Legalizing Your Tiny House: Working With Zoning/Building

Legalizing Your Tiny House: Working With Zoning/Building

It’s not everyday that we hear from a Code Enforcement Officer, especially one that is interested in building tiny. So when Jaime wrote to us, I was excited and asked if he would be willing to share his “insider” perspective into the mysterious world of zoning and building departments. In this article you will learn how to go to zoning/building departments with your tiny house plans. He has been gracious enough to reveal everything he has learned during his time working for an East Bay area city in California. Though I realize not everyone will want to go the legalization route with their tiny house, for those of us that do, this information is invaluable. 


legalizing your tiny houseMy name is Jamie. I have over 20 years in the banking and finance field, 22 years as a California State Licensed General Contractor, and from 2008 until 2013, as a Certified Code Enforcement Officer for an East Bay area City.  I decided to retire and come back to my home town in Upstate New York to assist my aged mother with two rental properties she owned.
With that being said, I wanted you to know that I am not an expert in any one field, but I do have some experience with being on “both sides of the table” when it comes to construction and dealing with Building Officials. Working within confines of your local code may seem daunting but if we have an open mind and a reasonable understanding of why codes are there, we can work together to fulfill our dreams of building a home that has a smaller impact on Mother Earth.
Building codes are not written intentionally to be difficult. They are there because a lot of people have died historically from poor construction practices. They cover all aspects of a building for conditions of “Life, Health and Safety”. We realize that it is virtually impossible for any one person to know all of the codes but it does help to have some knowledge about them and also an understanding of why they exist. When presenting your plans, it’s important to create a good relationship with your Building Officials.  They are there to help you ensure that habitable structures are safe and energy efficient.


1) It is always a good idea to discuss your plans with zoning first. Familiarize yourself with your local zoning codes (many jurisdictions have them available on their website). If that feels daunting, hire an architect or designer to help you navigate this piece of the puzzle. Better yet, hire a professional to draw up your plans (or purchase a completed set of engineered plans). Once the building officials see that someone knows what they are doing, they are more apt to be more accommodating.
If zoning says “no” to your project, ask what they would allow and try to get them to work with you. Overall, nearly all Building Officials are friendly, polite and there to help so I hate to admit that there are some that are downright rude. I have even seen some deny projects because they didn’t fit in with the Official’s vision for their jurisdiction, even though the plans complied with the zoning and municipal codes. It helps to ask local builders in your community who they recommend you work with. People in the building community will know which Officials are reasonable and which ones aren’t.
In most jurisdictions, in terms of submitting architectural plans, you must have a property already purchased and approved for the construction of a dwelling unit.
2) I would not recommend bringing in “hand drawn” plans.  They are unprofessional and can be construed by officials to mean that you don’t know what you’re doing. Hand drawn plans are only acceptable for non-habitable sheds or minor remodels to existing structures.
The plans should be code compliant and to scale. Generally 3 copies are required.  One for the builder (you), one for the city to archive and one for the county for taxation purposes.  These plans will need to list the sizes of the rooms, the egress paths, any plumbing, electrical, mechanical and structural features.  They should also list all materials being used.  If one of the building materials is not approved by the local jurisdiction, the building official will need proof that the material meets or exceeds the local building codes.  We don’t want someone using materials that burn easily, release toxic fumes when ignited, etc.
Your plans will need to demonstrate that you have adequate ventilation including but not limited to combustible air for fuel burning appliances, an air return to replace any vented moisture laden air, and that the venting is a minimum of 36″ away from an operable window.
The electrical system must be able to handle the demands placed on it.  For example are you installing a microwave, garbage disposal, dishwasher etc., they require dedicated circuits.  In a standard home, there are generally 7 dedicated circuits in the kitchen alone. The plumbing system is also something that has to be designed whether you are hooked up to a municipal network or not.  Proper venting is necessary to keep sewage gasses away from the air you breathe since methane can make one very ill and is flammable.
Structures must meet the demands put on it in order to pass the review process.  For example, in earthquake country, specifications must be met to prevent the house from falling over.
3) If you are building a smaller home, i.e. 200 sq ft., one is going to need to meet minimum size restrictions. You can look at what minimums are for “studio” set ups in your area since that allows for open floor plan that includes the sleeping space. In terms of a tiny house being on wheels, at least in the area I worked, code requires that permanent structures be “positively” fastened to a solid foundation. If it is mobile, it is classified as a “mobile home” and must be located in a “mobile home park” zoned area.
4) If you receive a “no” for your proposed project despite being courteous, working in the spirit of cooperation, and having well designed plans, I would encourage you to go to the local Council meetings and to present your issue and ask for the laws to change.  For example, I had a resident who defied the local municipal code restricting the ownership of chickens in a residential area.  I had to cite her for not following the law.  I mentioned that she always had the right to go to council meetings to discuss her concerns.  Lo and behold, she did and the local municipal code changed.  It took a few months, but our city officials were open to it.  They created a committee comprised of local residents and rewrote the laws with the help of zoning and building personnel.
One thing to keep in mind is that ALL cities in California must follow the State’s Building Codes.  So in order to change the code in that state, the public needs to go to the Building Code Council and advocate changes.
5)  Before you present your plans, I’d highly recommend you do as much research as possible so that you can be prepared and able to answer the tough questions. Go in with an open mind and really listen to what they are saying and what their concerns might be.  If they knock you down, don’t get discouraged. Instead be open to suggestions and thank them for their expertise. I have noticed that, generally speaking, if Building Officials see you really want to work with them, they are more apt to help you and less inclined to be combative.
6) People should expect that if they did not do any homework, they most likely will be shot down.  So with that in mind, I repeat, do some research.  Look online at the city’s website.  Make an appointment to meet with the planning/zoning personnel.  Make sure you understand the overall land use objective for your area. Many cities are trying to redevelop land to bring in revenue through taxation. Get creative and look at other jurisdictions that are allowing tiny houses to be built.
7) People really should not be worried if the plan checker comes back with a lot of changes.  This is pretty normal and fine but it does slow down the process. You can minimize the changes that the checker wants to see by knowing what your local code calls for. Make your plans as clear as possible.  I have had one of my own plans rejected because I didn’t show the floor framing member sizes on a bath and kitchen remodel.  In terms of timing, be aware that most building departments operate on a first in, first out position. If/when they have to kick the plans back to you and you re-submit them, you are put at the back of the line again.


