny homes. Get involved with local government and change it to benefit the vast majority. That is real freedom.
Cities want to make money. They make more money from big houses. Just my opinion as to why tiny homes are often illigal. Lower tax income.
I think it would be wonderful for tiny houses so homeless have a place to live rather than on the streets
It appears that Minnesota has actually just passed a regulation that reflects some of principles that I alluded to in my initial comment.
The law is the first state code I’ve seen that codifies temporary mobile dwellings in residential law in a manner that I think holds promise. ie. The law does not regulate the dwelling as a structure, but rather the placement and infrastructural connections (and the use) of the dwelling via a temporary permit process.
Minnesota’s law supersedes local jurisdiction’s planning/zoning codes (unless those counties outright opt out of the new state law), it has a simple (hopefully) permitting process, and there’s some reasonable design regulations.
This particular law limits explicitly limits the use of these mobile dwellings for caregiving purposes, which obviously greatly limits the utility of the law.
Indeed, this law will very rarely ever be used…..
….but, I believe this is the type of law/code that could be emulated to effectively ‘entrust’ homeowners with flexibility and freedom to use temporary mobile dwellings (or HV (habitable vehicle), as Jay Shafer mentioned in another comment) on a residential property.
You can’t finance these tiny houses.. ,so how do you propose that the “homeless people ” pay for these….most of them are well over $60,000 …..do homeless people have that money laying around plus utilities, plus taxes, plus rent, plus a vehicle to pull it, plus insurance,plus food,plus clothing plus plus plus…..The whole concept is INSANE…..Better put the old “TIN FOIL CAP” back on and back to the drawing board
You can, however, build a tiny home for several hundred dollars and/or scrounged materials. If you’re going to live in a tiny house, you’re already thinking outside the box, and probably won’t be purchasing it, nor land to put it on.
Now if the governments would open up, say, parks, for free land, to put 100 square foot temporary structures or even tents, for the homeless, with NO building codes needed, the homeless would be easily accommodated. Many people might even give up their expensive houses on expensive real estate JUST to cut costs and live there.
Just because ‘most people’ would not live in them or would consider them eyesores, does not mean it would not make sense! Housing costs need to come down dramatically, to a few cents per square foot, and to a few hundred square feet per person at the most. Having ONE person live in say a 4,500 square foot home that costs a million dollars should just plain be outlawed.
I consider high-rise buildings, 3,000 square foot houses placed on 3,500 square foot lots, two feet away from the next cookie-cutter house, and anything with more than a one car garage that is not converted into living space for a down & out person making no money to be eyesores and pointless, and I’d like to ban every one of them.
On the other hand, traditional houses/real estate needs to stabilize!
House next door to me, an older home with about 1,200 square feet and a carport, sold at one point for 199,000 dollars, then foreclosed at $35,000, finally sold (after three flips) for $65,000, then sold again for $140,000 (what it is actually worth. Guess what, it just sold again… for $220,000. Set a damn price for the thing, and then, each year, have it devalue slightly, like a car! Forget those damn realtors!
Now Jon, I see that you posted this almost 2 years ago, but you just pissed me off and I’m going to vent.
Not all “homeless people” are destitute or druggies or drags on society.
I’m a member of the “homeless people” group because apparently I’m now considered “too old” to contribute to a company, and along with many other people over a certain age, am experiencing age discrimination when it comes to trying to finding viable employment in my career field. Luckily, we were able to take the funds we had after I was “downsized” and pay for a nice 36′ RV that we could live in, thinking that no matter what happened we would at least have a roof over our heads (because when this “adventure” originally started, we were paying an outlandish amount of rent being charged by one of the many greedy landlords out there that are more interested in sucking as much blood out of a turnip as they can rather than providing affordable housing – obviously another pieve I have).
Unfortunately, right after we bought our RV, we started to discover how difficult it is to live in it full time in our area. My bad for not doing extensive research before making this decision, but time was of the essence at the time we decided to purchase it, and I didn’t fathom it would be this difficult.
Even as I brought our very nice RV home from out of state (bought it used from a private party), I started to experience the discrimination and challenges of tiny home/RV living. I thought we could park overnight in Walmart’s on the way home because I had previously seen that to be a common practice, but apparently Walmart had just implemented a no overnight parking rule that week due to all the “homeless people” parking there for extended periods of time, so we had to find street parking, even when we arrived home.
