The tiny house craze shows no signs of slowing down soon. Those with modest means but a craving for permanency often wonder if one of these darlings could get them off the rental roller coaster and into permanent housing.
However, such individuals face complications beyond raising construction money. Building and zoning requirements make site-built tiny homeownership problematic or even downright impossible in some areas, and mobile options aren’t much better in terms of regulations.
Here’s how better policies can drive the tiny house movement and make it a viable solution — and how people can get involved.
The Problems With Tiny Houses
Enthusiasts have two options for building a tiny home — building onsite or going mobile. Both come with their share of regulatory red tape. Site-built models must contend with building codes, portable units pose parking problems and both need to wrangle zoning requirements.
Building codes in many areas prohibit the construction of dwelling units that don’t meet a minimum square footage requirement. Most states adopt these from the International Residential Code, which states that all dwellings must meet a minimum of 320 square feet.
Other conditions apply too. Habitable rooms, of which dwellings need at least one, require a closet and a window. Non-habitable rooms must have a minimum of 70 square feet — which doesn’t sound too challenging until you try to squeeze a bathroom into a tiny house.
These days, meeting these standards is easier than ever, as people can find no shortage of tiny home plans online. Tiny homes are generally up to three to six times smaller than the traditional U.S. house, which is approximately 2,600 square feet. How small homeowners go depends on their household, environmental goals and local regulations.
Individuals can lease land from the national park service to construct such structures. However, they are not classified as permanent residences, and renters must adhere to contract requirements or lose access.
Zoning regulations create additional code restrictions. Many include more substantial square footage requirements based on land location, and some areas require a minimum dwelling size of 1,000 square feet — well larger than the standard tiny home model.
Some states, like California and Oregon, have more flexible regulations for those who haven’t purchased land yet. However, those who have a plot in a jurisdiction with strict codes may have no choice but to go big.
Registration and Parking of Mobile Units
The final option for tiny home living is to build one on a trailer and treat it like a recreational vehicle. Most states allow people to register your home as an RV if it meets the certification requirements. This process can cost time and money.
Plus, folks still need to find a place for their homes on wheels. RV parks offer one alternative, as do campgrounds. However, they need to pay to stay. Site rent might prove cheap, but it’s not free.
Finally, such individuals have to move their tiny homes occasionally to avoid breaking the law. Most areas prohibit living in an RV full-time unless they park it on someone’s private property.
Making Tiny Houses More Widely Available
With more people seeking affordable housing alternatives, how can society make tiny home living more accessible? The most apparent solution is to change building and zoning requirements to permit their use.
As with most capitalist conflicts, trouble arises between wealthy land developers and those seeking to provide affordable houses for the masses. Investors argue that it is a better use of scarce land to build multi-dwelling units. While they do cite valid environmental concerns, the reality is that there’s little incentive to construct rent-controlled units when luxury profits beckon.
Leaders of outlying communities can update zoning regulations to allow tiny home communities to flourish. Already, some states consider such areas interim solutions for getting the homeless into permanent housing. While living in under 200 square feet is a dream for some, it does become restrictive during ongoing occupancy.
Another solution is to make the homes in such communities a little larger. That way, instead of using them as an interim solution, they could become permanent housing for homeless folks and those on the brink.
Going mid-sized, coupled with updated building and zoning codes, could provide a medium-sized solution to the affordable housing crisis. For those of modest means, a medium-sized dwelling in an accepting community isn’t too restrictive or too overwhelming — it could be just right.
How Can Tiny Home Enthusiasts Push Better Policies?
The best way to get involved is at the local level. Interested parties can start attending planning and zoning meetings to make their opinion known. They can consider running for public offices, such as county assessor, to gain more sway over rules and regulations in their area. Petitioning those in charge to reconsider zoning regulations can help communities make waves for allowing affordable and sustainable housing initiatives.
Many tiny homeowners also find benefits in establishing communities for tiny home living. While this requires planning and organizing, sharing land responsibilities and creating an economic draw for tiny home living can help convince municipalities that this trend should be viewed as a legitimate housing effort. .
Better Policies Will Enable the Tiny House Movement to Thrive
The enthusiasm for the tiny house movement is overwhelming in these uncertain economic times. Better policies will enable this idea to grow and thrive while providing a viable and affordable housing solution.
Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated, where she publishes home renovation and construction ideas to create more sustainable buildings.