If you are really passionate about building small, don’t let small bumps in the road derail you. I have found that when someone has everything in place, has done their research and can show officials the benefits of tiny house living in a community, that they are actually receptive.
I personally think going small is very important.  Over the years, I have lived in big homes and really found them to be burdensome more than anything else.  Not only from the standpoint of being wastful of our natural resources but to maintain them as well. I am a strong advocate for smaller and tiny homes provided they are built with “Life, Health and Safety” in mind. I wish you readers the best of luck and I hope you can get nationwide changes going!

Want to learn more about tiny house living and how to build a tiny house? Want to do so for FREE? Sign up for our totally free 7 Day Tiny House eCourse! Find out more HERE.

44 Responses to Legalizing Your Tiny House: Working With Zoning/Building

  1. /bob January 8, 2016 at 10:54 am #


    • Eric and Quita Lewis January 13, 2016 at 1:43 am #

      Really good of you to give us this input…My wife and I are going to build our own “Tiny Build” this year and will now make a start with your 7 points …Thank you . Eric & Quita

  2. Alex January 8, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    Very well put. I would like to add that my wife and I tackled the tough zoning laws in our small farming community and were approved! It wasn’t easy. Jaime’s advice is very accurate and true. I would like to offer a few pieces of advice. Currently, It’s going to be very difficult to get approved to dwell in a tiny house in an urban area. This is one of the reason’s we chose to live in a rural area – it’s just more flexible. The zoning board was completely unfamiliar with tiny houses and we had to walk them through everything. It’s just a fact, living in tiny houses don’t fit the codes and regulations. We had to apply for 3 variances. This is important – you have to have sound reasoning for why you are varying from the codes. This means you will have to create an airtight case. Our case was: the property owner (grandmother) requested us to live on the property to help her with daily tasks, which she would be unable to do without our presence. You will have to create your own “story” and reason for why you want to vary. It’s not an easy process and it can be time consuming but it is REALLY worth it to know that we can legally live in our tiny house.

    A huge thanks to Andrew and Gabriella for helping us along the way. We expect to move into our hoME this summer!

    • Gabriella January 11, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

      SO great to see this update Alex!! Incredibly proud of you guys and so appreciative that you took the time to do it right. Hopefully it makes it easier for the next person as well. Look forward to seeing your completed hOMe! 🙂

    • Jessica October 24, 2016 at 8:11 am #

      Hi Alex, I’m hoping to start building my tiny house very soon. Was your tiny home built to code and/or was it certified in any way? RVIA, etc. I plan on following basic code standards but not to a T since there are over 500 to implement. I’m wondering if I would even have a chance of getting approved the way you did if my structure wasn’t build to code. (It’ll be structurally sound/plans checked by architect, it’ll follow basic safety regulations, etc) Or is that not something they care about? I appreciate any advice. Thank you!

  3. Larry Ulfik January 8, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Gabriella and Jamie,
    I have 12 acres of land and may want to place a tiny home on it. If I choose to do it I will buy your plans for sure. I find that articles on gaining local approvals are very general, and this one has gone into areas that I totally agree with. Working with the building department in a partnership is beneficial, I’ve done it and it worked for me too. Our inspectors are a great resource, know the builders in the area, and can be relied upon to offer their suggestions as to how to deal with technical issues in a safe and effective way. I’d like some guidance on two topics that seem to be avoided in articles about tiny houses. The first is being off grid having power only supplied by a few solar panels with perhaps a generator used for powering heavy loads like saws and other intermittently used tools. The solar off grid technology is perhaps the simplest to deal with, and there’s a lot on the internet and in technology to handle almost anything, including water pumping. The other is waste, from washing clothes, dishes and other normal activities. The next is what to do about composting toilets. Not the fancy type, but the simple sawdust type. Is there a safe way to dispose of gray water, and composting toilet waste that is acceptable to zoning enforcement officers? It seems unlikely and I’d like to have some guidance from anyone who has solved these as they pose possible reasons for being turned down, Has anyone had success in getting approval with gray water and humanure? Please will you describe the acceptable solutions?

    • Valerie January 8, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

      I have asked my zoning official about composting toilets and he referred me to the county’s health department, whom I have not called yet. They apparently have to approve whatever system you will be using for waste. This is in New York State and I am in a rural area.

      My issue is a minimum square foot requirement. I am not interested in building on a trailer and was told my house would have to be a minimum of 960 square feet.

      • Gabriella January 11, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

        You could approach your local councilmen and give a proposal on the advantages of the tiny house footprint on your community. Many people have been able to receive variances and built tiny houses for themselves in areas that had minimum square footage requirements. I’d recommend you do some research and try to understand WHY they have a 960sf minimum and then in your proposal/presentation, give specific solutions to each of the key points/reasons for that minimum. Let us know how it goes!

    • Gabriella January 11, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

      Hi Larry! Great questions. In terms of grey water systems and legalities by state, check out this page: If your state doesn’t allow for grey water systems, look through the website information to see what are some viable systems and then approach your local jurisdiction and do your best to help them see the light so to speak. In terms of humanure system, here is another page on same site with info: With power, we have no grid tied electricity and have to generate our own. On cloudy days, we use our generator to charge our batteries. Our generator is strong enough to run any of our power tools as well as any other large load we may have. The key is getting a generator that is powerful enough. This is not a place to skimp. They are big and heavy though so may not be a great solution if someone is traveling in their tiny a lot.

  4. Frank Bausola January 8, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    One thing to keep in mind and that is that Zoning is exclusionary in nature. Many of the rules and regulations were designed by and for the so called “Elite” of the community. Lot sizes are a perfect example. What does the lot size have to do with you building a smaller home? Also, larger lot sizes ($$$) mean that homes will be larger and more expensive. Zoning officials that I have talked with use the phrase, “Orderly Growth” when lot size is brought up. Time and space don’t allow for all the set backs of zoning but remember that there are the people that have it and those that don’t. Home Values are the usual cry when anything different is proposed.”I’ve Got Mine” and “NIMBY”
    are the usual cries.
    Good luck with selfish people and zoning agents that speak for them.

    • Gabriella January 11, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

      Depends on the area. Fortunately not all areas are so steadfast in their zoning that they aren’t willing to at least give someone the benefit of the doubt and hear them out.

    • Gregory January 18, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

      “What does the lot size have to do with you building a smaller home?”

      It has everything to do with it. Property taxes are based on lot size and the square footage of livable space on the structure(s) placed on that lot; the tax term for the house is officially called “improvements.” So if you have a 2 acre lot, but put a 200 SF house on it your taxes for the improvements to property will be negligible to the city or county. This is bad business for the county, they would much rather collect taxes on a 3,000 SF house and be able to increase the tax revenue by a hundred bucks a year rathe than a few bucks. So you see, by placing a minuscule home on a lot with the potential for much more square footage you essentially sanction tax revenue for the county.

      I think we as TH movement folks need to be willing to understand this and offer to pay a minimum tax for improvements on the properties. Many TH folks see Tiny houses as a means to avoid taxes and I think this is one huge obstacle to working with government officials on any level.

      • kmaser March 18, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

        Great comment for a town where land values are extreme.

      • Domenic July 8, 2016 at 7:03 am #

        Well why doesn’t the town have a minimum tax improvement charge. If the ordinance is to build a minimum of 900 sqft. Then if one choosing to build smaller still has to pay tax on the minimum. This will eliminate all the problems for THE people wanting to live in these areas…..

  5. Roger Humbke January 8, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

    Thanks so much to Gabriella for her excellent article. It couldn’t have come at a better time as I am meeting with our city’s (Edmonton, Alberta) researcher who is looking at alternative housing proposals. I am primarily interested in a Tiny/Small House Eco Cohousing Project of either multi-generations or senior participants.

    It will be a challenge well worth the effort, no matter how long it takes to succeed. I continue to look for information on other projects that have succeeded or are in progress.

    Roger Humbke

    • Gabriella January 11, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

      Good luck Roger! Keep us posted on it all!

  6. Sonya Tafejian January 8, 2016 at 8:39 pm #

    The information from Jamie is much appreciated and I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiment about not going in with hand-drawn plans and having a positive attitude towards the planning/zoning department process.
    However, the process can be much simpler than what Jamie described if a county already has zoning in place – and many do have some kind of zoning. Also, it is easier than described if one is looking to get permits for a Tiny House on Wheels (THOW) also known as a certified RV.
    Many counties have zoning for use of an RV (THOW) as a caregiver unit or a unit for a disabled (or elderly) person who can provide a note from an M.D. stating the need for a caregiver.
    This is often available because Federal Law requires “Reasonable Accommodation” for disabled and elderly persons.
    Granted – this zoning is narrow and there are other stipulations involved – but is is available in many counties. I know of 12 counties in N. Calif that have zoning for this purpose.
    I myself am using this zoning in Sonoma County, CA and I teach a monthly workshop for folks who are interested in learning about how this zoning can be utilized in the counties that have it.
    The zoning requires that the “RV” be certified and, as of a few months ago, there is availability for remote certification of custom RVs being built by users at home. This information is also part of my class.
    Please look me up on Facebook at “Tiny House Consulting Sonoma County” or email me at
    I am always encouraged to see Tiny Housers addressing the issue of zoning – because this is a subject that has been ignored for way too long.
    Thank you for the article and this opportunity to comment.
    Best, Sonya

    • Gabriella January 10, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

      Great to hear from you Sonya! We actually found you online somehow a little while ago and have been meaning to reach out. So glad you are doing the work you are doing. Thank you!!

    • Jaime Jakubczak January 14, 2016 at 6:32 am #

      I really appreciate your input. I moved back to Western New York about 2 1/2 yrs ago from the East Bay area, namely Kensington and El Cerrito. I worked for the City of El Cerrito. I wish that when I lived there I would have met you. It appears that you have done a lot of research and can be a good resource for those that want to build small. I will look up Sonoma County’s building and zoning. The interesting thing about doing research on this is that here in New York, it appears to be somewhat silent about many code and zoning issues. And can be difficult to navigate through the jurisdiction’s website to obtain this info. I have been in contact with a resident in New York and he found that it is pretty much like a “hit and miss” scenario. So basically the jurisdiction won’t approve the small home. However, “if we don’t get any complaints”, then sort of a “no harm, no foul” attitude. I am used to concrete laws like in Calif. That way you know before hand what you are getting into. For example, if you illegally build a structure on your property and are found out, you may be required to remove it at your expense. This can be very costly.

      When I moved back here, I found that many of the jurisdictions in New York make up their own building codes. As you know, Calif. buildings codes are uniform throughout the state. Makes it easier to go from one jurisdiction to another and you pretty much know what to expect. I guess I was used to that since I had to enforce those codes.

      But I am really excited about this movement towards building small. I think we need to educate not only the public but the building officials as well. And people like you are a good source to do this. And talking on a blog such as Gabriella’s is helping.

    • Tasha November 7, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

      HI Sonya, I would love to learn more about your classes and see if we might work together.

      Thank you!

  7. Erick January 9, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

    I’m a little confused. I thought the main idea behind building a tiny house on wheels was to avoid being restricted by building and zoning codes, because the dwellings were considered and regulated as vehicles instead. can someone please clarify. thanks in advance.

    • /bob January 9, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

      18 years ago it was starting out that way. When Jay Shafer started out with his own desire to build and live the tiny life in a “right sized” tiny home in central Iowa he found the building and zoning department wouldn’t let him due to the size restrictions. His initial intent was to build on a foundation. Then he realized that if it was put on a trailer foundation the tiny house no longer was bound by primary residential home building codes but by the more lenient box on a trailer codes as far as floor space. Thus started the whole THOW movement. Not for the mobility, but for getting away from the restrictive codes. Mobility was just a side effect of being built on wheels but not the main reason. His purpose was not to have a home built RV but simply to have a house that fit him. I remember watching a local news video about his first tiny house back in 2000 or 2001 on our local news station (also central Iowa). He moved to Sebastopol, CA in 2002. NOW, things are finally changing. Slowly, but still moving in the right direction. There are a few towns in the USA that now have changed their ordinances to allow a tiny house to built on a foundation as primary residence on a city lot (Spur, TX and Walsenburg, CO as posted on this blog). This includes slab and concrete foundation tiny houses as well as THOW if permanently set on blocks similar to a MH and tied down with hurricane straps. There are more towns considering it. There is legislation in Washington State pending to not restrict house floor size in less populated counties and communities (less than 125,000). There are already ordinances and laws in some areas, and more pending in other areas, to allow a tiny house be built as an Accessory Dwelling Unit, or mother-in-law dwelling on a lot with a larger main house. There are plans in the works to build tiny house communities, and some already built in a few towns or counties, similar to a mobile home park but only for tiny houses. In other countries outside the USA there are areas where a tiny house is allowed and also areas where the size is restricted… just like here.

      So it is no longer true that you cannot build a tiny house on a foundation. You just have to be willing to build it in communities where the ordinances have been changed to allow it.

      In the beginning almost all housing would be considered tiny houses by today’s standards. As average houses grew larger, mostly within the last 70-80 years or so, there have always been smaller houses still lived in and allowed to remain until they were replaced due to many reasons. So the modern movement is really just a resurgence of what was the norm in years past, and a return to reason for many who have awakened to the fact about how wasteful and excessive housing has become, and how important it is to do more to take care of the earth’s resources simply to be sustainable and for mankind to survive in the future.

      • Gabriella January 10, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

        Really well said Bob. All I have to add is that we are personally going through the legalization process for hOMe in Jackson County, Oregon and I am delighted to share that our plans checker asked us to change some things; however, he did NOT ask us to increase the square footage. Soon we will be legal dwellers in a 207SF tiny house in a fairly popular area (Ashland, OR). We will be taking it off the wheels and attaching it to a fixed foundation, but in our case, this is something we would want to do anyways.

  8. Saundra Goodman January 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    Thank you for Jamie’s very informative, and timely, article. I also live in upstate New York and I want to build “small” albeit not “tiny,” but definitely under 800 sq ft. I am older and I want just enough house that I know I can take care of by myself. I understand the health and safety aspects of zoning, but having once had the traditional “big” house, I also know that a lot of it has to do with property values and real estate tax base considerations, especially in subdivisions. I don’t think people should have to live in a rural or remote area just because they want to live small. As long as the house is safe, well-constructed and meets building codes, and the person keeps their property neat and clean, why can’t we all just get along?

    • Jaime Jakubczak January 14, 2016 at 6:52 am #

      I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s just a matter of getting the rest of us to see it our way. We are not trying to “brainwash” anyone by having them live in small homes. It’s just the way WE want to live. So it is important for many of us to try to get some of these building codes and zoning ordinances changed.

