The Hard Questions

Following is a guest post by one of my readers.

Approximately an eon ago, I sent an email to Kent saying I think the issue of where to site a tinyhouse needs more discussion. Apparently he’s a genuine time management ninja, because he threw the ball right back at me and invited me to do a guest post, so I finally got around to it now.

I have tried to find a solution for this in my own context, in Ottawa here, and for a wheeled tinyhouse. Unfortunately, after looking into practical solutions, and into what it takes to change the relevant bylaws, I’ve come to the conclusion that changing the bylaw(s) might just end up being the best way to make placing a tinyhouse practical, if only people want it enough to cooperate just a tiny bit (and I meant that to apply to other cities, too). It might not be all that hard, all things considered, I think, because as I’ll elaborate on below, there are some cities that do allow them in one form or another.

Anyway, I have tried to find out:

A) Why there are there rules banning RVs in one form or another, anyway, (since tinyhouses usually get treated as rvs).
B) What are the relevant sections of the laws, and can they be accomodated somehow?
C) What are the penalties for breaking the bylaws?

I still haven’t managed to get an answer to C, not even a ballpark figure, because the city keeps giving me the runaround saying that would depend on what the bylaw officer decides. For B, the defective law is the “zoning bylaw”. It’s just one “law” with a bunch of subsections, which you can find on the web. Now, the relevant section – brace yourself for this, now – basically, they ban everything except certain, narrowly defined things in each zones. Which obviously inherently bans any sort of innovation or improvements, of any sort.

Anyway, the legislation has a definitions section, and it looks like wheeled tinyhouse would be cassified as a “mobile home,” which by their definition has wheels. “Recreational vehicles” (presumably the same) can be parked on your property here, at least, and are treated as a “heavy vehicle”.

A, of course only really matters with regards to changing or challenging the law/unfair enforcement, and maybe avoiding complaints from the neighbors. If we could figure out what people hate about RVs so much, or object to about tinyhouse-like concepts, maybe they could be designed around or away. From what I can tell (though I might be missing some that are out there), there are 5 main complaints:

1. Appearance.

This is the doosy for Rvs, which have beened banned entirely in some cities from being parked on residential lots for more than a few days, apparently solely because of people’s dislike of the look of RVs. It seems to apply to other objects, though, like a stationary tinyhouse, I quote: “The physical look of a Garden Suite is often the deal-breaker with [neighboring] residents – if this unit does not fit well into its surroundings, residents are not forgiving and will likely resist the entire concept (as witnessed in North Vancouver).” (A “garden suite” is a basically a nonwheeled mobile home in a backyard. That doc is pretty interesting, BTW). Fortunately this doesn’t apply to e.g. the tumbleweeds, because most people seem to find the appearance appealing. Why some people are such assholes they demand control over every visible thing, I don’t know, but I would point out that the good guys actually did triumph in vancouver, where “laneway housing” is now allowed, though there are some aesthetics-based restriction on them.

I just can’t resist adding that, although Jay gets some flack sometimes for the relatively fancy or expensive designs, personally I can’t think of any better way to further the concept than making really charming houses. Unless we could amp that up to breathtaking beauty, now…

2. Changes surrounding housing prices.

This actually goes both ways, if you can believe it. Everyone knows the gripe about reducing surrounding house prices, but if you read the saga of seattle cottage housing and/or vancouver laneway housing, a lot of people are complaining just as much that it might increase their taxes by increasing their (land+) house’s value. But I guess that opens up an interesting possibility, that done carefully, tinyhouses could be as welcome as RVs are reviled in this regard, if they increase the surrounding housing values.

3. Hatred of the sort of people that usually use rvs.

This is an ugly one. I think it was Michael Janzen that described this as viewing them as “bad neighbora.” (I’m not saying at all that he holds that view). But personally I think it’s no better than hating Amish or Jewish or gays, and that society is still happy to openly prosecute a minority group, through the law even, is pretty shameful. For tinyhouse-like things, there are fewer of them, so I don’t know if a stigma problem has developed here.

4. Privacy sight lines.
Basically people don’t want a window that looks into their backyard or own window. Fortunately this could be solved pretty easily by not putting a window on the relevant side, or even solved with set-backs from the property line.

5. People regard them as uncomfortable places to live, and feel threatened by that.
This having nothing to do with concern for the people who live there, and being detached from the hatred of the people who might live there. People just seem to feel threatened, maybe like the bar is being lowered or something. Of course it’s totally irrational, but it does seem to be one of the objections, and one of the kneejerk reactions to tinyhouses, too, though fortunately to a much lesser degree. Also, fortunately most people are smart enough to realize it’s silly.

