While it's legal to live in pint-sized apartments or condos, municipal building codes in the US regularly include minimum square-foot regulations for free-standing residences. The rationale for requiring bigger spaces varies from "health" and "safety" concerns (ha!), to preserving the "character" of a neighborhood, to protecting surrounding property values. Cynics suggest the codes are financially motivated: big houses cost more than tiny houses, so businesses who want to charge more lobby jurisdictions who want to collect higher taxes.
But there are signs that things are slowly changing as more people get vocal about wanting to go tiny. A guest blog published on Tiny House Talk, summarized the successful appeal of local zoning regulations to permit a tiny house community in Florida. Another piece on Tiny House Build did a nice job suggesting how to approach building officials, including this advice:
"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."
For people who don't or can't afford to own their own property, zoning restrictions that permit only one dwelling per property restrict placement of tiny houses. Some jurisdictions, such as Portland, OR, have already moved to allow accessory dwellings as a means of providing more affordable housing. In Arlington, VA, officials signed off on accessory dwellings to increase affordable housing stock and help seniors age in place—but accessory units in the county must be part of the main dwelling, not separate buildings.
I think the key to making our neighborhoods more "tiny house friendly" is communication. We need to be talking to our neighbors, our news outlets, our civic leaders and our elected politicians about the potential benefits of small dwellings—affordability, sustainability and enhanced community, among them.
Want to read more? Here are some building/zoning discussions I've found useful...
Understanding minimum area standards: "Navigating Minimum Square Footage Requirements" and "Movement Growing Toward Legalizing Tiny Houses", TentCityUrbanism.com
Dealing with minimum size requirements: "5 Ways to Get Around Minimum Size Standards", ThisTinyHouse.com
Finding zoning codes and building regulations by region: AmericanTinyHouseAssociation.org
Navigating the red tape of zoning codes: "How To Get Started: A Practical Guide Part 6" and Cracking the Code, TheTinyLife.com, The Tiny House Conference
Approaching zoning/building officials: "Legalizing Your Tiny House", TinyHouseBuild.com
Advocating for zoning changes: "How Do I Get Zoning Passed for Tiny Houses in My Area", TinyHouseTalk.com
Embracing the gray areas of zoning: "Are Tiny Houses Legal? Yes.", BoneyardStudios.org
Finding a spot for your tiny house: "How to Find Parking for your Tiny House on Wheels", TheTinyHouse.net
More on finding a tiny house site: "Places to Stay", TinyHouseCommunity.com
And yet more on placing your micro dwelling: "Where Can You Park a Tiny House?", MiniMotives.com