Understanding Zoning And Tiny Houses

There is so much to know about the complexities of tiny house legalization so having an understanding of what zoning laws are vs. what building codes require is important. In this article, Understanding Zoning and Tiny Houses, we invite Jerry McIntire, project manager for Stone’s Throw Ecovillage (an ecovillage in Wisconsin that will include tiny houses) to break it all down.

ZONING AND YOUR TINY HOUSE

One of the beautiful cottonwoods on the Eco Village

One of the beautiful cottonwoods at Stone’s Throw

I’ve been learning and thinking about zoning for years, as the project manager and soon-to-be resident of a new ecovillage in the hills of SW Wisconsin. Zoning entered into the criteria for our property search, and figured largely in our members’ decision to locate outside of the city limits. Thanks to a progressive state building code and the absence of zoning in our township, there is no minimum size for houses at Stone’s Throw Ecovillage. Tiny houses are welcome; in fact, we are a registered “parking” spot at tinyhouseparking.com

It’s an exciting time for us, just like planning to build or buy your first tiny house. That’s why I want to share what we’ve learned about zoning. The question, “Where can I park my tiny house?” is just as important as “Where will I get my building materials?” and it’s a good one to ask early on.

WHAT IS ZONING?

First off, zoning is separate from building codes. Cities, townships, and counties can all have different zoning regulations. (They can have different building codes also, but that’s a different subject and they don’t vary as widely.)

Building codes specify the minimum standards for the construction of any house, or how a house should be built. Zoning is different. Zoning covers where your tiny house can be occupied. And there are a wealth of reasons including health, safety, and financial as to why zoning controls where you can locate your tiny house.

Zoning can require minimums for emergency vehicle access (safety); sewer or septic connections, rainwater runoff control, municipal water or well water hookups (health); minimums for lot size, square footage of houses, and restrictions on how many residences can occupy a lot or given area (financial, as these largely “protect” property values). I’m not giving a comprehensive list, these are just examples of the types of regulations included in zoning.

Again, building codes cover how a house is built. Zoning covers where and how many houses can be placed on a property, and how services and utilities must be accessed.

WHERE CAN I PUT MY TINY HOUSE?

Is there hope for locating tiny houses in areas with zoning? Yes! Most occupied tiny houses are in zoned areas actually. Zoning can allow for small secondary residential spaces on a lot, known as ADUs (accessory dwelling units) or granny cottages, in-law units, secondary dwelling units, and tiny houses. Most often, local ADU regulations require a unit to be on a foundation. If this is the case, one option is to remove the wheels from the trailer once you park it in its designated area and save them for future moves.

Zoning can also allow for a single tiny house on a city lot or a piece of land. The most common challenge is zoning that specifies a minimum size (I’ve seen 450 – 1,500 square feet in various cities) for any main residence. If this is the case, as a property owner you may be able to apply for a variance that would allow for a tiny house despite it being smaller than the minimum size required. No guarantee of success though. The neighbors usually must be notified of any application for a variance, and their opinion usually has weight with the zoning board.

Two other potential locations for tiny houses: mobile home parks and campgrounds. These can easily work for short stays, but some don’t welcome long-term parking of tiny houses that are not commercially built to meet the RVIA or MHBA standards. Start asking well before you finish building and need a place to park.

My favorite option is to place a tiny house on private land. To make this more widely possible though, changes to zoning laws are needed. Variances for smaller-than-minimum homes aren’t always granted. Some cities are rethinking those minimums, especially where real estate prices are high. Boston, New York, Seattle, Portland all have new minimums for micro-apartments. The need exists. It may take some time and organizing, but changes to zoning laws are possible and beginning to happen.

Would you rather work around the obstacles? Simply start with land that has an existing house on it. This qualifies as the main dwelling. Rent that house and live in your tiny “accessory dwelling unit” if the zoning allows ADUs.

Another alternative is to ignore local zoning and live in your tiny house until someone complains or the enforcers find you. Keep in mind that action from code/zoning departments is almost always triggered by complaints. In other words, as long as no one around you complains that you are there, you can live in your tiny house directly under the noses of building officials (a few of the most popular tiny houses out there fall into this category). Personally I don’t like this option because you could be fined or suddenly forced to move. Not my idea of fun.

The ultimate in simplicity though is land without specific zoning requirements. There are still many townships and counties—mostly rural—that have no zoning laws. You can live in any size house on a foundation as long as it meets the state building codes, or even in any tiny house on wheels in some locations. In fact, some jurisdictions still don’t have building codes, which makes it even easier to build the tiny house of your dreams! One caveat, just because there are no building codes doesn’t mean you should skimp on your build. Make it safe, make it healthy, and make it as high quality as you can.

If you’re traveling through SW Wisconsin with your tiny house, look us up:

Stone’s Throw Ecovillage or our listing at www.tinyhouseparking.com

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 9.42.31 AMJerry McIntire has been walking the sustainable talk for decades. One of the first contractors to focus on non-toxic building materials in Portland, Oregon, he helped start two biodiesel cooperatives and participates in natural building projects in Argentina and the U.S.  He is a permaculture designer and project manager for Stone’s Throw Ecovillage, an established group with land in SW Wisconsin’s beautiful Driftless region. He carries a frisbee wherever he goes.