Fortunately it looks like safety is not a real concern, though of course that is a favourite bogeyman of anyone who objects to something. Some areas require sprinkler systems to be built into the tinyhouse if it is relatively hard to access for fire crews.

But.. how can we practically site a tinyhouse, in a suitable place, right now?

I don’t know, but I know the usual advice is to find a locale that doesn’t have unreasonable building codes, or rent in a trailer park. But for me, and I suspect most people, I need to be in this city, preferably close to work etc. I just want a house that is a bit smaller than usual, and why should that be such a stretch? There’s got to be some way. Some ideas:

A) Just go for it, and when someone complains, deal with it. A few people seem to be taking this approach, but there are still some issues to resolve before even getting started with this one. There may not be a fine, you might just have to move somewhere else and it might take a while before someone complains, but you still have to find someone willing to rent you their backyard to get started. Obviously that problem is going to be compounded, too, if you have to find a new one frequently. People might hesitate even more to rent to you if they think there is the possibility of getting fined, or when they hear you have to plumb into their sewage line. Maybe you could put something in the rental contract that says the fine is your responsibility, so long as you get power of attorney (so you can take it to court, somehow). The city might well win the court case, though. A network of tinyhouse lovers in the city could sure help, especially if some of them were landowners looking to rent some of their land.

b) Rent a backyard, but claim you “live” in a room in the house, or maybe even at another location, and this is just your office. The definition of where you “live” seems to hinge on where you sleep at night, and frankly that’s none of the governments business, so I don’t feel bad lying about it. The municipality might not believe you, though, so you need to be able to take it to court. Same problem here of repeatedly finding a new landowner. Ultimately you need the permission of the owner in the city, since nothing is crown land, hence the focus on backyards. I don’t know what other sort of land there might be, in a light industrial area or something, it could be even harder to persuade the owners.

c) Get a zoning amendment or variance for it. In Ottawa it is an amendment, and I have not been able to find much on how this is done, it could be a lot of work and take too long. While I think you can apply with just the permission of the land owner, you’d probably need them to at least lift a finger in the process, and that could be a barrier. But, if the workload is small or can be applied in duplicate to other amendment applications, one idea might be to apply for amendments at many different properties, and hope one goes through. I found one example of someone who tried an amendment sort of thing for a non-wheeled mobile home, and while it was allowed, the zoning board people demanded that the mobile home only be used for the parents of the owner, and continously, and that in a wooded rural area. I can’t find the exact doc again, but here you can see them alluding to a “Standard Garden Suite Agreement”. However, I have seen 2 foundation-mounted “detached accessory dwelling units” for rent here in ottawa while looking for housing, so maybe it’s doable somehow – would they be anal about if it is on wheels or a foundation? Arg, actually I wouldn’t be surprised. Just calling and asking seems to be the way to clarify this sort of thing, and reading the minutes of meetings.

I don’t want to invade the privacy of the individual of concern here, but I have read the minutes of a town hall meeting where a mobile tinyhouse owner applied for a variance, and the council just tossed it out. For a variance in most areas you are supposed to show that you need it to avoid hardship because of the unusual situation of the property, e.g. it’s too narrow to meet the required setbacks when building a garage, because it’s an unusually narrow lot. Needless to say, this didn’t meet that requirement. I have read, though, that the job of council and the zoning board is to apply the rules literally (and mindlessly). So the bright side is that, although they seem like total assholes, they might just be doing their jobs, and still be open to rule improvements.

d) Confuse them, or go for the cracks in the law.
I have no idea if this would work, but just for example: first it’s a mobile home, then when they ask you to remove that, remove the axles so it’s an unlicensed building, then make it an unlicensed addition to the main house, then it’s a garden suite somehow, then you are not living in it, it’s your office, then either the neighbor stops complaining, or…. move. However the bylaw officers have some discretion about giving fines, so there would have to be a rule about not being able to fine someone for the first of each particular offense, or they might just fine you anyway. Apparently Dee managed to use some part of the law that said you could “recreate” in a backyard. Ottawa doesn’t have that anyway, but in any case in a different situation, the city might not agree, and finding a landowner willing to do something different is still a problem.

e) Pay the fine. I wonder what happens next? Probably increasingly large fines, so that’s probably not practical.

f) Just change the stupid laws.
By this point you are are probably thinking what I am thinking. One way or another, by various increasingly convoluted and time consuming methods, you might be able to accomodate these unreasonable law(s), but at the end of the day, changing them might be less work overall, when you add up all the work that would be done by many people using tinyhouses, and over a longish period of time.

I started a facebook group for my city: The Ottawa tinyhouse club. If everyone searches for tinyhouse+(your city) and, if there is no group, starts one, or if there is one, join it, we will self-assemble spontaneously into local tinyhouse lover chapters, and then have the ability to change the laws with a letter campaign, petition, lobbying, or whatever. Like I said, there are some cities where tinyhouse-like things are legal, and the case for tinyhouses is pretty strong. Like Matt Ridley says, it’s whether people actually work together or not that determines what they can do far more than their individual abilities.

Lastly, I just want to say I think this deserves to be discussed more, until it’s solved. A look at the blogosphere indicates that there are a lot of people that agree this is one of the biggest, maybe the biggest, issue facing anyone who wants to use a tinyhouse. Especially so because, unlike the technical and engineering problems with building a tinyhouse, this is a political problem that none of us can solve alone. And yet there is relatively little said about it. We can either work together, or tinyhouses will continue to be smothered by the people who do work together – the government. And big business. Frankly I think we all know they’ve got a big hand in this nonsense, of banning a perfectly sensible concept. And I do think it is the government, not the people, because very few people I have talked to object to the tinyhouse concept, and studies indicate that something like 83% of people approved of or didn’t mind the vancouver laneway houses, which are a much bigger deal to have next door, I would think.

Some links, if your interested:

42 thoughts on “The Hard Questions”

  1. So glad to see you write about this, Kent. The situation as you describe in Ottawa is the same in most communities in BC, including the Cowichan Valley.

    Municipal property laws are designed to support and entrench NIMBYism and discrimination; in fact, they’re the government equivalent of both.

  2. Now that a post!The laws here in my town in west virginia, allow sheds, of 700 sq. ft. that are non residential. I’ve been told that means no toilet! I have seen detached garages with rooms over them though, perhaps there are no toilets there either. So what if you had two or more detached sheds, and a composting toilet bucket?

  3. Great post Kent! I follow this blog everyday and its issues like this that have me a little scared to build a tiny home in the first place. I should probably just ignore everything you wrote past Option A and just go for it!

  4. Case in point, that everything starts at the local level. These bureaucrats are just the Farm Team for the Big League scoundrels in D.C. When local elections have turnouts in the 20% or less range, one can see real fast how we wound up where we are.

    Great idea of starting local chapters of the Tiny House Mov’t. What would be really sweet, is if the local chapters could organize under some type of national chapter to consolidate resources, help in relocations, etc. Power in numbers.

  5. Excellent post! Very important issue(s).

    (Just to clarify the reference quoting something I said… when I say things about ‘good/cool neighbors, I’m talking about the folks that don’t nark on each other for living in alternative homes. There are lots of reasons on might need to call the the powers-that-be about stuff neightbors are doing – but living in a tiny house or trailer is not one of them.)

    In regards to this entire issue… where to live… the first thing to recap is that it’s an extremely complex set of issues and really depends on location. The biggest problem, after the way laws, codes, covenants, are witten are the neighbors who don’t want anything abnormal in any nearby backyard.

    I think these people are fools for clinging to NIMBYism and discrimination. They also seem to have way too much time on their hands and waste it worrying about the wrong stuff… but this doesn’t make the problem go away.

    Right now tiny houses exist in a grey area between houses and trailers. Changing the way the world thinks of trailers might be one way to go about solving this problem… but another way may be to move tiny houses out of the grey area.

    In other words, this post has just made an excellent argument for working to define tiny houses as a new form of housing – not a trailer, not a traditional house. If the argument was strong enough policy makers everywhere may be forced to consider tiny houses as something new and work them into their local rules. This might be an easier route than trying to get them to rethink all the rules about trailers.

    But don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to leave trailers behind… they are can be homes too… just trying to think of a way to work the system from another direction to achieve our shared goal – which might also have future benefits for all houses of alternative shapes and sizes.

    • Practically speaking, if something has wheels, then it’s a trailer. I would personally love to see small homes as an infill solution, but I’d feel differently if they were trailers. And I freely admit that I’d vote to zone against RVs parked in front yards or on their own lots, unless they were in a trailer park.

      I’m a little surprised that people have so many problems building small houses on permanent foundations with traditional utility hookups for electric, water and sewer. Most towns, especially older ones, have several older homes of 500 sqft or less.

      • I am not so sure that people are opposed to, or having problems building 500sqft houses on permanent foundations, but rather the fact that if you want to go smaller you may not build them due to law requirements of minimum size standards.
        Plus the moving potential of a trailered house is nice because like a turtle you can bring your house where ever you want to go.

      • Most small houses were built before the zoning rules existed. I think if more people pushed to change the minimum footage requirements, they would eventually return to more sensible levels as those who set them die out…

        Michael, one issue… your neighbors do not ‘narc’ on you, they enforce the rules in place for the community they live in. Fight to change the laws, don’t blame those who choose to live by them.

    • Love this topic and the thoughtful points. A few years ago I looked into siting a tiny house behind my home in San Diego. I live in a restricted-density, urban zone. The city said “no” but that I could apply for a variance. Memory is hazy but I think each application is $5K and sometimes multiple petitions are required and there is no guarantee even then. I could legally add a bedroom (no kitchen), but with that I would also need to add an on-site parking space and my lot is too small.

      So I began looking into urban lots zoned “multi-family”, with the idea that this would overcome the density issue. And I notice there a small studio apartments in this area so I wondered about a cluster of tiny homes as condominiums. I wondered whether it would be possible to locate the ideal spot and organize a group of buyers to purchase shares of the lot and condominium permit on which each would then place their “tiny home condominium”.

      Short of a petition to change the laws, the only other possibility I can see in urban San Diego is to go with a wheeled home in a trailer or mobile home park. But in San Diego these are often as expensive as a similarly sized apartment so it becomes impractical for people who want to downsize their expenses.

      Still thinking…

      • I, too, have been searching for a place to set a tiny home in the San Diego area. I like the idea of buying a plot of land under the multi-family zoned use. Did you find another solution, Sandra?

        • Hi bridget I have been thinking about the same thing buying a plot of land with multiple people and get a petition signed so we can start living in a tiny house community. what solutions have you found so far? feel free to email me directly at yuju.yeh@GMAIL.COM.

  6. Ok, so…. I will be up front here, I am a planner by profession. In Canada.

    These laws and their enforcement vary by juridiction (side note – Chrystal I have worked in rural BC and I do find it surprising that there is no way around this in the CVRD?)

    Where I am currently does allow the parking of one RV on a residential property year round. You just cannot park it on your front lawn or the actual street. Also secondary suites are permitted in all residential zones. Unfortuneately, I believe you have to park the “RV” on a lot that has a dwelling on it. Also, there is a minimum sfd size of 600 sq ft (not anything like other jurisidictions I;ve seen where it can be a min of 1200 sq ft or more, but still).

    Zoning bylaws are sometimes difficult to understand for the average citizen. They are there for a reason though (obviously not to prohibit tiny houses – but still, I’ve worked in juridictions with no zoning, it’s ugly). Ottawa’s would likely be more restrictive than many other cities simply due to it’s size and nature. For the process to amend a bylaw in Ottawa see:
    Here is the application for a Zoning Bylaw Amendment:

    I would talk to someone there about your issue. Most cities have planners or development control officers on duty to deal with public inquiries. If you or a group of people are serious about this, you could with apply for a text amendment to allow what you want or for a site specific amendment for the property where you want to have your home. Honestly, I’m not familiar with their bylaws specifically or the public sentiment towards tiny houses in Ottawa specifically and there is no guarantee of success, but there are options at least.

  7. Good point about starting local and the reminder about the importance of local elections (I’ve been guilty of forgetting that).

    Our neighborhood went through a zoning process to forbid “mother-in-law units” unless a lot is a certain size. Because it’s an old neighborhood the lots are generally small. I wasn’t for the change but I will say that the extra units (grandfathered in) on my street make parking and pulling out of my driveway difficult and sometimes dangerous.

    What about the architects and developers who have built small house communities? They seem passionate about small houses and would be a great resource for advice on zoning issues.

    I don’t think blaming or generalizing about people who oppose tiny houses is particularly helpful. People have reasons for their opinions or stances, I think it helps to keep that in mind especially when strenuously disagreeing with them. Intolerance is ugly in anyone.

    • Generally a developer who builds a small house community would have a “contract zone” or planned unit development or something similar that would be tailored to their community. This is actually probably easier than doing a one-off amendment in many ways. Another aspect to this whole thing in addition to zoning bylaws are regulations put in place by developers to put restrictions on what can be built in a specific ocmmunity. These are often more restrictive than zoning bylaws, depending on the jurisdiction.

