How Your Tiny House Design will Affect Where It’s Legal

Today we have a exclusive excerpt from author and tiny house dweller Ethan Waldman. After building his tiny house on wheels, Ethan started receiving question after question from followers on his facebook page, which eventually led to his excellent resource, Tiny House Decisions.

However, he didn’t stop there. When he noticed that many people were asking about how to find land for their tiny houses, he got to work on a brand new book, Tiny House Parking.
Right now for a limited time, Tiny House Parking is available for just 5.99 cents! The following is an excerpt from Tiny House Parking: How to Find Safe, Practical, and Affordable Land for Your Tiny House.

Tiny House Types and the Law

The tiny house parking options available to you depend on the kind of tiny house you have. Your very first decisions regarding your tiny house — whether to build it on wheels or on a foundation — sets the stage for which legal battle you’ll be fighting and which particular pitfalls you’ll need to watch out for.

Trailer

As mentioned above, if you build your tiny house on a trailer, it probably won’t be subject to building code, because it won’t count as a building. The upside is that it gives you much more freedom when it comes to planning and designing your tiny house, but it creates a bit of a problem if you plan to live in it full time.

Your tiny house will likely only count as a “temporary structure,” like an RV, and, although the regulations vary from state to state, you will probably find that you’ll only be allowed to live (or “camp”) in your tiny house for a month or so at a time. If you ignore these regulations, you’ll technically be breaking the law.

The complications don’t stop there. Depending on where you choose to park your tiny house, the rules may prevent you from hooking your house up to utilities, require you to park on a concrete slab or a particular distance away from other structures, and limit the choices available to you in terms of design.

If you decide to build your tiny house on a trailer, you’ll need to find out what the rules are in your area and how they would apply to your house. If you comply with those regulations, you probably won’t have any trouble. You will, however, probably end up moving a lot which, depending on your lifestyle, may be far from ideal.

You’ll also want to research any rules that will apply if you want to move your tiny house within your state. Pay special attention to laws regarding height, width, and weight.

Your other option is to ignore the rules and hope that no one finds out. This is dangerous because it involves breaking the law, running the risk of losing your home, and potentially getting on the bad side of your neighbors.

Of course, living in a tiny house on wheels has a big list of benefits. First and foremost, it allows you to become a homeowner at the lowest possible cost- since you don’t have to pay for land along with your house. And for people like me who aren’t sure quite where they’ll be living 5 years in the future, the ability to move your house with you rather than have to deal with selling it and buying a new property in a new location is invaluable.

To sum up, living in a tiny house on wheels is appealing because it offers the most personal freedom (from taxes and a permanent location). It also puts you in a legal grey area, which makes your living situation less certain but makes it easier for you to fly under the radar. Before you build or buy your tiny house, you’ll need to decide whether or not you are comfortable with living on such shaky ground.

Foundation

The main alternative to living in a tiny house on wheels is to live in one that’s built on a foundation, such as on a concrete slab or over a basement. This option also comes with pros and cons.

Building your tiny house on the ground rather than on a trailer means you’ll also most likely need to purchase land, which will increase costs. Your home won’t be mobile, so you’ll be tied to one place. You’ll also probably need to secure permission before you build and comply with the building codes and regulations in your area. As you know by now, the trouble with building codes is that the definition of a residential home (as opposed to a temporary structure) is usually too narrow to include tiny houses.

That said, building on a foundation certainly has its upsides. Without the limitations that come with building on a trailer, for instance, you’ll have a lot more freedom when it comes to the shape and size of your tiny house. You can build it bigger, square, or with two full floors, if you want to.

Hybrid

There is a third option. It is possible to build tiny houses that’s kept on a semi-permanent foundation but can be transported when necessary. The result is a house that’s similar to a park-model mobile home.

The field of hybrid tiny houses is vast, and wading into it will just derail our parking discussion. If this option appeals to you, I’d encourage you to do some research on your own. As a starting point, the following article includes a more in-depth discussion of hybrid tiny houses, along with photos and examples of 13 such homes: http://www.thetinyhouse.net/skip-the-trailer-13-tiny-houses-built-on-foundations/

Besides the added flexibility this option provides, a hybrid tiny house comes with the benefit of being covered by current legislation. You can keep these houses anywhere that you can keep mobile homes. Remember that there are sometimes limits on how long you can live in a mobile home, so you’ll need to look these up. You’ll also need to find out and stick to the limits for objects that are transported as wide loads on trailers.

No matter which path you take — trailer, foundation, or hybrid — you’re going to need to research the rules carefully in the town where you want to live to make sure your tiny house is as legal as possible.

This section goes on to discuss how each of the aforementioned tiny house types will affect how you’ll go about working with your local zoning regulators.

Tiny House Parking is an excellent resource, and $0.99 is an amazing price! Click Here to Purchase

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Matthew Piner - September 18, 2015 Reply

Book download was $2.99 at Amazon, not .99 – but that’s ok – still worth it!

Austin - October 5, 2015 Reply

Thanks for the info. I’m running into some of these problems now with my tiny-house. I’m building one on a trailer that’s parked in front of my house (on my property) in an urban area of southeast Virginia. I’ve been ticketed several times (parking) and even received a summons on a criminal misdemeanor charge. I’ve been to court and was given an order to move based off of a law that was intended for permanent structures. Since there is no precedent, id have to hire a lawyer in order to beat it. So basically, I’m going to have to move in earlier than planned. I’m thinking an rv park is my best bet. Thanks again for the article. I’d appreciate if you checked out my blog on sustainable living at http://itstartswithme.co it has pictures of my tiny house

Tiny Houses - December 6, 2016 Reply

[…] a Tiny House? Well there are three versions:  Trailer, Foundation and Hybrid. Thanks to the Tiny House Blog and their book review “Tiny House Parking,” by Ethan Waldman, the book provides more detail […]

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