SW viewPermaWorkshop-Soil exam

55 Responses to Understanding Zoning And Tiny Houses

  1. Siva February 26, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    very good proposal for zoning. Yes if its Eco village ,this could be classified as motor vehicle free area. Only mode of transaport to the village is by foo/cycle/eco small vehicle.All the work involved could be connected to Eco cottage industry work and Eco farming.
    If this village is considered as a totally green village ,have you got any facility to make it as legal and sustainable project quickly?

  2. Jerry McIntire February 26, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    Siva, yes we located on the edge of the small town where most of us work or go to school so that we can walk or bike easily. We will have parking in the ecovillage, though motorized vehicles will only have perimeter access. The tiny house parking will be easily accessed as well, for those who stay temporarily.

  3. Carlyn February 27, 2015 at 8:04 am #

    I understand the compost toilet…but where does water get stored and where does the “grey” water go?

    • Gabriella March 1, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

      Hi Carlyn! You can find answers to those questions on this page: https://tinyhousebuild.com/faqs/

    • Jerry McIntire March 2, 2015 at 10:10 pm #

      Carlyn, at Stone’s Throw our water will come from wells, and our rainwater will be stored in tanks or cisterns or… the ground, as irrigation. Our greywater system will water plants after being cleaned in successive reed and gravel beds. Another good resource, in addition to the FAQs here, is http://oasisdesign.net/greywater/

    • Tina August 22, 2016 at 6:43 pm #

      Call the counties enviromental health dept b4 you buy land, because rules differ a lot place to place county to county and from state to state.i made several inquieries in states i was looking to buy land.i have learned just because a lot is cheap to buy doesnt mean sewer grey water system that might be required, will be. Even if land is zoned ag or outside city limits.

  4. Shane March 7, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

    I’m looking for info on code and zoning for Washington state but there is so much information I’m not sure what im looking at most of he time, lol, does anyone know where I can find this? My wife and I are looking to buy land and build tiny if it’s possible, LA is just too expensive and bloody hot

    • Jerry McIntire March 9, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

      Shane, zoning and even codes are quite localized, though Washington state probably has a residential building code that they have adopted. If you find it, you still should check with the city or county that has jurisdiction where you plan to live in case they have modified or adopted a different code.
      Zoning varies from Seattle to Kirkland to Bellingham to Wenatchee. You’ll have to decide where you would like to live and check there. Washington allows ADU’s (accessory dwelling units) in many locales. These are second, smaller homes that can share a lot with a main house. Still, you’ll have to check for minimum size requirements, etc. in a locale, especially if you are buying land and your tiny will be the only residence on the property.

  5. Nadja Naira de Abreu Scofield March 8, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

    Gabriella
    As you lived in my city Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, you know this kind of houses still don’t get a special place to be build here. How I would like to have a secure piece of land, where I could have one… I agree, I would have more time to spend solving my eventual or habitual problems of life, as everyone has.I would spend less time and money to keep the house clean and perfect in minimum details, as I like, being a perfectionist. I could take trips or travels more frequently, with the economies I certainly would have, living in a home like these I saw the projects.
    Thanks for this very interesting and profitable learning classes.

    • Gabriella March 13, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

      É isso aí!! 🙂

  6. Nadja Naira de Abreu Scofield March 14, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

    Your answer in Portuguese made me very happy! Thanks for all Gabriella!

  7. Alan March 25, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    After reading reading about your tiny home made me think how much room I really would need. I can’t go as small as tiny house, but given how I use the space in my current rental I can downsize from 1,400 ft2 to 800 ft2. Can you combine two or three tiny houses on trailers together onsite to create a somewhat larger single home, while still staying within the building codes for trailers rather than a regular home? What if these were still independent tiny houses, but connected via enclosed or open walkways?

    • Gabriella March 31, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

      Hey there Alan,

      That situation depends entirely on your local zoning codes. That’s a scenario that you would need to look into with your zoning office.

      Let us know what you find!

  8. Thom May 13, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

    It is a bad idea to build the tiny house as an ADU and rent out the main house. Zoning usually requires the main dwelling to be occupied by the property owner. Otherwise, it is too similar to being a 2 unit property, which would usually require different zoning.

    • Bob May 14, 2015 at 9:56 am #

      That really depends on the wording of the zoning ordinances in your area. They are not universal and vary a LOT depending where you are. Some areas just don’t address it at all and some are very restrictive as you are suggesting. Best to check with city or county office where you want to be to find out what the requirements are… or what they actually enforce. 🙂

  9. Don June 18, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    I live inside Denver, Co and i was wondering where i could actually build my tiny house, should i rent some land nearby to build it, or build it at the rental i am currently living in?

    My main concern is safety for my project and ease of access ( i wouldnt want to drive an hour or whatever to get to the site and start working)

    I am new to all of this and appreciate your help!

    Thanks much,

    Don

    • Gabriella June 19, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Don! Local resources are the best. Have you looked into tinyhousemap.com and looked for contacts in your area? If you can find others that have done some research on the topic in your area, that will save you a ton of time. It all depends so much on where you live and where you are wanting to build.

  10. Mandy August 28, 2015 at 6:33 am #

    If I understand corectly, Wisconsin has state wide building codes. Is there any pockets of freedom?, or or any zones without building codes? I have done a lot of research and find myself coming up empty handed. I would love to move back home but I have big dreams that might end up hindering me. Please help.