  8. Hey, long time lurker here… love the site and all that’s on it! (Makes me feel like a hypocrite though, since my house is 4k sq ft!)

    A valuable source of useful techniques, if you want to “rock the boat” in any way (and it sounds like you do) is “Roots for Radicals”. Get it, read it, make some change!

    Note that “radical” (to me) means “I’m not happy with the way things are and I want to change them in a positive way.” It does *NOT* mean “I’ve got a Molotov cocktail and I’m not afraid to use it!”

    Roots for Radicals tells of nonviolent ways to effect change and make things happen in good form. Give it a look!

  9. My husband and I have been wanting to buy a tiny-house, but were holding back only because of this worry of where to put it. For awhile Jay was talking about creating a tiny village in Sonoma County, but then the idea seemed to get dropped. Has anyone else moved forward with the idea? We live near Jay. If such a thing came about, we’d want in on it for sure. Meanwhile, we’ve been researching RVs instead. Mainly because there seem to be more options around here for parking an RV(lots of campgrounds and mobilehome parks). We really would prefer a tiny house though.

  10. My background is in public administration (Ph.D.) and information science (M.L.S.).

    Personally, I would find some lawyer skilled in drafting municipal codes and collect some other professions like planning (see great comments above)development, tiny house enthusiasts, engineers, plumbers etc. Then, I would work with relevant organizations at the state level. For example, here in Kansas it would be the Kansas League of Municipalities. If you can get some model codes drafted they can be put in reference books in legal collections that spare municipalities from drafting ordinances from scratch. Cities can tweak them to their individual needs and adopt them. There are over 85,000 local and special government units in the United States. You cannot reasonably address this one locality at a time. Get model codes drafted and then work from there.

  11. In response to why there are the RV zoning laws…one must consider history for a moment. When automobiles and subsequently highways improved in the 20s and 30s, a large movement of people took to the road toting little trailers. Americans discovered the low cost mobile lifestyle en mass..this resulted in overnite presence in many communities that never before had much visitation. What resulted was a backlash against these trailer haulers because of the unexpected strain they put on schools and local resources etc. While most were likely decent people, zoning laws began cropping up to protect the tax paying citizenry and favor local communities….this topic was explored in much more depth in a book on the movement and its impact on the american psyche…its been too long since I read it to remember the title, but it is a good read. Todays tiny house movement is likely to experience the same reaction if because of economic means it takes off more than it has….should be interesting to see how history will repeat itself..

  12. People in ontario should look at this web site and find out about land patent grants. Over the past years our government has invoked an over whelming number of statutory environmental restrictions and conservation protection initiatives in the name of the “public good”. While as the OLA, like most are not against the spirit of these designations we also recognize the need for balance and the need to protect the minority from considerable ongoing injustice. Most of these cookie cutter directives do not recognize, acknowledge or respect the land title and tenure awarded to the private landowner particularly rural land (though for example crown land patents) whose lives and property are and will be directly impacted. The Ontario government is side stepping “expropriation” by enacting “Partial” taking of property, which occurs when the title remains with the landowner but the use and value are established through bureaucratic legislation, policies or laws. Clearly, there is no protection for the landowner for his private investment, provisions for appeal at government expense or process for recovery of operational or capital losses arising from these restrictions.

  13. Thank you for this post that said it well and quite agree. Especially now with a difficult economy this issue needs to be addressed. My motto is “the power of determination can move mountains” so I hope all that needs a home and has one even if it is only an RV. I am going through this and so relate. I couldn’t help but smile at some of your post which cheered me up a bit.