Then, when I went to find a place to park it more permanently, I discovered that there are a very limited amount of RV parks around that you can park in full time, particularly that are anywhere near an area where there might be employment in our field of expertise, and those parks that were in a reasonable radius had a waiting list, and/or, the monthly charges could be just as expensive as renting an apartment or house (rediculous for a 20×50 area of space), and, they wouldn’t accept you if your RV was over 10 years old. Luckily our RV is only 8 years old (but what happens when it turns 10, do they kick us out?) .
We had to stay in a friend’s driveway for 6 months before we could get into an RV park. This was quite inconvenient because you had to pack up every week or so and go to the local rest stop and dump, as well as the many times we tripped their breaker because the available plug in was a 110 and our RV uses a 50amp service (we had to use conversion cables down to 110, but even at that, we couldn’t turn on the coffee maker and the microwave at the same time without tripping the house breaker).
We’re now in a decent RV park, but would like a little more space between us and our neighbors. One of the nice experiences is that we’ve had some great neighbors, but neighbors are transient, and sometimes your neighbors are unfriendly, which when they’re 10 feed away from you on each side can be uncomfortable.
So, I started researching purchasing an affordable piece of land that we could hook up septic/sewer, electric and water for our RV so we could eventually be able to stop paying rent and someday afford to live on this forced retirement situation we’ve found ourselves in without being “homeless” or a drain on society.
This is when I discover that in most of the counties around us, it’s illegal to live in our RV unless you’re in an RV park.
WTF? How is it that we can’t get a good job because someone else has decided that we’re too old (“over-qualified”) to contribute, and that we can’t live on a piece of property that we pay good money for, because someone else has decided that it doesn’t comply with what they think is an appropriate living structure?
No wonder there are so many homeless people out there that used to be contributors to society. As people get older, it appears that the younger generation and the wealthy have no use for their generation’s contributions. If the stock market steals their retirement funds, and/or they didn’t make enough money early enough in life to support a forced early retirement, they still need and want to provide themselves a roof over their heads and not become a drain on society, yet they when they try, they have to resort to living “illegally” in their RV because of someone else’s constraints property use. Sometimes this existance all becomes too much of a fight. You try to do the best you can but there is always something or someone trying to make your life more difficult or take what you have worked hard for and earned. Why isn’t the primary focus of society and governments people in general to work to make life more easy and enjoyable for their community rather than more difficult and frustrating?
After all that ranting, here you are saying “homeless people” can’t pay for an RV. Get your head out of the sand and see that there are many situations that cause people to become “homeless”. Try to become part of a solution instead of narrowly judging that all homeless people are worthless and penniless.
I know there are many people around my area that are living in their RV’s on the streets because they have no where to park them. Yes, some of them are druggies and mentally ill, but many of them are also deemed to old, or not desirable enough to be employable and need a place to park their home so they’re not living in a tent on the streets.
I’m fortunate that we could afford to buy a nice RV to live in. It would also be nice if we could also purchase an affordable piece of land nearby that would allow us to live in our “home”, and have the location be closer than than the current potential 3-4 hour commute that would be required to be “legal”, to a location that we might be able to find employment in, say, King County to King County, versus Grays Harbor County to King county.
If Lina was able to do this with her property, why isn’t it allowed anywhere else in the Portland metro area? Doesn’t seem fair. This should be allowed to everyone then that wants to do this with their home.
In addition it is actually illegal to live inside an RV Park in most states with a Tiny Home. RV Parks are required either by law or in some cases by insurance companies to ONLY allow RVs that display a RVIA or ANSI sticker in to their park.
IMHO the only viable path forward is to define clear certification requirements for Tiny Homes. Given the make and structure I would suggest the movement work with RVIA as they are trying to set certification for “Park Models” which are units very similar in design, use case, and regulatory limbo as Tiny Homes.
Love how these things look and enjoy the ingenuity and craftsmanship. RV Park Directory
Some of our Native Americans made portable tiny houses called teepees.
I have visited hundreds of RV facilities from coast to coast ,border to border and I have never run into a family of native americans in a TEE PEE staying there. But in the same thought I have never seen anyone in a covered wagon either.
And many people from the wealthiest on down to just boat enthusiasts live on boats full time. Most of these boats are smaller then tiny homes. It’s all political. There’s no good reason to prevent tiny home living.