      I suspect the same thing you stated, is that jurisdictions want bigger homes to collect larger tax revenues. But I put this out for consideration. What about the City’s that were hit hard in the crash of 2008? Where many homes were demolished leaving vacant lots, not collecting ANY tax revenue at all. And since many of these properties were taken over by those City’s, it really becomes a burden on the taxpayers. Wouldn’t if be beneficial to the city and the neighborhood to build something on it rather than leaving it as a “dumping site” or other criminal activity?

      Something else I discovered here in New York since I moved back, is that when properties are valued for sale, it is not consistent in prices sold. In other words, you could live in a neighborhood where properties are somewhat similar, but they sell for varying prices. In California, the home prices are very close to each other. So I wonder why the building and zoning officials would be concerned about the size of the structures. Again, like you said, as long as they meet safe building codes.

  9. Sarah January 12, 2016 at 9:15 am #

    I am currently in the process of getting permission to build a tiny house on a small vacant lot my fiancé and I purchased in a residential area of Columbus, OH. Our first challenge was zoning. The lot was zoned as “R-3” which meant that you could build a single-family dwelling unit, but it would not include manufactured or mobile homes. Since the plan we are using is Andrew and Gabriella’s hOMe plan and it is built on a trailer this zone was no good for our purposes. (I tried to see if we could just take the wheels off, but nothing is that simple when it comes to building.. Especially in a city.) After finding out we wouldn’t be able to build on our lot with the current zoning I politely asked what could be done to remedy my situation and was told I would need to file for a variance. This entailed gathering quite a lot of information from various sources around the city and submitting them to a city official then awaiting a date to appear in front of the city council to try to get my re-zoning approved. Part-way through my information gathering I was told that at a meeting in the zoning office they had discussed tiny houses (I’m unclear if they were discussing my situation in particular..) and decided that they needed something to officially call this type of dwelling. Apparently they decided on “portable building.” This sounded like great news! Possible progress in the right direction, acceptance and recognition of the movement… However, it meant I would have to fill out ANOTHER application for a “special permit” and pay ANOTHER fee. Thankfully most of the information needed was similar to the variance application. The fees, on the other hand, were a bit outrageous. I paid $320 for the variance application and $315 for the special permit. I understand those fees are used to help pay all of the fine people I’ve been working with throughout the process, but those people are paid by the city and I’m also paying taxes.. I digress… After all of that (I just had my application submission appointments this past Friday) I still need to obtain a written letter of recommendation from the area commission in which the lot is located and in a couple months we will attend a city council hearing for each of the applications. Once all of that is finished and if it all goes well we will have permission to proceed with getting the permits actually necessary to legally build on the property we own. Forgive me, but it does seem like many of the laws in place and the hoops I’ve had to jump through are there simply to discourage people from trying to do anything different.. Safety aside. I have not talked to ONE SINGLE PERSON yet about anything that has to do with the safety of the structure and I’ve been engaged in this process for about 3 months now. The only real concern I’m hearing is how the building is going to look next to “normal” houses. I am hopeful, however. Most everyone I’ve talked to is interested to know about the building and EVERYONE wants pictures. I’ll keep you updated on the process as I continue trying to get permission to build in a city.

    Sarah Huchel
    Columbus, OH

    • /bob January 12, 2016 at 9:41 am #

      I’m just curious. Do the zoning office people understand that a tiny house does not really NEED to be on a trailer base? Not intending that you do anything to upset whatever is already in place to find out, but just wondering. Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting. Unless, of course, your intent is to move the tiny house to somewhere else at some point. I was just thinking that you bought the lot so that’s someplace rather permanent. The whole original idea of putting a tiny house on a trailer was to get around the codes, but if the codes or a variance will allow it there is no longer a need for the wheels unless the intent is to move it someday. Many hearing or learning about tiny houses for the first time in recent years only know or hear about them being on a trailer base. Like I said… just curious.

      • Sarah January 12, 2016 at 10:18 am #

        Since neither my fiancé or myself are experts at building we want to deviate from the plans we have as little as possible (and we do want to move eventually), but I have been very open with everyone about satisfying any conditions they have. If they want it on a foundation and for the wheels to be taken off that is exactly what we will do. But building it directly on a foundation is not something we’re really prepared for and I’m thinking I’d probably run into some stipulations that have a lot less wiggle room such as minimum building requirements. Although, as far as the building codes for Columbus I’ve read through (I’m no expert..) I haven’t seen any TOTAL minimum square footage requirements only minimum square footage requirements for at least one room in the house (including ceiling height,etc.) so that’s definitely something I’d consider were we planning to stay in Columbus.