  14. Lisa makes some good points about buying an RV versus a tiny house. An 8×40 RV comes in at 320 sf so it is definitely small, BUT, all of the major systems are already in place: solar, generator, appliances, tanks, etc., as well as built-in furniture like bed platforms, dinettes, storage bays, etc. I live in Georgia and our laws here are much the same as many of you are expressing, however, regulators in Georgia appear to be “turning their heads” so long as tiny homes or RV’s are not installed in established subdivisions. For example, at a nearby property, the main house occupies a 1-2 acre plot along a busy highway. Out in the back of the main house, a travel trailer, maybe 35 feet, has been setup on blocks (wheels are not touching the ground), it has been underpinned and shrubbery has been planted all around it. Covered decks were installed along the highway side masking the true origin of the “cabin.” It gets its electricity and water from the main house and shares the septic system but has its own LPG tank. It’s exceptionally well done. Four or five years ago when I started following the small house movement, this little property came to my awareness and I began watching it to see how the local regulators would react to it. Will they make them move it? Will they allow it to stay? After almost five years, the little trailer is still there and looks better than ever. It FITS its environment. Even an untrained eye can tell its a travel trailer, but it has been so nicely and deliberately set-up, one immediately assumes it is a granny flat or guesthouse, etc., but the main point is it seems to belong to its locale. By contrast, in a nearby subdivision where the mean home value is $200-$300,000, a homeowner attempted to install a travel trailer in a similar fashion and the county flatly stopped it and forced them to move it. I later learned the little trailer directly violated protective covenants of the subdivision. So, it appears my local county is interpreting the issue as “site appropriate.” Perhaps a travel trailer setup in an established subdivision is not the best idea, but a similar travel trailer setup on private land appears to be acceptable. I have no intentions of raising any awareness with the county that might focus undue attention on the established little trailer, but I did ask the county to define what they consider a “house” to be. In an established regulation, they defined a “house” as a structure of at least 300 sf, that contains food preparation (and I can’t recall the exact dimensions but they defined the minimum size of a kitchen) and full bathroom (toilet and bathing – tub or shower) with environmental controls (heat and in the South, definitely AC). I found it very encouraging to learn I was not the first person to present that question around here. In these economic times, the small house is a concept whose time has come and I think if more small house owners are responsible as well as considerate, the whole concept has a promising chance of progressing. Over the last decade there seems to be a huge push underway to ban mobile homes from many municipalities. Just as it took time for public attitudes to ban mobile homes, it’ll take time to allow “tiny homes.” We’ve come a long way already and I salute all the folks that have paved the way and continue to do so.

  15. Regarding the question of “where do you live?” When dealing with any government procedure, they always hold words and phrases to a legal standard i.e. case law or Black’s Law Dictionary. So to be ultra-technical, you live in your body not in your house or address. You dwell in your abode.

    I have heard this used in court cases in the states and it never ceases to baffle the judges.

    Regarding restrictions, one should always research common law or seldom used statutes that are on the books for a defense.

    Here in the sates, State Law always trumps County, City and local municipal codes and laws.

    Always do your own research even when hiring an attorney, you won’t regret it.

  16. Hello, everyone.

    I’ve read all the comments, and will be remembering and acting on them in my further activities within the tinyhouse movement.

    But. I’m just going to try to keep this short. There are 20 comments in this post, almost all people interested in tinyhouses, almost all expressing some desire to see progress politically.

    But when I go and check facebook, there is still only one tinyhouse group, that I can see. The facebook search feature is highly defective, unable to do an AND search, and I wish I knew that before I recommended it (Arg.) so maybe there are some under the “tiny house” name and I can’t find them.

    So for anyone who reads this, maybe you could look into your soul and tell why you decided not to start or join a local group? Is it not worth your while?

    If it was possible to search the 6396 people who “like” for people in your area, that would be good, but that isn’t supported. Nor can the owner of the liked thing send them messages, as far as I can tell.

    If you prefer something other than facebook, then that is fine, the multiple groups of people using different ways to organize can connect to each other later, as long as we make sure we can find them.

    We need to know what the reasons are that people are not forming into groups.

    • Hi Gregor,

      I am building a tiny home (one of the houses-to-go from on a trailer in Ottawa starting spring/summer 2013.

      I tried looking for the Ottawa Tiny Houses club on Facebook but had no luck. Is it still there?

      Currently I’m just looking for a place to build my tiny house as I have land in Newfoundland I will be moving to. I won’t want to move right away though so ideally I would like to find a location to ‘site’ my tiny home for at least a year.

      I am willing to do what’s needed to get any necessary bylaws amended. Heck, I’ll turn it into a campaign if I have too. But if you could point me in the right direction of some like-minded people I would greatly appreciate it… especially as I work in northern Alberta 3 weeks out of every month.



  17. randy for your post. My brother is being hassled big over me being here with my travel trailer and we set it up like the one you spoke of. He is not in a subdivision at all. We did this because we lost our mom suddenly and came here to be with my remaining family after looking after her for many years. She would have loved all the info here and would have supported all this as she was a child of the Great Depression.