I favor the idea of tiny homes, but let’s not outright dismiss the very codes keeping neighborhoods from becoming fire hazards, flop houses, sanitation problems along with some intangibles that either promote or decrease quality of life. I do not want my neighbor renting out her front and back yard to multiple tiny houses, openly defying ‘set-back’ requirements that are rightly established. If you want density, that is what apartments are for. Tiny houses are not built for density – lets at least admit that to ourselves. Tiny houses are built to satisfy one’s own desire to live more affordably and easily, which is absolutely commendable. Let’s not justify our way towards mini-trailer parks in the backyards of single-family home neighborhoods. I’d be in favor of no more than one tiny house per some minimum of residential lot size, following all applicable set-back requirements with appropriate sanitation hook ups and adherence to fire code. You know what will happen if we ‘wild-west’ these things: unscrupulous landlords taking advantage, smooshing multiple sub-standard fire-traps to poor people and disguising it as a green-leaning, liberal utopia.
Tiny homes on wheels are having an identity crisis! They are neither a house, governed by the International Residential Code (IRC), nor are they a trailer, governed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) trailer and manufactured housing codes. Tiny homes on wheels are a hybrid model: a house on a trailer. Planners all over the country face a tough situation in granting legal status to THOWs because there is no existing building code under which to permit them: they cannot be identified either as a house or as a trailer.
Tiny houses on wheels then, should seek their own building codes, similar to what modulars did. If, as Kol proposes, we choose sides and deem them RVs, we run the risk of NIMBY and unconstitutional zoning codes that marginalize RVs. Maybe Portland authorities are forward thinkers, but many communities will defend their inequitable existing zoning codes and send trailers to outlying “more appropriate” areas in less desirable locations and away from walkable, residential neighborhoods. And let’s not forget: RVs are considered recreational vehicles and are not permanent housing.
Advocating for zoning change on a town-by-town basis is the only way to legalize tiny houses on wheels. Everyone knows change moves faster than the bureaucracy that regulates what is legal and what is not. Change does not come easily. To simply roll over and accept tinys as a subset of RV (manufactured) housing codes because new, hard-won changes in zoning codes like the changes in Fresno are cumbersome is a case of giving up before we’ve even started. Someone please insert a quote about the importance of advocating for change here—Margaret Mead? Jane Jacobs?
The American Tiny House Association is working toward new standards that will allow tiny houses on wheels to prescribe to their own standards, apart from RVs and even houses. These standards will be a hybrid IRC/ANSI building code designation that will place THOWs on the building code short list: stick built, modular, manufactured and, oh, yeah, THOW! In the meantime, we applaud the efforts of those who have successfully advocated for the legal inclusion of tiny houses on wheels despite the fact that tiny houses on wheels struggle with their identity. We encourage everyone to join our association and to collaborate with others who are working to identify tiny houses on wheels as a viable and affordable housing option.
Amy Turnbull rocks!
It seems like modifying current RV/park model codes might be an easy answer to many, if not most, of our current housing problems. As it is, RVs and park model RVs are required to be designed for “seasonal use only”. What that means is up for interpretation. My first little house on wheels was designed to be lived in during the cold months, as I spent my summers elsewhere.
Perhaps it’s past time for an HV (habitable vehicle) classification. If a structure’s safe to live in 9 months out of the year in every other way, then why not just ensure it’s geared for the remaining 3 months. We could also shoot for HV parks, where people could live without having to pick up and move every 30-90 days. We could call ’em HVs or THOWs or whatever. It seems like the term “tiny house” is tripping a lot of people up. Most of the safety testing’s already been done.
You rock, Jay! You started this movement and through it, have helped define a whole new (old) way of living. I bought land with an existing house and will be building tiny in the next year or two – renting out the main house. I took your workshop a few years ago and owe you a huge debt of gratitude for sharing your wisdom.
Thank you, Jay!!!
It was Frank Lloyd Wright who said that a Log Cabin was a great place to live. Tiny houses are essentially the same concept, although they are generally smaller.
Frank Lloyd Wright also said that he didn’t like apartment towers. He believed that humans can only acheive their full potential by being spread out, on one acre lots, with access to outdoor space.
However, the planning profession in many urban areas is taking the opposite approach, building ugly, poorly designed, tall, smart growth towers.
Many of us find these unsightly, myself included. I was in Reno today, noting some very poorly constructed 8 to 10 story towers near the University of Nevada – Reno campus, with no grassy areas, swimming pools, or open space.
Instead of the towers, which block beautiful mountain views in Reno, why not allow tiny houses in the backyards of homes near the University of NV – Reno area, or in Midtown Reno, which is nearby?