        • Eric June 14, 2016 at 4:28 am #

          Sarah, curious if there’s an update. I also live in Columbus and am thinking of going tiny. Thanks

        • Bailey November 11, 2016 at 7:50 am #

          Hi Sarah,
          I appreciate you sharing your exciting tiny home adventure! It sounds like you have worked really hard and I do hope all has gone in your favor! I am considering a tiny home (hopefully on wheels) in the Columbus area and was curious if you had any recent information that you have discovered along the way? Any suggestions or advice?

          Thank you,

      • Jaime Jakubczak January 21, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

        Bob, I think the idea of a small home on wheels does not set well with the Zoning officials simply because the home could be moved anywhere on the lot. There are “setbacks” required for placing and/or building structures on properties. Reason: fire separation from your neighbors and for privacy. But if you need to finance your small homes, Banks don’t like it either because you could disappear during the night with your small home on wheels and skip out on paying the mortgage. Another issue is that if you have utilities hooked up, they would not want you to move the home and add, for example, extension cords or make shift gas, water and sewer lines. So if the small home on wheels is fully contained and no financing is involved, you may be able to argue the point with the zoning dept. Another point would be to place it on a permanent foundation but design it so it could be easily detached making relocation possible.

        • /bob January 21, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

          I actually do get that. It is one of the problems to deal with for a THOW. As you may have noticed from some of my previous posts I am not a real big fan of the “on wheels” part anyway. When I first heard of Jay Shafer in 2001 (I think) and later reconnected with his company 10 years later I was struck by the impression the wheels part was not his first intention either. While being on wheels does allow a THOW to be moved with relative ease I really don’t get the idea they were ever intended to be regularly towed around like a RV. I really don’t see the design of any being up to the rigors of constant travel. But, I do understand that zoning officials want a house of any kind on a lot to be permanently placed. In many communities I’ve visited, and a few I’ve lived in, a Manufactured Home is allowed on a city lot. A MH is also built on a trailer base with wheels. So if the community will allow that, and if zoning will approve a variance on size, there *should* be no problem as long as a THOW is tied down in the same manner… permanently, on block piers, connected to permanently located utilities, with hurricane straps. Of course they don’t want you using extension cords and makeshift utility lines. That just would be very unsafe and not smart anyway. I think if we need to press tiny houses on wheels into any existing category just to make zoning people happy for placing it on a lot I would like to see that category be more like a MH than an RV. I think it’s a mistake to settle for the RV designation and will cause, and has caused, more issues such as this zoning thing by going that way. If what you really want is an RV it would be easier to just get an RV (better built for travel anyway). If you go for the RV class but try to get zoning to consider it primary housing on an owned lot then you can expect trouble from them. And I totally agree with the officials in that case. Don’t expect the officials to give special treatment different than any other RV if that is what the owner considers their THOW. As far as a mortgage on a tiny house. I’ve never known a bank to issue one for any MH or RV. The will issue a loan (more like a car loan), but not a mortgage (special kind of loan), if the right collateral was offered. The problem there is that banks don’t know what to make of the value, or future value, of a THOW. I lived in a MH from 1979 to 1985. Had a loan on it, not a mortgage, and moved it from one park to another once. I learned that there are some MH parks that wouldn’t take even my MH. So being shut out is nothing new there. Designing on a permanent foundation with capability to easily remove it is a good idea if you really want to go to the slight increase in expense for that. One way to do that is to bolt a trailer frame (without the axles and wheels) or skids directly to a slab or other foundation and build up from there. To move, simply unbolt and lift it off the foundation. It would look like, and essentially be, a permanently mounted house, but have that frame under to enable placing on a flatbed to move it. Otherwise, go at the zoning officials same as any other home on wheels (not RV). Communities are changing in some areas to allow variance on size in favor of tiny houses, but I don’t really see any changes in how an RV is viewed for living in full time. And don’t really expect any.