    • Cheryl … sorry to hear you’re under fire. I know of another situation where the fellow asked for a zoning variance to install a “guest house.” The truth was stretched a bit because there was never any intent for a guest to live in the little trailer, but rather his daughter. He got his variance, he has the trailer setup and his daughter loves her little “pad.” In my experience, I have noted when the county regulators are giving grief, it is usually in response to complaints. Any chance that could be the case in your situation? If so, do you know who might be complaining? Complaints to the county ARE covered under the open records act so you should be able to contact the code enforcement division and learn who it is that is complaining. Good luck with that. I envy your little trailer. Best to you – Randy

  18. Alternative approaches from Down Under …

    An approach that can be taken is ‘temporary accommodation’ while building. This approach works when you own the land. Many municipalities Down Under allow the building or siting of a small accommodation unit while building. All that may be required to get permission for such a unit is the ‘intent’ to build.
    The unit may be with or without wheels. A number of firms will truck a unit on just for such a purpose.
    Also best if the ‘temporary accommodation’ is built for removal later (permission for full concrete slab foundation, as opposed to block is likely to be questioned).

    I have also seen this work when the stated goal is that the temporary accommodation is intended to become a more permanent ‘granny flat’ once the ‘real house’ is completed. Can be easier to get permission to build a granny flat before the real house than after the real house is built.

    Second approach, again with the ‘intent to build’ is to build the garage first. Building the garage first requires going through the consent process as if you are building a garage. You may need to submit the building plans for the whole project. Purpose of garage first is to provide lockup security and covered workshop for the rest of the project.

    Once garage is built and approved (and connected to services for the building project) garage can be insulated, lined and fitted out for other ‘temporary’ use.

    Need to be careful that garage is built to ‘housing code’ (as municipalities can get building removed if you build to ‘farm code’). Some municipalities will expire permission to build after two years if the project has not started; two years is a long time (excuse of changing circumstances works very well in these trying times – cannot affor to build yet …)

    Even better, if things take a turn for the worse, building sites with pre approved building plans and an existing builder’s workshop add value to the resale value of the land.

  19. Size of houses can probably be renegotiated in codes, but I would think that water/septic are big points. How will you get water to your site (even wells will soon be licensed)?
    And how will you deal with humanare?
    These of course are not tiny house specific problems.

    Building a garage first sounds like a smart solution, except that building inspectors see thru that faster than you can think of it.

    • My comments were in reply to Elizabeth Goertz. A bucket composting toilet system will likely raise questions from some neighbors.

  20. In one rural area settled by Finns many years ago they would build the sauna first and live in it while they built the main house. Don’t think you’d be allowed to now. I think a lot of the negativity towards small houses is aesthetic and fear of lowering their own property values by being surrounded by ‘shacks’. One way to look at tiny houses is as infill housing among larger homes, allowing them in backyards much like laneway housing, another way is for small house communities. The biggest barrier to dedicated small house communities is the cost of land if you want to do it anywhere near a large community because builders can get more money for a big house or apartment complex on the same amount of land used for tiny houses.

  21. Why are we bothering with discussion when Scott Adams said it all?'s_Most_Popular

    “Let’s say you love the Earth. You see an article in a magazine about a guy who built a “green” house using mostly twigs, pinecones and abandoned bird nests. You want to build a green home, too. So you find an architect, show him the magazine and say, “Give me one just like this.”

    “Your next hurdle is the local planning commission. They like to approve things that are similar to things they’ve approved before. To do otherwise is to risk unemployment. And the neighbors don’t want to live next to a house that looks like a compost pile. But let’s say, for the sake of this fascinating story, that everyone in the planning commission is heavily medicated with medical marijuana and they approve your project over the objections of all of your neighbors, except for the beavers, who are suspiciously flexible. Now you need a contractor who is willing to risk his career to build this cutting-edge structure.”

    . . .

  22. So interesting that Tiny Homes share a lot in common with Livaboards (houseboats, motorboats and Sailboats)in terms of community disdain and restrictions. People who use a bicycle for most of their trips face additional scorn as well…It’s as if the wastful large home and car owners want us to feel their financial and time-starved pain.

  23. I have spent a couple years trying to solve this problem in New England, and have it half solved! I found a 400 sq ft “cottage” in a “camp.” I had already experimented with designing a tiny house,and after visiting homes in VT of about 150 sq feet, found 400 sq ft was what I could enjoy. And I was right!

