What will it take to make tiny houses legal?

Rowdy Kittens
CC BY 2.0 Rowdy Kittens

This is your classic tiny house photo: It has the traditional shape of a house, a porch like a traditional house, built of traditional materials that houses are built of like wood siding. And it is sitting in a field, where the owner hopes that the building inspectors and zoning enforcement officers won’t notice it.

As tiny houses become more popular, they are going through a sort of identity crisis: what are they exactly? A kludge, a workaround. I wrote earlier:

Tiny houses were designed under the RV rules to get around the building codes, but zoning bylaws often ban people living in RVs, and even the RV rules never allowed permanent occupancy, even though many people did. Even when you put them in RV parks, about the only place where you can legally live in them, the leases often ban permanent occupancy. Many of them won't even allow tiny houses, because most are not certified by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

Over at the Sightline Institute, Alyse Nelson has written what appears to be the definitive look at the problems facing people who want to live in a Tiny House on Wheels (THOW), a building type that doesn’t fit under any code or standard right now. She describes the benefits of legalizing them:

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.

thud© Steven M. Johnson

She covers all of the issues and problems, including minimum size requirements, zoning bylaws that prohibit living full time in RVs, the building codes regulating them. But changes are coming:

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.

Nelson notes that “ growing community of tiny house enthusiasts is devoting itself to taking on tiny house challenges” and that we should “embrace tiny living as one small piece of our housing future.” With a new housing form that needs changes in planning, zoning, building, plumbing and fire regulations, this is one big challenge for a tiny house.

Tags: Living With Less | Small Spaces

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