    • Jaime Jakubczak January 14, 2016 at 7:27 am #

      I feel your pain. When I worked for the City in Calif. our variance fees started at $350 just to schedule the meeting and when approved, mushroomed to over $1,000. That did not include the building permit fee either. That ran about $12,000 to built an average size home. The good thing however is that the property taxes are lower in California than they are here in Western New York. That sort of balances things out. But you have given us a good example of how we need to educate people including building officials throughout the U.S. I would like to hear how the final process went in your jurisdiction.

    • Trent Haery April 10, 2016 at 10:45 am #

      Hi Sarah,

      I’m so grateful to have stumbled upon your post… Along with everyone’s helpful info! My wife and I live in Westerville and are considering our “Tiny” options. Would you be willing to help?

      Thanks so much,
      Trent Haery

  10. Pierre Masse February 14, 2016 at 6:52 am #

    Hi all and Gabriella,

    In Quebec (the whole province not the city), you can build in the country without permit if:

    -the land is larger than 24,7 acres (10 Ha). My ex’s land is just 20 but my cabin is tolerated (by the ex and the authorities – haha).
    -the building is no larger than 215 s.f. (20 s.m.) (so OK for a 8.5 x 24 tiny house)
    -no connection to the utilities
    -no running water (in or out)
    -no RV for more than 6 months (so take the wheels out and hide the wells)
    -max height is 14′ (OK again for a tiny house)
    -only one story (a loft adds s.f. but a loft or a mezzanine is not another story or a real second floor. Most people around here have a mezzanine of some sort.)

    I plan to replace the cabin (whose stilts have been chainsawed by stupid kids) by a tiny house. I did not find yet a better design than the hOMe. Waiting for the ex’s OK and I order my set of plans.

    To all: Kick your asses and make your dreams true!

    Best, Pierre

    • Gabriella February 17, 2016 at 9:10 am #

      This is great to hear Pierre!! Awesome that Quebec has lenient zoning for larger plots. Keep us posted on it all! 🙂

    • stephen July 18, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

      Where can I find this regulation, your details are super helpful.

  11. /bob April 6, 2016 at 6:35 am #

    News for today: Organization which assists the homeless working with the city to build a TH community.
    Right here in my own metro area! Short article but still highlights that the city seems to be in favor to solve a transient housing issue.

    • Gabriella April 6, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

      Sounds like city is pretty open to it but not neighbors. Hopefully they find a suitable plot of land for this initiative!

  12. Belinda Ricketts December 22, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    do they have tiny houses in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, and if so who is heading it, what branch of the

    goverment and at the fore front, and how do you find out what are the requirement in these countries.

  13. gina kay March 21, 2017 at 6:43 am #

    Sarah Huchel
    I would love to get in contact with you. My son and DIL are trying to figure out the whole tiny house build and where to put it…..we live in Westerville

    please contact me if you are willing to help

    • Andrew March 22, 2017 at 2:13 pm #

      Hi Gina. Thanks for reaching out. Feel free to shoot me an email at with specific questions. I am very busy so may not be able to respond right away, but I can at least point you in the right direction. Cheers.

  14. Katelyn September 11, 2017 at 11:19 pm #

    Do you have to have a building permit if your going to build a tiny house but have it not on wheels?

    • Andrew October 30, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Katelyn. If you plan to live in the house, you will need to make a choice. Your options are below.

      1. Live “under the radar” and hope nobody turns you in. You would technically be living illegally in most places across the U.S.

      2. Work with your local building department to build the home to code. You can reference the 2018 IRC Appendix Q: “Tiny Houses” for the majority of the build and then use section R104.11 of the 2015 IRC and an engineer to provide the foundation details for the home. This is the only path to a code compliant, legal tiny HOME.

      3. Have the home built by an RVIA certified builder. This will only help if you live in a jurisdiction that allows you to live full time in an RV because an RVIA build provides you only with RV certification.

      As you can see, it is a bit complicated. The simple answer is that if you want a legal “HOUSE”, then you need to work with your local building codes, Appendix Q, and Section R104.11. If you want an RV, then you can work with an RVIA builder. If you want to just go for it, you can do just that; however, I highly recommend that you build to the IRC code (noted above). This is what most of us have done in the past, but now that we have a nationally approved tiny house code (Appendix Q), you have more options available to you. Hope that helps.

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