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Tiny House Codes and Legal Issues: A Primer

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Jan 31, 2015 8:58:01 PM

Building or buying a ready-built tiny house may not be the biggest challenge you make when "going small." Depending on where you live, you may have to dodge legal hurdles.

The article below, written by Laura LeVoi, is a great primer on the topic, although we urge you not to take it as the last word on the rapidly changing code environment. We'll have a lot more to say on this issue in future blogs.

BUILDING A TINY HOUSE IS IN PART AN ACT OF REBELLION. It is a sort of civil disobedience. Tiny houses are not considered truly legal anywhere, so building one can take a little creativity. I reached out to Macy Miller of MiniMotives to get her professional take on building codes. She is not only a tiny house builder herself but she works with her city as well and had an insider’s view of code enforcement. Here is the interview I did with her for your code research pleasure.

Where is the best place to start to find out what your local codes are?

The best place to start is to go down to your local City Hall, inside of it there is a “Planning Department.”  People are there to help the public through all their building and zoning questions.  If you are curious about code requirements but are planning to build on a trailer you may want to leave that part off in the conversation.  Once you mention that the tiny house is on wheels they will look at you like you’re crazy and stop helping – once it’s on wheels it becomes a DMV/Highway District issue rather than a city code issue.  However, the DMV will not be able, in most cases, to help you out with any ‘code’ related stuff. They will do their own checks as much as they can to make sure your house won’t fall off the freeway and endanger others, even then, they are not structural engineers so don’t expect too terribly much!

(Note:  We will be lookind into this DMV classification further. One outstanding question, for example, is whether a tiny house with a DMV license plate can be parked as a "vehicle" on a site that is not otherwise viable for home construction: Editor)

Even though most code officials won’t be able to help I still highly encourage people to go speak with officials, this will serve to let them know there is a growing demand for help and safety in this area.  Those people you speak with are more likely to bring it up at their next meeting and the code officials are the ones who make the codes – they all meet and discuss the priorities and adapt to them, the more people they collectively see coming in to ask about tiny houses the more likely it is that tiny houses are going to start to be considered at the code level.

If you want to go the passive way around things you can look up a copy of the Residential Building Code as well as your local building requirements (generally found on your cities website under something that resembles a ‘Planning and/or Development’ department – this book and these codes are however pretty complex and difficult to work through without experience. If you try and you get stuck you always have the code officials at City Hall to help you understand. ... READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE.

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