    The “camp” began as a tent campground in the 1930’s, then a “travel trailer park” (Not RV’s)and finally some trailers were added on to, and cottages began to be built. They range from 300 sq ft to maybe 800. You can tear down, but the new building can not be larger than the original. Neighbors are close, but friendly; I have a good sized back and front yard, and there is plenty of open area for kids to play ball and ride bikes. In the evening we enjoy a campfire. I have chosen NOT to have TV or internet.

    Five years ago the cottages were connected to the city sewer and water (previously the cottages had compost or chemical toilets; showers were outside, a bag of water heated by the sun).

    I have a small kitchen with full sized fridge, a living area with a day bed and and a trundle for guests, and a full bath. On a warm day I really enjoy the outside solor heated shower. when I have more then one guest we put up the guest room, my tent. Works great.

    The house is lovely, one large room with the areas distinguished by the walls of the bath which project into the space, open rafter “cathedral” ceiling, large deck with a small ocean view, comfortable, and only .4 miles walk, from my door to my chair at a wonderful beach.

    However, it is only for use May to October. The water lines are not below the frost line, so no water after mid Oct. I pay a yearly land lease, $200 in taxes and $15 or less per month for electricity.

    For now I rent a 900 sq ft oceanfront house for the winter, for very little (1/2 the WEEKLY summer cost). Long term I want to find another 400 sq ft home in AZ for the winter.Very small condos are available, but I like the concept of a seperate home,so if anyone has found an area in AZ that is open to the concept, let me know.

    For now I find it unbelieveable that I have found a way to live on the ocean,(a life time dream) steps from a beautiful beach, year round, for an average of $850 a month.

  24. I love the idea of revamping a pre-zoned trailer park. That could get a round a lot of building issues. But the lots are always too small in the tiny community concepts I see. Most of the tiny in landscape homes posted here are in spacious, natural areas. I think that is what most people want. Smooshing a bunch of tiny homes into tiny communities looks adorable but I think would be a hard sell to actually live in one. I know I don’t want to live less than 50 feet from my neighbors. If you’re ok with living that close, why not just live in an apartment? With a tiny or small home, I think 1/4 acre per home is ideal: small enough to manage easily, keep a garden, have a feeling of privacy, and space to expand for guests but still close enough to everyone to feel like a community.

  25. Make friends with your neighbors. Share your produce, wave to them when they go down the street, be kind to their children and buy their stuff for school fundraisers, pick up your dog poop and generally be a good person and the neighbors will value you and will turn the other way when you decide to “go for it”. Making it nice and aesthetically pleasing always helps too. I did that and slid by in making a 20×16 tiny house on concrete slab no less in my backyard. No one has complained and all is good. Aloha.

  26. I think you hit the nail on the head with this post. I’ve been looking at the possibility of building a tiny home in Ottawa for about a year now and the main issue is definitely land acquisition, or finding a place to park it.

    The only options I’ve found are:

    1. Finding someone willing to let you park on their land. You have covered this option pretty well in your post. Though even with a composting toilet, you will need at least a water and electricity hookup which is no simple thing with our winters.

    2. Staying in a mobile home park. This is an option, but I’d like to live closer to downtown since I work there and would prefer this lifestyle.

    3. Buying a house with a sizeable backyard and parking in the yard while renting out the house. This seems like an ideal scenario, but if neighbors start complaining and the city tells you to move, you’re back at square one. A down payment on a house in these areas is also pretty significant.

    4. Parking on crown land. The city is currently working on an urban lands master plan that will dictate how crown land is used in the future. [] If a community shows interest in allowing tiny homes on these lands, regulations could be implemented to do so.
    I’m currently working as an architect and would love suggestions on how to get more involved in this movement. I also plan on studying this subject as a master’s thesis in the next two years.

  27. Hi Folks,
    The City of Ottawa are changing the bylaws around Coach Houses, and we have until July 22 2016 to comment and ask that Tiny Houses be made officially legal as a form of Coach Housing.
    The City want to increase density and affordable housing, so are removing some restrictions on Coach Houses. Unfortunately the current iteration of the proposals limits the height to 3.6 m (too short for a Tiny House on Wheels), and does not explicitly include Tiny Houses. I’ll be gathering signatures from the affordable housing and environmental organizations in the city, but I encourage everyone to contact their councillors to ask for a favourable vote, and also to comment here:
    This is the chance we’ve been waiting for! Good Luck!
    Laura Scrimgeour
    P.S. If anyone knows of a good Tiny House on Wheels builder in the Ottawa area, please email me at Lumbek are too busy to return my emails…


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