Scottsdale, Arizona – the home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winter Home and his School of Architecture – also faces a building boom of tall, smart growth towers that many vigorously oppose. Why not allow tiny houses in the backyards of the classic older homes in southwest Scottsdale and Arcadia, near Old Town? These areas have very large lots, everyone wants to live there due to the nearby entertainment, and many homes already have guest houses and casitas.
Here’s the area I’m referring to, in Phoenix / Scottsdale –
Here’s a classic California Ranch style home in Arcadia, with a large backyard. Most owners, in this area, would not build these, but others would, as it’s an increasingly Democrat part of the metro Phoenix area, bordering liberal Tempe (Arizona State University).
Building code compliance is not a real issue. Tiny house builders and buyers have created a paper tiger for themselves. The 7′ and 70sf rules are a cinch to meet. Wheels to foundations convertibility is an industry standard for manufactured housing. As a residential architect, I’ve been designing to the codes for 45 years and I can make any tiny house design fit into the expectations of the code, strong and safe. Planning and zoning is another story. It’s all political and the NIMBYs are waiting for us. Our challenge is to build to code and do the difficult political work of changing planning and zoning laws. Those are simply discriminatory and must be shown the way of racist and sexist laws of the past. Unfair and illegal. Talk to me. David Ludwig. Tiny House Solutions.
You’re right about the new code revisions allowing for much more efficient house design that’ll fit on wheels, David. We should get together and geek out someday about all the cool ways we’ve come up with to make this work.
The remaining problem I see with code is the variability between one set of standards and another. If a 24″x17″ egress window is safe according to the ANSI testing done for RVs, why is the ANSI testing done for the ICC purportedly requiring something twice that size for site built houses? And, if 70 s.f. is deemed safe for the size of a habitable room by the ICC, why is HUD still requiring 150 sf for manufactured housing? What is truly safe and what is merely excessive?
It seems like most code creators, to date, have weighed in on the side of excess as a perceived means of commercial gain and/or simply covering their collective butt. It just seems like requiring 38-Rs of insulation in a roof instead of 20 would, for example, save energy and bolster the industry, so why not just throw that extra 3 inches of roof-thickness in for “safe” measure? Thicker roofs mean more lumber, more fasteners and, of course, more insulation.
Those three extra inches don’t, necessarily, mean more energy savings, though. There’s a lot of extra crap that goes into producing unnecessary crap, and once you’ve exceeded about 15-25-Rs of insulation in a roof, wall or floor, the diminishing returns of insulation start tipping the scales dangerously close to totally wasteful and unduly expensive.
This is, of course, just one example of the many, seemingly nonsensical rules that make designing affordable, efficient little houses difficult if you want them to meet any particular code.
I totally agree that the ICC has made great strides with its recent revisions; and there’s no doubt that planning departments have a lot of catching up to do. Commonsense is bound to have its way in the long run. I appreciate yours. Thank you, David.
David, my wife and I’d like to speak with you regarding our Not-So-Tiny-House. Can you contact us or allow us to contact you? Please advise. Eugene Schlageter
I think those in the tiny homes need to consider/accept the ‘borrow’ factor. Many folks that reside in those homes are often forced mooch or borrow services from friends and family. Borrowing laundry services, storage, garden/pet space, water, etc.
I lived in a small Yurt for years but still had to have a couple small sheds to house all the other things one needs for real and sustainable self-sufficiency.
If one truly wants to live in such a tiny house, it may make more sense to put them within the structures of intentional-communities where all contribute and share certain resources from the get-go.
Vote libertarian and get rid if ridiculous regulations such as these!
Voting libertarian isn’t going to solve a damned thing. What the Tiny House Movement needs to do is set up some safety standards. Many of these home built tiny homes are unsafe for many reasons, not excluding road safety. Even on Tiny House Nation you often see them driving down the road, with a load that is too heavy for it’s own good.
I was so excited at the prospect of selling my home and buying tiny to prepare myself for retirement . Then I started calling the local government agencies and realized I didn’t stand a chance. I wanted to do everything right and legal . My only choice here in Rome Georgia is to live in a RV park and I am concerned the noise may be to much to handle while still working a full time job.
I have 20 acres in the country and am disappointed with all the rules and such of Chelan County. I can’t seem to accomplish anything as far as getting a permit to build a daylight basement to set a small cabin on. I wonder if maybe I should just get a tiny house and take my chances.
