Since the local newspaper published an article about our tiny house last month, we’ve had a lot of traffic headed our way. Mostly, this has been great! We love chatting about the tiny house with new people and having people recognize Seth in random places. But the added attention did come with a snag. The local building department investigated our house and issued us a stop work order in the week after the article, which meant we couldn’t do any work. Unfortunately, this happened during one of the warmest Februarys I can remember, putting a halt on all things tiny.
The building department gave us the stop work order because, like in most municipalities, the tiny house falls into a gray area in zoning by-laws. We don’t need a permit to build in our location since we won’t be living there once the house is complete, and this is something we knew since last year when we had talked with the building department before beginning construction. However the building department still wanted to make sure we’re not infringing on anything zoning wise.
Fortunately there was a simple solution for us. Once we got the trailer registered and put on the plates, we were out of the building department’s jurisdiction and able to move forward with our work, provided we relocate at the end of our build. At that time we’ll join the throngs of other tiny-housers trying to find ways to live legally in our chosen towns and cities. It’s not as easy as parking in someone’s driveway or paying rent for a backyard. In many towns, there are zoning by-laws preventing houses of a certain size (typically smaller than 1000 sq. ft.), or preventing more than one house on a plot of land. If we are classified as a custom RV, that won’t necessarily help us either as most towns have a limit of a 30-day stay on someone’s private property.
These by-laws are generally in place to prevent the “lowering of value” of neighborhoods. The idea is that no one wants a typical fiberglass RV living on their street permanently, and a small house can skew average square footage values of houses in the neighborhood (which is why you don’t see McMansions being built in neighborhoods full of 1950s ranches and cape cods). Then, too, the minimum square footage of homes means a larger fee for the local building department when it comes time to file for permits. After all, building departments charge by the square foot for building permits. These regulations can make for a bureaucracy that is resistant to change.
Some municipalities are taking steps to welcome tiny houses. Spur, TX, became the first city in the United States to openly welcome tiny houses, and other cities are looking at labeling tiny houses as “accessory dwelling units,” similar to in-law apartments. And as for us? I’m not sure what the future holds. When the time comes, we’ll ask our network for help, trusting that the universe will provide. And maybe make sure that our location stays out of newspaper articles.