What will it take to make Tiny Houses legal?

Robert J. Kobet

January 16, 2017


What constitutes a house and how one defines a home can be a matter of personal opinion.  The terms are often co-mingled in ways that confuse both.  For instance, early humans lived in caves.  Was the cave a house or a home, neither or both?  If a house is something deliberately constructed for human habitation, but the culture of the dwelling is not happy or conducive to family living, is it a home?  If we group tents, tepees, trailers, RVs, tiny houses, repurposed shipping containers and the like into a category of places where one can live, which, if any, houses and when do they become homes?  Lastly, who decided which is what when it comes to codes, ordinances, community covenants, real estate determinations, etc., when life safety issues cross over with more subjective topics of adequate size, permanence and aesthetics?

Today, the tiny house movement is at the intersection of what constitutes both a house and a home in a dialog being played out between tiny house advocated, housing industry special interest groups, federal, state and local agencies, community leaders and decision makers and, in some cases, the courts.  Clearly, progress has been made in many places that appreciate the qualities and attributes of tiny houses.  This is due to the expanding mainstream demographic who have benefitted from tiny house ownership who simply want to promote them, and the scores of stakeholders whose mission it is to provide quality housing for the homeless, veterans in need, disaster victims and many others.  Eliminating barriers to tiny house living will take a continued effort to educate the public and those with influence in the housing sector.  Happily, there are now several groups dedicated to that mission.  They include the Tiny House Alliance, http://bit.ly/2jnhNjS, The Tiny House Collaborative, http://bit.ly/2jnhKVd, and the Tiny House Association, http://bit.ly/2jyBibn, among others.

The guiding principles of the Tiny House Alliance are good ones to emulate.  They are based on tiny houses being an alternative to over-consumption, rapid resource depletion, financial volatility, and social isolation.  But more importantly, tiny houses are a proactive step towards simplicity, flexibility, financial responsibility, community, sustainability, and freedom.  They are:

  • Conduct Businesses Ethically & Responsibly

Recognize that our financial security, our reputation, and the well-being and happiness of our clients and customers is dependent upon our integrity, and conduct our business respectfully and responsibly, taking care to maintain a healthy triple-bottom-line, balancing people, planet, and profit.

  • Design Simple, Elegant Structures, Using Space, Energy, & Resources Efficiently

Design beautiful, adaptable, efficient, high-quality buildings using design strategies to maximize the usefulness of small spaces.  Whenever possible, integrate beauty into our buildings so that they will be well loved and cared for.

  • Build Safe, Comfortable Structures to Meet Basic Needs & Desires

Utilize building materials, including natural and salvaged materials, in climate appropriate ways that suit the needs of tiny house dwellers.  Follow best practices for safe construction, and refer to applicable code for Recreational Vehicles, Manufactured Housing, or Accessory Dwelling Units when appropriate.

  • Sell High-Quality, Honest Products & Services

Recommend and promote products and services that we stand by because we’ve tried them and we trust them.  Be transparent and straightforward about our products, services, and fiscal practices.

  • Support Opportunities for Education, Information & Advocacy

Provide opportunities for people curious about tiny houses to collect information and make educated decisions.  Whether presenting information to city council or leading a tiny house build workshop, utilize best practices to inform and educate.  Advocate for amendments to regulations that are anticipated or irresponsible.

The Tiny House Alliance offers this set of guidelines for Tiny House Businesses so the uncertain future of America’s housing policy does not paralyze the Tiny House Movement today.  I believe it is a model set of guidelines that can be embraced by any individual or organization whose mission it is to advance the tiny house movement.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny houses.  84 Tiny Living offers several tiny houses on wheels www.84tinyliving.com and have the in house expertise and experience to help you with your healthy, tiny living questions and concerns.

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