    • Andrew August 28, 2015 at 8:50 am #

      Hi Mandy. I don’t know all of the jurisdictions in Wisconsin, but you will likely have the best chance in the more rural areas. I know that in Texas, for example, when you get outside of city limits and into rural counties, you can build with only a septic inspection. Whatever you do after that is totally up to you (some areas may also require that your electrical work be inspected). Call some building departments and ask if there are areas not covered specifically by zoning requirements and/or building codes. I recommend you do it anonymously so you don’t get yourself in hot water early on! They will likely ask why you want such an area. You can tell them straight up: “I want to build a tiny home.” Maybe they will let you know that you can do that in their jurisdiction…who knows.

      Also, I highly recommend that you consider whether you need to build a tiny home on a trailer or if you can build it on a foundation. In general, most people don’t need to build on a trailer, they just think that’s “what you do.” In reality, building on a foundation is quite easy to do in terms of building a tiny house. You can build to IRC (International Residential Code) standards, which is what governs the United States Building Codes for residential construction, and simply meet minimum requirements for size. The size requirements will be set by the zoning department or any local home owners associations that are in play. Anyway, it is MUCH easier to go that route and get approvals for your dream. Best of success to you!!!

    • steve January 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

      Mandy,
      Correct, Wisconsin does have State Building Codes which are the minimum that is required through-out the entire state of Wisconsin. Municipalities can set higher standards than the State codes, and your local building inspector will have to follow both. Call your local building inspector, he is the person best suited to explain your local requirements/codes. Most townships/cities/municipalities in Wisconsin have a website with the phone number for the local building inspector.

  11. JD Aguirre September 9, 2015 at 7:42 am #

    Hi everyone we love this who concept. So glad this site is here !!! Totally sold out for this we just don’t know where our how to start. We already downsized and will be renting our home in December. From there we know we want a sweet water bungalow type home or shipping container. Our biggest battle seems to be where and how. Florida , Mexico even California ….

    Financially we haven’t been able to save because the cost of this monster of a house we live in (utilies alone) it seems like a never ending trap. Everyone else thinks we are crazy they don’t get the less is more. may want to be in a warmer climet but open to all suggestions
    Question:
    Wondering some of your thoughts on living in a community vs trying to find land and zoning for living independently.
    And does A outside living space say as a outside kitchen area on a deck count as square footage for zoning ?

    • Gabriella September 13, 2015 at 6:47 pm #

      Hi JD! So great that you guys are already creating the tiny house lifestyle! And, no surprise, but if I had the choice, I would move to Mexico! There are a couple/few tiny house communities popping up around the country. You could join the Facebook group Tiny House People and ask in there about communities. Personally I think that tiny house communities make so much sense. In terms of zoning, no I don’t believe that decks or outdoor living areas count as square footage.

      • Tina August 22, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

        Check very well b4 move to valencia county nm, as i found out just today compost or inconerating toilets a no no,and i

  12. Lorraine September 26, 2015 at 8:52 pm #

    Great article! However, removing the wheels from a tiny house on wheels would that make it a “permanent” structure? Or does it still fall under “temporary”. My local codes say that the minimum square footage is 150 but must be permanent.

    • Andrew October 1, 2015 at 10:50 am #

      Hi Lorraine. If the wheels are removed and the structure is placed on a permanent foundation, then that would make the home permanent. There is a little wiggle room in there. For example, if the home is attached to the foundation in such a way that the wheels could be reinstalled and the home moved, then zoning and building might not consider the home permanent. The exact requirements are a good thing to discuss with your local departments to make sure you are on the right track. Further, be sure that “minimum square footage of 150SF” refers to a habitable space an not just a structure. Many jurisdictions require something bigger for a dwelling unit.

  13. Tiffany October 5, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    Concerning the ADUs. If you would have a Tiny Home on wheels and remove it since it’s a secondary dwelling would you be hit by building codes?
    Thank you

    • Andrew October 6, 2015 at 11:49 am #

      Hi Tiffany. I’m not 100% clear on what you are asking here. The structure itself needs to pass building codes for how it is built. Exactly what code you build to is not specified at this time due to the apparent “grey area” of tiny homes. That said, whether it is an ADU or a primary home is the jurisdiction of the zoning department, not building codes. If you have the TH permitted as an ADU and you remove it from the property, then zoning would be the ones who deal with this. Sorry if my answer is not what you are looking for. Let me know if I missed the mark on your question…

  14. Troy December 22, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    Hello:

    I’m located up in interior Alaska, where typically we do not have any problems with building codes. Within the small city limit areas there is of course zoning, but most of interior Alaska enjoys being able to build without any restrictions. When I constructed my 368 ft.² tiny home on my own property, located outside of the city limits, I really did not expect to have any issues whatsoever.

    I was not even three months into the project when the local Borough assessor’s showed up and started looking at the place with hungry eyes. They left me a notice, and we had a conversation as to my “intentions” and if the place was subject to property tax or not.

    There is a very “grey” area when it comes to defining what is mobile, and the borough here tends to look at intent. If you intend to stay in a small property for the long-term, then they consider it a permanent dwelling. Well that’s very convenient for them (they get to tax your property), but I began to wonder if that was legal.

    What really defines something that is mobile versus something that is permanent? You might simply say well the thing has wheels, so it’s mobile, but not so fast. If one starts adding things like a deck, greenhouse, concrete deck piers for stabilizer supports, then you get into this “grey area”. If it looks like you’re there for the long haul, then you’re going to draw attention to yourself, or at least I did, and I was only three months into my project. I didn’t even have windows in the place!

    The thing that drew attention to my place was the small concrete piers that are used for decks, and 4 x 4’s I used as stabilizers. These were simply cheaper than RV stabilizers. The piers have a wider base, so less likely to move and shift, so it was a no-brainer for me. Little did I know how these things were going to be viewed by the local borough here. You normally don’t carry concrete piers and 4×4’s in your class A RV, now do you? I never even thought about that, well…think about it folks!

    I’m now at the point where I’ve had to contact an attorney, and will be doing battle with the local Borough, and many attorneys don’t like to go after city officials that they may have lunch with on a normal basis. I’ve had to contact quite a few attorneys before anyone would even speak to me about this. It’s a hassle, and advise is not free.

    So, this is going to be an ongoing case for a while, but my advice to anyone going tiny is to really check into your local codes as to what the requirements are. I would not voluntarily give out my address or specifically state your intentions, but rather go in with kind of a hypothetical scenario. Maybe you have a friend or whatever who is considering doing this. Protect yourself. Those city officials are generally not on your side. Eyes wide open!

    In talking with the local borough officials, they will smile to your face and be cordial, but make no mistake about their intent, and be really careful what you say. In my area they typically show up in pairs, so there are witnesses to conversations. Don’t invite anyone inside, they are not your friends. Anything you say will be used against you, count on it!

    I would say clearly we need more input and discussion about this. I would think somewhere there is a law that has been written as to what defines “mobile” versus what defines permanent. The gray area of intent is probably the biggest issue, as that is subject to interpretation. No question if a house has wheels and it’s designed to be road legal, it is mobile, but consider for a minute a mobile home. Those are moved around by tractor trailers, but the intent is for them to become permanent residents. They have separate power poles and septic systems, and mailing addresses. They are also taxed.

    I would say the more your tiny home looks like it’s permanent, more likely you are going to have issues. In my case my home is also 368 ft.², 12′ x 28′, and looks quite a bit larger than a normal tiny house, so that’s yet another thing that drew attention to itself.

    Be careful about things like skirting, and decks, and a power line that may not have RV connectors, or water lines that are permanently installed, gray water systems, etc. it’s really easy to go cheap, and forego say RV electrical connectors for example, or to attach a deck to your tiny home, because it’s cheaper than having something made out of cast-iron with hinges that allow it to fold up. In my case I have underground plumbing, so that’s yet another thing that makes it look more permanent. It was cheaper than going with something like an electric toilet or composting toilet, but also makes the place seem more permanent. Again, lots of “grey” areas. Is it mobile or is it permanent?

    I welcome comments…

    • Gabriella December 27, 2015 at 10:18 am #

      Nice to hear from a neighbor up north Troy! Always interesting to hear what others’ experiences are in various locations. For us personally, we actually want to be on the assessor’s radar (and building/zoning depts) because we want to represent ourselves as people that are willing to work within the ‘system’ with just one exception: we want to live in a smaller than normal home. We are working with our zoning and building departments down here in Jackson County, OR and so far it has been a very pleasant experience. We approached them and fully disclosed everything and they have been gracious and open minded thank goodness. It’s funny, but we actually are looking forward to getting our first tax bill because that will mean that we are technically seen as a legal residence! Let us know how it all goes for you!

      • Troy January 3, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

        Thanks for the response Gabriel. I think one of the motivations and freedoms of building tiny is to get away from regulations, and second, to save money.

        If I was to buy a city lot, put up a tiny house, then the ramifications here are very different. In that case you’re creating small neighborhoods, and eventually small cities of tiny homes. Someone’s got to pay for services, road maintenance, electrical service, etc.

        The other scenario with tiny homes is they are just like a travel trailer or fifth wheeler or class A RV’s. None of these would be taxed as they are all considered mobile. You could actually live in your class A motorhome ( I have one neighbor a quarter-mile from he who does this) and the local assessor will not tax the structure. It is considered a mobile dwelling, and mobile dwellings are not taxable.

        So, naturally I got up in arms when the local assessor came by, and in fact they have been by three times now. I just got a notice yesterday that they want me to call them again. Again, my beef is I pay upwards of $3000 a year for my main house, and think I should be able to park a mobile structure on my property without being taxed . This to me seems unfair and over-regulated and violates constitutional rights as well.

        I suspect compared to some places I have it good. There are no city officials that will tell me how to build (no building codes), but I still do have to comply with zoning for my property. About the only thing here is setbacks, which I’ve complied with, and there are things like maximum height and use, but none of those are really issues.

        Again, my beef is with the taxation, and the local assessor’s go by valuation, not square footage. I can see where they would/could easily assess my tiny home complete at 65 or $75,000, and then hit me with a 16mil property tax, so that’s probably $1200 a year. That’s a lot! in fact, that would become the biggest expense of the house really fast.

        I realize that this thread is really more about building codes and zoning, but not sure where else to mention this topic. It seems almost criminal to me that people can’t take a mobile, 200-300 square-foot structure and put it on property they own.

