For some of us, downsizing to a tiny home is the dream—the ultimate minimalist lifestyle, a chance to try living closer to nature, with none of the stress of paying off a mortgage for the rest of our prime years. It’s a new house movement whose time may have come.
After all, for most of history, families lived without huge living rooms and spare bedrooms. Why not trade big house living and all that space you have to maintain for living in your own tiny house?
But before you and your family start plotting your new, full-time tiny-house living, it’s important to remember that these cute creations still occupy a gray zone.
The law often sees tiny houses as ambiguous little islands floating somewhere between camper vans (aka recreational vehicles), mobile homes, and traditional single-family residences. So it’s easy to get confused about what’s legal and what’s not.
So how can you make sure your own small house isn’t an outlaw? Let’s go over some of the most common issues in planning, zoning, building, and living in a home that’s tiny, but still has just the room you need.
Decide which type of tiny house you want
First, a quick primer on the tiny-house movement: To officially be considered tiny, the house has to be 400 square feet or less (excluding lofts), according to the International Code Council.
Tiny living also comes in two different forms: movable (on wheels) or stationary (on a foundation). Which one you pick will largely influence where you’re allowed to live, so it’s important to know what’s what.
“There’s a lot of confusion in the [tiny-home] community,” says Andrew Morrison, who builds tiny houses and co-wrote the National Tiny House Building Code. “The house has to be put on a foundation for it to be an actual house.”
Why does it matter? If your small house has wheels, it may fall under the recreational vehicle code, which is far less stringent than the code required for a house on a foundation. It may even sound good if you dream of the off-grid life.
But that flexibility comes with a catch: If you build using an RV code, it will be a lot harder to get residential status if you and your family want to put down roots with your living space later on. (More on that later.)
On the other hand, small homes on foundations fall under the same building code as residential homes. This can throw a loop in zoning regulations. Buildings are generally required to be more than 70 square feet in size, but in some areas they are required to be at least 1,000 square feet.
The square footage required also depends on which county or city you’re planning to build in. In some places, it’s illegal to build a home smaller than a certain square footage. So make sure to check your local ordinances before you get started.
Decide where you’re going to park it
Maybe you’ve been dreaming of living the tiny life on your favorite waterfront spot. It’s easier and faster than building a house or even a cabin.
There are no neighbors, no traffic, no noise except for the sounds of nature. But we’ve got bad news: You can’t plunk down a tiny space and start living just anywhere.
Before you sell your house and downsize to something tiny, start by calling your planning or zoning department to ask about the local ordinances: Are there any restrictions on areas where you’re thinking of building? How are tiny homes zoned, what’s the required square footage, and where is tiny living allowed?
Of course, some spots are more open to tiny homes than others. Some communities, such as Sarasota County, FL, and Philadelphia, have no size restrictions for tiny homes as long as they meet building codes.
Other jurisdictions, like El Paso County, CO, are adopting new legislation to allow tiny homes wherever mobile homes are allowed—usually in unincorporated areas.
Then there are cities that allow living in tiny homes as accessory dwelling units, which means that tiny abodes can be put on a property and used for living anywhere that already has a residential home. (This is more common in urban areas, such as Los Angeles; Portland, OR; and Seattle.)
To find out more info about living in small spaces in a particular area, check the national, state, and local regulations compiled by the American Tiny House Association.
“If you can, forming an advocacy group will be to your benefit—the more public interest, the better,” says Alexis Stephens, co-director of Tiny House Expedition. “Together, you can set up an educational session for your city officials and planners.”
So what does a tiny home need to be up to code?
Whether or not you build the house yourself or hire someone to build it, it’ll have to meet your local building codes.
“Facilities for eating, sleeping, washing, and living are required, plus a source of heat,” Morrison says.
It sounds pretty standard, right? Here are some other things a tiny house must have in order to be up to code:
- Plumbing: A tiny house requires at least one separate bathroom.
- Stairs: Tiny homes are allowed to have stairs, including ladders, ship ladders, or alternative ways for people to reach the loft.
- Minimum ceiling height: The habitable living space must have a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet 8 inches. Bathrooms and kitchens can be a bit lower, at 6 feet 4 inches.
- Windows: A tiny house does not need a minimum number of windows, but has to meet the standard for emergency exits.
The tricky part about building your home as an RV
If you build your tiny home on wheels, you have a lot more flexibility. You can pack your tiny dwelling up and head for new scenery any time. But you’ll operate under a whole different set of regulations for small spaces, some of which are quite constricting.
Many local ordinances prohibit people from taking up permanent residence in RVs, even in the backyard.
“Therefore, they end up with an illegal home,” Morrison says. “There are some exceptions, but in general, an RV is not a tiny house and can’t be substituted for one.”
So before you go this route, check local restrictions.
The post How to Live in a Tiny House Without Breaking the Law appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.
McDevitt Real Estate Closing Attorney Services - Real Estate Law Massachusetts
Have a question about Real Estate Law or need a closing attorney? Fill out the form below or call us at 617-282-7550.
We are conveniently located in Hingham and Milton, Massachusetts.
McDevitt Law Group strives to provide the highest quality real estate law and estate planning services, and we have for almost 40 years. As a small law firm, we pride ourselves on providing personal attention to your case and providing the highest quality representation. Call us today, or use the contact form below.
Barnstable County | Bristol County | Duke County | Essex County | Middlesex County | Nantucket County | Norfolk County | Plymouth County | Suffolk County
Just click on the Phone Number to dial on your phone: