Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Tiny House Building Codes

It’s been a while since I did a post about how tiny houses deal with building codes, so today I wanted to share the top 5 myths about building codes, zoning and tiny houses.

Building Code Myths(1)

Myth 1:  I don’t need a permit if it’s under ___ sq/ft.

This is true, typically if you are building something under a certain square footage than you don’t need a permit.  The catch is there is an exception to this is and it’s when you want to dwell/live in it.  The second you place any personal property in that house, it is classified as “dwelwing” and it doesn’t matter if its 10,000 square feet or 10 square feet, you need a permit.

Myth 2: It’s an RV, Mobile Home, Camper.

Again this true… If your home is being built by a certified RV or Mobile Home manufacturer; also important to note, to become a manufacturer it will cost you several thousand dollars, an LLC and an inspection process to ensure you meet all 500+ requirements.  So you can’t just build an tiny and and say “look!  it’s a RV or Mobile Home.”  To top it off once you do become classified as such, you often can only reside in certain zoning areas, which are fast disappearing.   There is an exception to this: if your state has a “home built RV” class, but these are few and far between and more and more campgrounds and trailer parks refuse entry on them.

Myth 3: I can just say I’m “camping”

Somewhat true.  Typically municipalities have limits of how long you can camp.  This is is often 2 days to 30 days in one spot or on one parcel of land.  In the city I live in, you are legally not allowed to camp at all unless FEMA has declared a state of emergency.   In some cases you can “camp” if you move every few days, but the city could also say “you’re not camping, you’re dwelling” and then its curtains.

Myth 4: They can’t stop me!  I’ll do what I want.

In some places you’re right.  It’s often the case that its not that they can’t stop you, but they won’t unless it becomes a big public issue.  In most places they can stop you.  They will come in and condemn you tiny house, which means if you enter it, they’ll arrest you for being in your own home!  They can also fine you, run a bulldozer through your house to destroy it, or deny you utilities like they did to me (read about it here).  All of which they legally can do, have done and you have no recourse for.

Myth 5: It’s on wheels codes/zoning don’t apply.

This is a big myth perpetrated by those who want to make a quick buck of tiny house people.  It is true that having a tiny house on wheels will help things generally because it confuses the bureaucrats, you can move it so easily, etc.  But the truth is that the second you dwell in it, all bets are off and the city can do what they want.

So what can I do?!?

There are two approaches to this:  1) you can beat them at their own game and know how to leverage the codes 2) you can fly under the radar.  Each of these have their pros and cons.  To get a better understanding of these things I have an ebook of how you can work within the system to gain legal status with your tiny house.  I show you the key barriers for tiny house folks, offer possible solutions and give you strategies to beat the system.  I also show you how to fly under the radar, how to live in your tiny house without getting caught.  Both are covered in Cracking The Code: A guide to building codes and zoning for tiny houses.



  1. Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for sharing all this great info with us.
    Have you experienced some of the issues you describe above?
    Are you able to live in the tiny house you built? Do you have electricity (and AC)? I know it’s hot there in NC.

  2. Great info but kind of depressing. I am new to tiny homes and am absolutely sold on the idea. But I’ve discovered that finding a place to permanently park one is a real challenge. You also mention that “zoning areas are fast disappearing.” Does this signal the beginning of the end to the tiny home movement?

  3. A distressingly accurate analysis. Still, that just represents where we are now, not necessarily where we’re going. Hopefully things will change for the better as sensible people chip away the barriers bit by bit. Stay polite and reasonable when working with officials, they’re just people too. Remember the Aesop’s fable about the North Wind and the Sun http://www.aesopfables.com/cgi/aesop1.cgi?3&TheNorthWindandtheSun

  4. Wow! Good information to know. Each one of those “myths” were things that I would have totally said and argued to the death! Hopefully all of us “tiny home” people can work together to create some positive change with the bureaucrats.


  5. Good insights!

    I am a teacher of gifted students at a private school and for our architecture unit we are on the precipice of building one as a class (tomorrow I learn where we stand on funding). The plan is to building one that is 117 sqft. and auction it off as a fundraiser for our 25th Anniversary as a school.

    I met with a Planner, Project Manager, and Plans Examiner with the city two weeks ago and here is a brief rundown of what I learned.

    1) Because it is a unique build, they are willing to be relatively lenient with us (also because we are a school and this is for education/fundraising).
    2) Whoever buys it cannot keep it within city limits because it would be viewed as a dwelling and does not meet the city minimum of 750sqft. Also, they would probably run into problems with HOAs.
    3) There was considerable debate about what this is to be classified as: RV/Trailerhome/Resident Dwelling. The conclusion was a mobile/rv structure.
    4) It was determined that no building permit would be required since it was 3ft short of the minimum (120sqft). Rather, this project will fall under the business license of the school.
    5) We are to build it relatively out of sight. The city does not have a problem with the structure, but some random citizen just might complain to a councilman and we would then have to go through the process of obtaining a special use permit. (They told me several times, the more low key the project in the initial stages, the better it would go).
    6) We are to submit two copies of the plans (stamped by a MO approved engineer/architect), and have 3 inspections along the way.
    7) The city is actually really excited about this project!

    Overall, meeting with the city was a wonderful step and experience. It allowed us to really hash out questions and come to an agreement. My encouragement is to really know your project before you meet with them so that you can answer any/all questions they may have. You might just be pleasantly surprised as I was!

  6. Jacob, will you be able to register your structure as an RV with the DMV?

    • To my understanding, pulling from my notes from the city hall meeting, that is what would happen. Since we are auctioning it off, that would fall upon the buyer.

  7. I think a petition is in order to have these tiny homes legal to dwell in! People live out of their cars when they have no other choice but that isn’t illegal, right? Yet, a place where we can live small on a trailer is illegal?

    I think we should take a tiny home, place it in front of Walmart parking lot for example, and have problems sign the petition to allow these units to be legal to dwell in rather it’s in a trailer park or RV Park! We need to figure out something because I do not want an RV or Mobile Home when I can have a custom unit built to my liking for much less money than an RV or Mobile Home!

  8. Problems = people

  9. You can build a tiny home, but if you have zoning laws that mandate lot size, it’s not going to save you much. My HOA requires motor homes to be in the back yard shielded from view.

  10. We are running into several road blocks with the city while building our tiny house. In your book, what building code do you reference? Trying to decide if it is going to be helpful for us.


    • I’m also interesting in knowing more about the ebook. I didn’t see a table of contents or any information other than whats on the ebook cover.

  11. So where CAN I build a small house LEGALLY even if a permit is necessary. Whthout having to worry about having to move it etc.

    In the USA ?

  12. I am lucky enough to have bought 2 acres smack dab in the middle of central Minnesota that has no building restriction, 2 miles away from town, and in a private secluded area! I’ve even seen like 4 tiny homes out here!

    • Todd, where in central MN? We are in St. Cloud. We have a tiny house that we are trying to place somewhere and are running into all sorts of problems with city and county zoning restrictions.

  13. Aren’t the codes different in different cities?

    I dont live in the same city as you, so how can you break the codes in my city?

    Sorry I am disabled and live on a fixed income and that $15 will feed me for a week, otherwise I would buy it just to see…


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