5 ways to get around minimum size standards

01/03/2009

satelliteYes, it is illegal to live in a tiny house in much of the US. Does that surprise you?

Lynne wanted me to expand on this topic, so I’ve decided to answer her question in this post.

According to designer and tiny house advocate Jay Shafer, “minimum size standards have been found to be unconstitutional in several US courts.” These standards reside in model building codes, adopted and customized at the local level for the stated purpose of protecting public health, safety and general welfare.

In his Small House Book (order it here), Shafer asserts that these standards (specific to the size of houses and the rooms within) were pushed through during the 1970s and 80s by the housing and banking industries in order to produce “more profit per structure.” The result? Ugly McMansions, sprawl, construction waste, higher co2 emissions, and, now, an unaffordable housing crisis.

To make things worse, some neighborhood groups “needlessly fearful for their property values and lifestyles” also prohibit small homes in their areas, writes Shafer.

However, there are ways to get around this.

  1. Move out of the city. Many rural areas are unregulated in this way.
  2. Negotiate. Talk with your local building officials or neighborhood associations. They might be convinced that a small house is non-threatening.
  3. Accessorize. Small dwellings are sometimes allowed to be built adjacent to a house, such as a “granny flat.”
  4. Don’t hook up. If a structure is not permanently attached and not hooked up to public utilities, it may not be considered relevant to housing codes.
  5. Apply pressure. Point out the immense housing problem and give an out for your local politicians to save the day.

Of course I’m speaking in generalities here. You must check your local building codes as they vary greatly.

the smallest house in santa clara county

Alternately, you can do what was done here — turn the chicken coop into a tiny house and make it a tourist attraction. Here is a recent photo Michael took of the smallest house in Santa Clara County. It is 514 square feet on a 956-square-foot lot. The house must have been “grandfathered in” and thus, slips under the minumum size code regulations.

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