Why are tiny homes illegal?

In this article, we will answer the following question: Why are tiny homes illegal? We will review the law regarding tiny homes in the US and discuss the building rules for this type of habitation. 

Why are tiny homes illegal?

Tiny homes are not illegal in the US, but some states are known to be less open to the idea of regulating tiny homes when it comes to zoning and safety. Thus, you will have to work extra hard in some states to be able to live in a tiny home legally. By working extra we mean obtaining proper permits and safety regulations from the City Council. 

We will discuss later the building rules for tiny homes in the US, but first, let’s see what the requirements for tiny homes in each state are:

StateRequirements for tiny homes
AlabamaAllowed only in specific areas of Jefferson County;
It cannot exceed 200 square feet.
AlaskaTiny homes on wheels can only be placed on land that has R-5 zoning;
A water and sewage connection is required.
Arizonatiny homes with lofts must meet fall protection requirements. 
ArkansasThere is a different minimum square footage requirement in each city and county.
Californiatiny homes are considered to be accessory dwelling units.
ColoradoMust have a separate closet and a private bathroom that includes a lavatory, a water closet, and a shower or a bathtub. 
ConnecticutNo zoning and laws regarding tiny homes exist.
DelawareTiny homes are treated and subjected to the same laws as RVs. 
FloridaMust have total square footage between 375 and 750 square feet;
Must be placed on a foundation if you live in it for more than 45 days/year.
GeorgiaOnly permitted in areas that are zoned as R-5.
HawaiiClassified as residential units;
Must be on your land;
Are not permitted in areas that are governed by restrictive covenants. 
IdahoThe tiny home cannot be relocated;
Must comply with all aspects of HUD construction and safety standards.
IllinoisAre not permitted in Chicago;
In other areas are permissible on private properties as well as in mobile home parks and campgrounds.
IndianaCheck the Log Cabin Rule.
IowaA minimum size requirement from 600 square feet.
KansasThe minimum square footage permitted is 170 square feet, with one room that is at least 150 sq ft.
KentuckyPermitted throughout the metropolitan area only if built on a foundation.
LouisianaCeilings must be elevated to 7 feet or taller;
The loft area must have stairs rather than a ladder;
One of the rooms must have an area of at least 120 square feet. 
MaineMust conform to the requirements established under the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code.
Marylandtiny homes on foundations are acceptable, but zoning restrictions in urban and suburban areas may not be conducive.
MassachusettsConsidered an accessory dwelling unit. 
MichiganConsidered an Economy Efficiency Dwelling.
MinnesotaPermitted as accessory dwelling units.
MississippiThe state has not officially recognized tiny homes by defining building codes or zoning rules. 
MissouriClassified as a travel trailer. 
MontanaClassified as a travel trailer. 
NebraskaFollows the regulations from the ​​HUD Federal Manufactured Home
NevadaThe state has not issued Laws and guidelines.
New HampshireConsidered accessory dwelling units. 
New JerseyClassified as an RV.
New MexicoMust comply with the New Mexico Energy Conservation Code
New YorkConsidered to be a temporary shelter. 
North CarolinaMust have an area of at least 150 square feet. Another 100 square feet of space must be added for each additional occupant in the home.
North DakotaState laws are not available yet that dictate specific restrictions and rules.
OhioState laws are not available yet that dictate specific restrictions and rules.
OklahomaState laws are not available yet that dictate specific restrictions and rules.
OregonState laws are not available yet that dictate specific restrictions and rules.
PennsylvaniaMust be constructed according to the International Residential Code 2009
Rhode IslandPermitted as accessory dwelling units.
South Carolinatiny homes that are less than 400 square feet are permitted.
South DakotaMust comply with local zoning restrictions and building codes.
TennesseeOccupancy in tiny homes is limited to three people.
TexasGenerally accepted in most cities;
Tiny homes on wheels are classified as RVs. 
UtahPlaced on a permanent foundation;
Must be connected to public utilities.
VermontAccepted as an ​​accessory dwelling unit.
VirginiaMust meet the same residential building codes as other homes.
WashingtonMust comply with the requirements for an ADU.
West VirginiaMust comply with the requirements for an ADU.
WisconsinMust be placed on a permanent foundation. 
WyomingOnly permitted on land with R-6 zoning.

Why are tiny homes not accepted in some states?

tiny homes are not accepted in some states as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development considers them as RVs and not usual housing. Tiny homes, thus, have confusing laws regarding property taxes in different states. 