        In your own case, it sounds like your tiny home is the only structure, and I believe this falls under a different category. In some ways I’m surprised they would allow such a small structure permanently, so I can see where it’s a good feeling and you don’t mind paying property tax.

        In my case, I’m already paying a huge amount in property tax ( Alaska has some of the highest rates in the country), and I almost feel like these assessors are like vultures. As I mentioned, I wasn’t even halfway through my project when these guys showed up looking for new property to tax. I didn’t even have windows in!

        I can say the local utility company will not hook up power to my tiny house, nor can I get the local water company to run a water line to it. Why? because both of them consider it to be a temporary dwelling. You can’t really have it both ways. Either it’s a temporary, portable dwelling or it’s a permanent dwelling. One is taxable, while the other is not.

        This has got me upset enough that I will contact an attorney over this. I would be curious to know if others are being taxed or not.

        • Troy January 4, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

          I’ll continue to update this as I get more information as I think it would be valuable to other people going through the same thing and perhaps give them some ideas.

          I’m finding a big part of the problem with these tiny homes is people just don’t know how to classify them. They fall into this “grey” area as mentioned before. I have already had three discussions with five different people, as to what the heck it is.

          So, last night I started thinking what if I was able to get a VIN number for the trailer and then register the thing with DMV. Now, I’ve got something that classifies it as a cargo trailer, and its got a license plate saying it’s a trailer. I also pointed out to the local assessor’s office that utility companies will not hook up to this, and there is nothing permanently attaching it to the land. It is, and was designed, to be mobile. I try to class it in the same category as a fifth wheeler, and this is something they can relate to. 5th Wheelers are designed to be living structures or toy hauler, and they are quite massive. So, in this sense they are the closest things to a tiny home out there. I’ve seen some 34 foot 5th wheel trailers, so this is certainly not far-fetched.

          Right now the assessor’s office is trying to say it’s a mobile home. Well, I said no, not really. Mobile homes are designed to go into mobile home parks and become permanent structures with permanent addresses after they are moved. They typically have permanent utilities looked up to them, and they are also typically much larger, 50 or 60 feet is not uncommon. They are also many times secured to concrete pads, and have Permanent driveways, mailboxes, etc. The key word here is permanent.

          So, the folks will decide by the 15th how to classify my tiny home. In the meantime I am going to get a MSO ( manufacture statement of origin) which will also have a VIN number that will allow me to go down to DMV and register my trailer/tiny home. I think this is going to be key in classifying this. There is no question that permanent structures do not have license plates! Wish me luck.

          • /bob January 4, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

            I believe I read in another forum many years ago that someone tried to classify their Tiny House as a cargo on a registered trailer. Jay Shafer mentioned this approach also, but found that many code enforcers didn’t buy it since the Tiny House on a trailer is permanently bolted on and not just sitting on the trailer. Some places do accept classifying a THOW as a RV, some don’t. Just depends where or if you can get that certification.

            I’ve always thought of a Tiny House as being *more* like a MH. I lived in one many years ago, and yes they do have a license plate even though considered a permanent dwelling once placed (or did when I lived in it). A Tiny House is MUCH better built than any MH or RV. The trailer comes in due to restrictive building codes requiring a dwelling to have more sq ft… not to make it mobile really (per Jay Shafer). A Tiny House is also NOT a home built RV. Those are designed specifically for frequent travel and can withstand being on the road often… unlike the design of any Tiny House that I’ve studied. I just can’t see pulling a TH all over, even only a few times a year, and have it last very long. My MH was moved once from Maine to Iowa and I had to practically rebuild the whole thing (but like I said a TH is way better built).

            Jay Shafer, even though building on a trailer when he started out, was not trying to avoid paying fair property tax. He only wanted a “right sized” dwelling for him. My desire is to build a TH on a FPSF on a lot in a town that has enacted ordinances to accept Tiny Houses as stand alone primary dwellings on a property. I know that makes my list of locations short right now, but growing each year. I say that is my desire, but I know it may never happen. It’s OK to dream though. I can still live the Tiny Life where I am, even if not in a Tiny House.

          • Troy D. January 11, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

            Update:

            I just spoke with the borough assessor’s office again this morning, and the clincher was that utility companies would not hook up, so that classified my TH as “mobile” and not permanent. Apparently there are statutes in place about this very thing, so NO TAXES!! Feeling good today!

            I did go ahead and get an MSO ( manufacture statement of origin), and went down to DMV and registered the trailer and got a title. I still think this is good ammunition to have should an issue come up in the future. Either the structure is permanent or mobile, but it can’t be both.

            As to property taxes in general, I realize they are a necessary evil. If you want to have services and improvements, and infrastructure for utilities, someone has to pay. I have no issues with that.

            My issue, as mentioned before, is when I pay $3000 a year in property taxes for an existing house, Then I feel as though I should be able to put a mobile structure on my property without additional taxes. I still do comply with local zoning as to setbacks, maximum height and use.

            I’m really not against regulations or taxes in general, but over regulation yes.

            Good luck to all in your tiny home adventure!