Think it would be wonderful to have tiny house villages for homeless retired that can’t afford to live in there own house
Tiny SMART House
Oregon Code allows full time residential use in RV Parks per OAR 197.493.
Tiny SMART House is proposing a 200 unit RV Master Planned “Tiny House Park” in Monroe, Oregon – 15 minutes between Corvallis and Eugene which are two major PAC 12 Universities.
The application comes before the Monroe city council on July 20, 2016.
There is another slant on all this:
In the Western world the prices of homes has reached obscene levels. And the only ones who benefit from this are the Property Developers and the Builders.
I’m convinced that the Property developer lobby has been quietly working for decades to pass a huge number of small regulations which together make it almost impossible to buy an affordable block of land and build an affordable house.
I attended a Council funded Owner-Builder course recently and the participants were infuriated at the sheer number of mindless regulations. We confronted the lecturer and he eventually admitted that his main purpose was to convince us to abandon our dream of building our own house.
Conversely I spent some time in Thailand where the Government is actively helping people build affordable houses. Their Government even gives out free building plans which local councils are forced to accept by law.
Perhaps when people begin to realise how the super-rich and their corrupt politicians are destroying our society….
I so much agree that this is just another corrupt way to make more money. With “cheap” rentals going for way over $500 a month for a very tiny apartment, and all the homelessness, we need a change in these zoning laws.
I wonder if the Cottage Communities model zoning would be a place to start for designing zoning that would accommodate tiny houses. Kirkland has an ordinance specifically for that. I’m just beginning to research this, and would love to talk with anyone who has ideas or experience with residential zoning revision to promote affordability and other options in single-family zones. Lot coverage is one issue even when ADUs and DADUs are allowed, as is the required parking and the unrelated-people count.
I have 5 acres in rural Duvall and am interested in creating a small cottage community for tiny homes on our property. Would love to hear what you have learned!
We modified the layout to accommodate our priorities. Nicole and I spend most of our time in our living room so we wanted to have a nice spot to relax after work and for me to play guitar. We have about 10’ of our trailer dedicated to our living room which transitions into the kitchen, leaving 5-6’ for the bathroom.
I have noticed on these “Little house ” shows that there are not many safety factors built into these units …Never ONCE did i see a smoke or carbon monoxide detector. Windows are too small to escape when the space heaters set the house afire. Stabilizers once the house is parked from tipping not to mention high winds . Every “HANDYMAN” who wants to show his skills builds these “SHACKS” with out any engineering and weight considerations. Cute gimmicks but not necessarily safe…..climbing backwards down a ladder in the dark in a fire would make me a little bit nervous…..But maybe thats just me and UNTIL something HORRIFIC like this happens everyone will continue to fly by night singing KUMBAYA……It’s not IF it will happen but WHEN……….GOOD LUCK
I want to park a train car on my property in NE Portland and convert it into a tiny home.. Does anyone know if Iam able to do this legally? I dont want to buy/transport then have problems with city later
It’s time to fight back against tyranny.
It’s time to arm ourselves and give them HELL for outlawing affordable living.
1) they refuse to pay us enough to afford a middle class living standard
2) they make it illegal to trim down our costs and live within our modest means
I say, it’s time to fight and die. They had it coming.
The economy is finished and the only thing left is the civil war this will start.
Yours is the most sensible comment I’ve read on this site. Agree with you 100%.
Could i have a tiny house as an ADU even though I don’t have another structure on my property ? Could i get away with it, does anyone know? Chelan County Wa. has a terrible affordable housing crisis. They only care about the people that can spend 2 – 3 million dollars for their homes. This is shameful.
Horizon Construction Co.
I have been a Union carpenter for 38 years. Owned my own construction company for 30. Built a 39 foot steel auxiliary sailboat. Now designing a 27 by 8.5 by 13.5 high THOW. This is a great site. Wish I had this and my smartphone when I built my sailboat . For people wanting to live in a city I applaud and support your efforts. For those of us who want to live in the country I think the way forward is going to be a lot easier .
I’ve been looking for rural land in WA on which to put a THOW. It doesn’ look any more possible, as the lots only allow someone to live in an RV 90 days a year.
Alyse, nice article; you did a great job defining many of the issues working against tiny houses. I would like to add the link for my article: If Tiny Houses Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Inhabit Tiny Houses for those that want to do more reading as to how we got here.
I don’t agree.
cool.. are these legal in Seattle WA? living in a safe retirement community would still be a better option for us retirees. What do you think of this retirement community https://www.thewillowsbellingham.com/people/ ?
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