Of course, when you build a tiny home, the dream is to put it on a beautiful piece of land bordered by lush nature. You can imagine it, in the middle of old vines, or at the top of a hill with a breathtaking view, or in the middle of a lavender field. But the reality of land use planning laws is sometimes very restrictive.

Indeed, the regulations are much more restrictive in some states in the US:

  • Once the construction is finished, you have to find land. Because, (obviously) you cannot set up your tiny home anywhere, even if it is on wheels.
  • And finding a permanent location for it is not so easy. Indeed, the difficulty is to find an agreement with the municipalities, so that they accept your presence in your small house. Because municipalities often consider this type of housing to be a temporary place to live, it is therefore only tolerated land that is zoned for campsites.

Building codes for tiny homes

The building rules of tiny homes are strict:

They must comply both with the rules of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, but also with municipal rules:

  • The state construction and transformation of buildings only allow buildings of a minimum of 275 square feet, for a studio and 320 square feet for a single-family house with one bedroom.

This regulation applies to all housing in the territory. But in reality, it is a little different because each municipality or district can add a set of criteria to regulate the construction of new homes on its territory.

  • The council of a municipality may adopt a zoning by-law for all or part of its territory:

The territory of the municipality is divided into different zones, commercial, habitable … Then, for each zone, some uses are authorized and others are prohibited. The main problem is the regulation of land use density.

  • The land use density is the total floor area of ​​a building compared to the total area of ​​the lot:

Often tiny homes wish to be set up on a small part of the land, given their small sizes. So it does not meet the criteria of the regulations regarding “occupancy density”.

  • In addition, depending on the municipality, there are other somewhat absurd rules that can be added: such as having X number of feet in the front, but also the obligation to have a basement or even a minimum area of ​​X sq ft. There may also be standards on the coating, or inclination of the roof, or connection for sewage.

In short, a whole bunch of regulations, which make the implementation of tiny homes difficult or even illegal. A complex administrative journey, but not insurmountable. Many inhabitants of tiny homes circumvent these overly rigid regulations by settling … on a campsite.

But given the scale of the miniature house movement, town planning regulations would need to be adapted.

Indeed, given the growing enthusiasm, regulations need to be changed. In Canada, for example, cities welcome 2000 square foot constructions with open arms, but when you build something 10 times smaller, the municipalities refuse to grant permits.

Most of the regulations were designed and thought about a long time ago. However today they are obsolete; they are too far removed from the social, economic, and philosophical realities of the people.

Can I live in a tiny home?

As long as you obtain all the necessary permits from your City Council and you find the land to place your tiny home, you are more than welcome to live in it full-time!

Although building a tiny home may seem like a good investment at first, the question actually turns out to be a little more complex … It all depends on your lifestyle, the context, the choice of the land and the way your house is built …

For many homeowners, the main reason for building a mini or tiny home is to reduce their personal consumption and their environmental footprint. Congratulations to them! But good intentions don’t automatically lead to desired results.

Tiny home: cost calculations and investments

A tiny home will certainly cost you less than a mid-size house, that’s a fact. On the other hand, in terms of investment efficiency, if you reduce the calculations to the square foot, we often arrive at double the price. You can build a house for roughly $ 250 per square foot, but very small homes can easily go up to $ 400 per square foot, or even more. 

This is due to the economy of scale and the basic, incompressible costs: you always need a kitchen, a bathroom, a heat source, a ventilation system, windows and doors; but instead of costs spread over 1,000 sq. ft. or more, they are reported on as little as 100 sq. ft.

It is also important to know that by building an extraordinary home (this is also true for a very large house), we will face less interest in the possible resale. After all, a home is real estate, just like a place to live. The potential list of buyers will then be drastically reduced and resale will become a real concern. 

In this case, will the investment have been worth it? So while the costs of operating a very small house are certainly lower due to the size, the dollar value of the tiny home is not the best case for getting it.

Another limitation, if the tiny home is located in an isolated environment, the remoteness contributes to increasing the environmental footprint of the family (dependence on the car, long journeys, etc.). Exactly, what if we put it on wheels? We could then move and find accommodation. Is it a good idea?

The bottom line

A tiny home is a small transportable house attached to a trailer that can be towed by a passenger vehicle. Legally, it is considered a “land mobile residence”. The format of the tiny home is therefore similar to a caravan: it is limited by the maximum width and weight authorized for a vehicle as well as the maximum height allowed to pass under a bridge or a tunnel.

We get why you want to live in a tiny home, but before going ahead and investing in one, we recommend you check carefully the procedure for installing one on your land!

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