  15. Deirdre January 8, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    Howdy!

    I just want to correct one point in your article. Micro housing is currently a pilot project in NYC. Zoning laws have not been changed yet regarding minimal size. Plus, the first batch of micro-apartment unveiled in NYC is insanely expensive. I am a born and raised New Yorker, and my 500 square foot apartment costs a heck of a lot less than the smallest micro unit that costs nearly $2600 per month. With that said, I think tiny houses where land is plentiful is great. But I am not a fan of micro apartments, especially ones that cost more that much larger apartments in the same area. A lot of people say well rents are high because there’s only a limited number of apartments available, so micro apts are the future! They are a necessity! But here’s the thing, the companies that are developing and building residential housing in NYC, Boston, San Francisco and now even Seattle are real estate investment firms, and this is insanely dangerous. Theses companies are only interested in building outrageously prices housing so they can turn over a profit for their stockholders. It’s called predatory equity. It’s bad form of real estate speculation that politicians are trying to make illegal New York (and hopefully soon everywhere) because it’s destabilizing affordable housing and causing local taxes to skyrocket. Just like tiny houses, micro housing should be affordable. But they never will be as long as real estate investments are allowed to build them. That makes changing zoning laws in many cities a sticky wicket. Just sharing, and your article was a great read! thank for you sharing!

    • Gabriella January 11, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

      Oy vey! That is a set up isn’t it Deirdre? Micro/mini/tiny are the coolest things since salted pretzels and many are trying to get their share of a not so small pie. And like you said, unfortunately there actually is a real housing crisis out there in which $2,600 rents do not belong. I’m pretty sure that NYC is not in need of any more expensive housing, but instead of solutions that can diversify the economic base that is represented in the city to keep at least a minimal sense of balance. To drive out anyone that isn’t a millionaire is a disaster waiting to happen.

  16. Rob February 4, 2016 at 6:14 am #

    Hi, I purchased a 110 s.f. hut in Colorado Springs. It backs right up to the Cheyenne Mountain State Park. The lot is not build-able as it is too small but the hut is grandfathered. I am going to remodel the inside and exterior of the hut but I was thinking of bringing a tiny house on wheels to the property so that I have more living space. This would be a vacation spot for me and my family to use throughout the year. The lot is zoned forestry and the area allows RV’s to be parked on the property. Any thoughts or ideas on whether I will have an issue with the tiny house. I am guessing that as long as I am a good neighbor, I don’t think the neighbors would have an issue if it is attractive. Thanks for your input.

    • M June 22, 2017 at 9:02 pm #

      hey rob, we are moving to Colorado Springs this year and looking for a place to park our tiny house long term. could i contact you about renting a spot on your land?

  17. Jerry March 29, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    What if my municipality is un-zoned? Do i have to fallow any guide lines if my house will be more of a off the grid seasonal camp? I live in a un-zoned township in PA.

    • Gabriella March 31, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

      Lucky you Jerry! If thats the case then you have not a whole lot to worry about. That said, we always recommend that people follow building codes as they are there to provide safety guidelines.

  18. Laura May 13, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

    Great thread, thanks to everyone with input. I have long considered the THOW vs. Foundation built tiny house and considered the zoning, neighborhood, local and IRC codes in my research. I apologize ahead of time for the length of this thread but I wanted to reply and respond to multiple things herein. I hope what I have to say helps you, especially what I have learned about codes.

    THOW/RV: Unfortunately, THOW regulations may remain in the RV law category for a long, long time. We may have to do as many others and simply work within the laws until Times change. See my question at the end.

    As for site built, foundation built “tiny” homes (not THOW’s) however, I have some comments, suggestions and, hopefully, help for some.

    VALUABLE WEBSITE: First, I’d like to ‘re-mention something I wrote to Gabriella about many months ago: namely the valuable advice I have obtained through a long running website called http://www.countryplans.com. check out their blogs. While they primarily speak to those “off-grid”, and primarily deal with actual construction of small, off-grid homes and cabins, zoning and code issues are discussed in some of their threads at length. Especially helpful are their cheap small house plans that are code approved already (although all such internet plans must be stamped by an architect or structural engineer in your area). Many of the older blogs are simply hilarious and clean funny too (old guys just having fun and imparting building wisdom at the same time. I deeply respect their extensive time as they share vast years of building knowledge).

    BUILDING CODES: Second, keep in mind that older IRC (International Residential Code), pre-2015 code calls for a minimum room size of 120 square feet with an “extra” room at 70 square feet in any code approved dwelling. The 2015 IRC was updated to a single room at 70 square feet. The primary code writer who encouraged this tiny house friendly change is an American man who is quite vocal about being PRO “tiny house” (he had his own blog I stumbled across at one point and I corresponded with him one time, nice guy!!). I mention this because we tiny house enthusiasts probably ALL need to go before our local jurisdictions and city council’s requesting that they apply the newer room requirements to local code (many may not have changed).

    ADU LAWS (Accessory to Dwelling Units): Third, I believe Andrew mentioned ADU requirements and laws. These vary incredibly by BOTH local jurisdiction as well as by home owner association requirements (I will try not to go rabid at this point as I am steaming mad at the tactics of most HOA’ s, but…. enough said). In short, ADU’ s can be between 80-200 square feet AND, depending on local laws, can often NOT contain a bath or a kitchen (in Austin, Texas it’s apparently not a bathroom but it can contain a kitchen). Check HEIGHT limits also, for example, again, in Austin, it’s 15 feet from grade (I.e.ground) or so I’ve heard, but in some HOA’ s you can’t even build an ADU that exceeds SIX feet (fence height), yes, you read that right. I tried, anonymously, recently, to obtain the current square footage limits in the City of Austin directly from the code authorities TWICE and once received NO reply and the second time received a vague, “I-have-no-idea-and-don’t-really-care” type reply. You may have to go in person and push sweetly and gently (use honey, vinegar doesn’t work) to get your own local authorities to answer your questions. Kanga Room Systems, an Austin based company, answered my questions some years ago and stated, in Austin, a 200 square foot footprint (i.e. approx. 168 usable square feet) was allowed but they never explained how they put both a bathroom and a kitchen in their 200 square foot structures. I think they still have to follow code and obtain necessary permits to do this. I’ve heard that many HOA’ s and local areas restrict to 80-120 square feet.

