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Living the Tiny House Dream: Legal or Not?

By taufiqhaque

Tiny houses are sweet little constructions making lots of buzzes these days. And why not? We live in a time where house rents and EMI for houses are costing us more than we can manage. If the home we built to live our dream causes us nightmares, where should we go? This is why tiny houses are becoming saviors for many people out there.

They might be tiny, but they accommodate everything we need to live our human lives. In addition, tiny houses are symbols of a minimalist lifestyle. We do not need to occupy extensive lands to live with our families. Sometimes, a cozy tiny place can make us feel at home more than ever.

But as much as the concept of tiny houses is new and creative, the law revolving around them is pretty complex. You might think that you are only living your dream by residing inside a tiny house on your property. And suddenly, a legal notice from the authority can wake you up brutally.

To be worst, you may even have to pay the penalty for your tiny houses. So to avoid unwanted situations like this, let us dig into the matter regarding tiny houses in the USA.

History of Tiny Houses in the USA

Tiny Houses in the USA
Photo by: Pekic

The Tiny house law might seem too intimidating in the USA because there is no uniformity in the law covering the entire country. Every state has its own sets of rules and regulations regarding tiny houses. But these creations have an exciting history in the USA, mainly towards a positive direction.

To help the survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Jean Prouvé, a French architect, had created a 64 square foot unit. It served as an emergency cottage for those survivors. ‘Tiny House Solution’ was created in Texas in 2013 to help homeless people find somewhere to reside. And in 2016, in Kalamazoo, Michigan – legislation was passed to get ahead with the idea of tiny houses that are efficient enough for permanent residence.

You may want to know these facts as arguments in case if you have to bargain with your local municipality for allowing you to live in your tiny house on your land. Despite having other instances of people not living in their self-bought tiny houses in their parents’ land, because of local authority not approving the dwelling, there have been instances in the States where tiny houses were perceived as solutions.

Can You Live in Tiny Houses in Your Land in the USA?

Tiny Houses
Photo by: Holly-Harris

The answer is not yes or no. Because the tiny house concept is still an emerging subject in the USA, it primarily dwells in the grey zone. Many see it as the solution to modern problems of increasing housing loans, greenhouse emission, lack of land for residential purposes, etc. But many people object to the idea of allowing tiny houses in their respective cities. You may think of placing your tiny house in your backyard without thinking much. But if your neighbor notifies the authority, then you may face the consequences.

Tiny houses are of 2 kinds, tiny houses on wheels (labeled as a recreational vehicle or RV) and the actual establishment of home (registered as Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU). The former one is also known as camping car or sort. At the same time, the latter is known as the grandmother cottage. You have to opt for different licenses for both.

The rule to live in the houses are also different. For example, you can not live permanently in your RV. Neither can you park it just anywhere in your land? You have to look for a particular parking place for your RV or get permission from your local municipality.

For ADUs, the general regulations, noted based on the rules of most of the states, do not allow living in them for 3 to 6 months at a stretch. There are even instances where the placement of tiny houses was not illegal. But owners were not allowed to reside permanently in them.

Speaking further of the law language, building code violation, and zoning code can cost you a heavy penalty. And most of the tiny house owners are under the radar because their establishment violates the regulations mentioned.

Building Code and Zoning Regulations

Building codes are regulations that tell you how the houses should be built. It dictates the minimum space required for the house, floor to ceiling height, number of exit points, windows, ladders, sanitation system, heating arrangements, etc. In most cases, the minimum requirement for one room is 70 square feet.

A house must be 1000 square feet according to most of the building codes in the States. But the number varies. However, tiny houses are mostly built with 150 to 400 square feet. Because of the small area, plumbing and other facilities are also arranged within a small space. It raises concern for local authorities as building codes must be maintained in a particular area.

Whether your tiny house is registered as an RV or an ADU, you must consider your local zoning regulations. Zoning regulations dictate a similar pattern of establishment in the locality. This is why you can’t place a tiny house anywhere in your locality, even though you own the property.

These regulations are necessary because it helps in maintaining construction order in a city. Houses smaller than a certain space might not fulfill the standard living condition. For example, the lack of proper sanitation facilities, the number of windows, or heating facilities can drop the decent living standard of dwellers.

Since the tiny house movement has not been in the picture for long, most states are not familiar with the pros and cons of such houses. Besides, the development process in the tiny house industry is still ongoing to make the houses more efficient and sustainable. Hence, the local legislations are still thriving to incorporate this new idea of housing.

Things to Watch Out Before Placing Tiny Houses on Your Land

Tiny Houses
Photo by: Tony-Anderson

If your tiny house is built with the following facilities, you might avoid some legal obstacles while living in your tiny house:

  • Try to maintain a minimum ceiling height of 6.8 feet in common space and 6.4 feet in the washroom and kitchen.
  • There should be at least one separate bathroom in the house. Try to accommodate at least a shower, a water closet, and a basin.
  • According to the local building code, know the required number of windows for tiny houses. There has to be one emergency exit also.
  • Stairs or ladders are a must to reach the upper floor.

Conclusion

If you live in states that are friendly with the concept of tiny houses – like Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas – you may face lesser problems in placing a tiny house in your land.

Though the concept is still new, we are highly hopeful that more and more people will eventually understand the benefits of tiny houses. After all, tiny houses are more than a hobby to us. They are our adaptation in a world that needs creative and sustainable ideas like these.

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