    REPLY TO POST about “multiple” THOW’ s on same property: Fourth, in answer to the man who wondered about combining several THOW ‘s on a single property? I personally think you would be better served checking out container and modular home builds and/or simply building to code instead of trying to get around the rules with a THOW build.. I’m not sure what your goal is but if you could prove to code authorities it is a single-family dwelling or, in areas open to multi-family dwelling, it might be even easier. I understand the desire to avoid costly taxes but…. we all need to realize, we pay for infrastructure such as roads and community needs that serve us too.

    YES, VIRGINIA, YOU CAN DO IT (in concept if not in reality): Finally I might add that, even if your local jurisdiction follows the older IRC regs, I designed a 302 square foot, single-story house with an “uninhabitable” (so-called) loft that followed all OLD code requirements AND recently redesigned it at 168 square feet for the newer 2015 requirements. It’s not that hard folks. And I’m not even trained at all. Countryplans.com has a 14 x 24 “builders cottage” that is similar but has a usable loft space. Also check out Deek Diedrickson’ s video on YouTube for a “legal” small home. It’s not hard to find the video and its fun to see, and its a code legal home. The hardest part is finding affordable land with city connections to build such a structure on. Still looking myself….. and I found one community I could build a house on for not much money….then was disappointed learning the local small town jurisdiction said the lower size limit was 1300 square feet, bummer….. THIS alone was my original impetus for looking into alternate structures such as THOW’ s. While I personally like the idea of a foundation built tiny home, as with many of you, my options are currently limited and a THOW in an RV setting or private land seems to be my only affordable choice, for now….

    A FINAL COMMENT ABOUT SEWAGE: One extra thing to consider, grey water, black water and the like (composting toilets, etc.) Are all easier to deal with in a THOW than in foundation build due to codes and construction methods but still, we all need to be very careful, if we are “skirting” laws in “Gray” areas, to be respectful of our neighbors as to health and dispose of our sewage waste properly. Incinerating toilets actually seem to be the most “community-acceptable” but they are expensive initially AND use a large amount of electricity to operate.

    All in all, we all have options. As the need for such affordable solutions grows, I think we will find more change and more openness in communities such as mine. I personally think, for now, we may have to band together in small communities, hire an attorney to deal with the regs, and build several small homes on the same property together. Not sure this is feasible but…. who knows….?

    P.s. Austin apparently also has a new “tiny home community” begun by a ministry for the homeless (Mobile Loaves and Fishes, mlf.org), with a cluster of tiny homes built by local homebuilders such as Matt Risinger (who has some excellent building videos on YouTube about “building science”, great stuff even if he is pushing dupont materials). While the community is not for the general public and is technically outside the city limits and codes, it’s still fun to know it’s there and that local groups and even the city seem to, at some level “approve” of it, even if the houses aren’t built to city codes. Other areas of the US seem to be opening up to these tiny home ideas but… the growth is slow.

    Keep the “faith” folks and keep thanking the Morrisons for their excellent website and advice. Of all the forums out there, I find this to be the best.

    I personally have a final QUESTION: has anyone out there checked out RV regulations? I.e. if your THOW is classed as a legal RV, will ANY RV or mobile home establishment accept your THOW? I have heard that is not always the case. Can anyone comment?

  19. Pat June 5, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    I am an older person that wants to be near my daughter in freedom wi trying to go cheapest way possible thought about building an oversized garage to live in need to buy sm piece property live in ohio now any ideas for me greatly appreciated are they strict in wi wait for your reply

  20. Laurie Muscarella July 11, 2016 at 3:07 am #

    So….please break it down into the most simple of terms. I own a home in Sedona, AZ and have been looking at a property about 5 acres in Kodiak, AK. It will be paid for in full and I intend to only go up there 3-4 times a year. So my Husband and I will not nee a whole huge house. So I was thinking tiny house. So let me get down to my question…if you own the property it’s no big deal right?

  21. /bob July 11, 2016 at 10:50 am #

    Depends. If there are building code ordinances in place where your proper is located then you really need to find out what those are and what restrictions or allowances there are for your property. County and province zoning and residential ordinances still regulate what you cannot build on a lot even if it is a far distance from a town. Work with the local ordinance/zoning board in Kodiak to find out what is in place and what you can do. A few places in the USA don’t have any State/County/local ordinances that regulate what you can or cannot do but the vast majority of areas do. Please do not assume that simply because you own a property that you can do anything you want on it. That would be nice, but there are some very good reasons why that’s not permitted in many areas. Best to find out before building something that can get you in trouble with the local authorities.

  22. Ivan Petryshyn July 15, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    it seems the cities are not ready to provide the space for tiny houses with their laws and zoning codes.
    it’s risky, as authorities can demand any time that you leave the place, and you will have to find a new place within several hours- ousting.

  23. James January 18, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Hi I live in a rural part of Polk county Wisconsin. When I started my tiny house on wheels project 3 years ago I talked with a few people that have built and lived in tiny houses in Polk Barron and St Croix counties. It seemed to be accepted and friendly place to build and live in tiny houses. My plan was to build a tiny house and live in it while I built a larger house. I went to my local zoning office with plans and was told by the zoning office that I did not need a permit to build or live in my tiny house. My zoning office refered me to my township building inspector to get a building permit. The building inspector told me that because my tiny house was on wheels it did not require a building permit because it was not on a foundation. Since everything was good with zoning and the building inspector I started building. Now as my tiny house project is almost done my zoning office sent me a letter stating my tiny house is an illegal structure because they received a complaint. After several calls talking with the zoning specialist I have learned that the tiny house becomes illegal if someone is living in it and that my local zoning office does not keep records on projects that don’t require permits. The zoning commissioner also wants $655 for an after the fact fee and permit to have my tiny house on wheels on my property. The zoning commissioner also told me I can no longer live in my tiny house on wheels or I can remove my from my property. I really don’t understand why I can legally build a tiny house on wheels for the purpose of living in it but it becomes illegal when someone is living in it. I hope you can answer this because several tiny houses have been constructed Polk Barron and St Croix county in Wisconsin.

    • Andrew February 6, 2017 at 2:56 pm #

      Hi James. First of all, sorry that you’re having to deal with this. It is so frustrating how these things play out. I think the big thing is that municipalities don’t know how to deal with tiny houses. They have been turning a blind eye, but then have to manage complaints. It sounds like you got stuck in the middle of exactly that. Do you have plans to build a full size home in the near future? It sounded from your post like that was the plan. If so, you should be able to lobby for the right to live in your tiny house during the build process of your permanent house. That is totally normal. Just let them know that the tiny house is an RV and you will only be in it while you build your home. Because it’s an RV, they are not authorized to address it in terms of coding. Because it is considered legal in most areas to live in an RV temporarily while building, you should be fine with that approach.

      Of course, if you don’t plan to build for several years, that won’t work because of the complaint that is on file. I wish I had better advice for you. Unfortunately, this is something we are all dealing with at some level and something that we are working hard to address. The worse news for you is that the recently approved IRC tiny house appendix will not be in effect in Wisconsin because the entire state uses the IBC not the IRC. Again, sorry for the bad news. It must be especially frustrating since you actually ASKED them in advance and got the go ahead…of course, with no record of that conversation on file, I’m sure.

  24. James April 1, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

    Thanks for the reply. My local zoning has known that I was going to use it like an RV for four years now during the construction of a house. I wanted also to say asking zoning and getting approval does not help. The zoning office here in Polk county Wisconsin does not keep records of approved projects that do not require permits. I could not believe it so I checked with six other counties in northwestern Wisconsin and none of those counties keep records of approved projects that don’t require permits. This is a great system zoning can tell a person they don’t need a permit then when you build it they will fine you because you didn’t get a permit and they tell you it’s not their fault because they don’t keep records of projects that they said didn’t need permit. Then have you remove it from your property.

  25. Angel M June 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    I am new to this but i’m very interested in building a tiny shipping container home I am not even sure where to start just know i really want this i found containers and need to know how to inspect them to make sure they are livable and then i found areas with land for sale but this zoning and permit things is really making me reconsider i really don’t wanna give upon my dream home but its harder then it seems to be to build these type of homes in the Wisconsin area anyone has some input on my next step i’m really debating if i should continue or not

  26. Daniel Lunsford July 24, 2017 at 8:43 am #

    City planner and designer here.

    Note also that different counties in different states have different planning and zoning capabilities as prescribed by their state legislatures. For example, Florida counties have a good deal of authority to enact their own planning, zoning, and life safety ordinances which may be different than those in the city limits. However, Texas counties have almost zero legal authority or ability to control development.

    The absolute best option is to place a tiny house on a private parcel of land outside city limits and ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction) in a landowner-friendly state!

    • Jennifer Weber September 16, 2017 at 7:06 am #

      What would landowner friendly states be? Wisconsin? Where do we go to achieve all this? What a whirlwind…

      • Gabriella September 16, 2017 at 8:56 am #

        Hi Jennifer! Those things are typically broken up by county rather than by state. I am not sure if there are any states that are 100% code free. But there are plenty of ‘unincorporated counties” that you could search for. That’s where I would begin my search. 🙂

  27. Jennifer Weber September 16, 2017 at 7:05 am #

    My mom wants to purchase a tiny home and put it on our property, on a slab, we live in Wisconson, Coloma to be exact. We live on 5 acres, in the woods, on a cul de sac with few neighbors, outside of the village. What are the steps that we would need to do to achieve this? We would consider this mother in law quarters, guest house, it would not be visible to anyone but us, if even that. Sharing septic and all other utilities as they are all out there anyway.. is that possible?? This is all new to me…She will be moving here from Michigan and I’m trying to make this as easy as possible for her.

  28. EL October 12, 2017 at 5:44 am #

    how do you find out about placing a tiny home on a NYC roof property that you own?

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