Tiny House Building Codes: Top 5 Myths BUSTED

It’s been a while since I did a post about how owners of tiny houses deal with building codes, but coding questions come up often. There’s more regulation on tiny houses and dwellings than you may think. In fact, understanding building codes, zoning, and regulation is one of the areas that really trip up new tiny homeowners when they first start out. So today I wanted to go over several of the questions and myths that arise with tiny house code compliance.

It seems there are a lot of tiny house building code misconceptions out there. Knowing how to navigate through the tiny house regulations and codes will help you avoid headaches later. So here are the top 5 myths about building codes, zoning, and tiny houses.

Busting Building Code Myths(1)

Tiny House Building Code Myth 1:

I don’t need a building permit if my tiny house is under ___ sq/ft.

This myth is true, but with caveats. Typically, if you’re building a structure under a certain square footage you don’t need to acquire a building permit. So do you need a permit to build a tiny house if it falls under that square footage? There’s a catch: the exception to the building permit rule is in the term “house.” When you want to dwell or live in the home it shifts from a tiny structure to a tiny house, and you run into building permit issues.

The second you place any personal property in your structure, your small house is classified as “dwelling.” Building regulations dictate it doesn’t matter if a dwelling is 10,000 square feet or 10 square feet, you need a permit to build a livable space. Tiny house laws by state vary, as do tiny house size requirements and limits…BUT if you plan to live in your house, you’re going to need a building permit.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 2:

My tiny home is an RV, mobile home or camper—No tiny dwelling code compliance is required!

Again, this tiny house myth is somewhat true… IF your tiny home is being built by a certified RV or mobile home manufacturer. It’s possible to live in a homemade trailer house, but to get around the building code compliance, you’ll need to become a certified manufacturer. To become a certified tiny home manufacturer, the certification will cost you several thousand dollars, require you get an LLC and go through a rigorous inspection process to ensure you meet all 500+ requirements.

So you can’t build a tiny homemade trailer house on wheels and say, “Look—I built an RV or mobile home.”  To top it off once your dwelling has passed inspection to classify as a certified RV or mobile home, you can often only park and reside in specifically zoned areas, which are fast disappearing. There is an exception: if your state has a “home-built RV” classification, but these are few and far between and more and more campgrounds and trailer parks refuse entry for home-built RVs. As you see, the answer is more complex than simply saying RVs and mobile homes “don’t count” when it comes to tiny home building codes.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 3:

I will say I’m “camping” if any issues come up.

This tiny house coding myth is once again, somewhat true. You could, in theory, get around any regulatory issues by saying you were camping (which is allowed in dwellings regardless of coding compliance—like lean-tos, tents and pop up shelters).

Where the camping excuse runs into problems, is when you realize most municipalities have very specific limits on how long you can camp. The limit is often between 2-30 days in one spot or parcel of land, if camping is allowed at all. Typically, it’s limited to designated campsites. For example, in the city I live in, you aren’t legally allowed to camp at all unless FEMA has declared a state of emergency. In certain cases, you may get around the camp restriction if you move your tiny home every few days, depending on the camping laws. Then again, the city could also say, “You’re not camping, you’re dwelling in your tiny house,” and you’d face a big problem.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 4:

“They can’t stop me from building my tiny house!  I’ll do what I want.”

In certain cities and states, you’re partially right. The question isn’t if they can or can’t stop you (they can). Your city inspectors won’t stop you unless your tiny house becomes a big public issue. If you don’t create too much buzz, or cause any complaints, they may turn a blind eye even if you don’t comply with building codes.

It’s important to note here that a city inspector holds all the power, if they decide they don’t want you in your tiny house, they can choose an array of legal justifications to enforce it.  The saying is you can’t fight town hall, because they’re the final say on all things.

But not complying is certainly a risk. The truth of the matter is, in most places they can stop you. The city inspectors will come through and condemn your tiny house. What condemnation means, is if you enter your house, you could legally get arrested for being in your own home!  The city regulators may also fine you for not complying with building codes. They may deny you utilities like they did to me (read about it here). In the worst cases, they may even run a bulldozer through your house to destroy it and tear it down. All of these actions they can legally do and have done.  Worst of all you have no recourse for these actions, especially if your tiny house isn’t up to code. If you decide to risk it, it’s still important to learn and understand coding and zoning laws for your specific area. Then, if someone does complain or issues arise, you’ll be familiar with your rights.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 5:

My tiny house is on wheels, so codes and zoning regulations don’t apply.

The idea that wheels mean your tiny house is exempt from codes and zoning regulations is a big myth perpetrated by those who want to earn a quick buck off selling pre-made homes and plans to tiny house people.

It’s true, wheels will help your tiny house comply with loopholes and certain regulations, generally because it confuses the bureaucrats. There’s little official regulation out there specific to tiny home zoning. Plus, wheels mean your tiny home is easier to move, so there’s always the possibility of working around the regulations. But the hard truth is, the second you dwell in a structure it becomes a home, and when it comes to homes, all bets are off and the city will do what they want.

So what’s a tiny homeowner (or potential owner) to do?!?

It’s frustrating when you realize there are few ways (if any) to legally live in a tiny home. Even if your tiny home passes inspection, chances are high it’s technically still not legal in the full language of the law.

So, what’s your best approach to live in a tiny house? Well, there are two approaches:  1) Beat the city at their own game and know how to leverage the codes, 2) Roll the dice and try to fly under the radar.

Each of these approaches to living the tiny life, have their pros and cons.  To get a better understanding of all aspects of building codes and tiny homes, I’ve created an eBook. This book will help you understand how to work within the system to gain legal status with your tiny house as much as possible. In the book, Cracking the Code: A Guide to Building Codes and Zoning for Tiny Houses, I’ll show you the key barriers faced by tiny house folks. I’ll offer possible solutions to overcome these common tiny house coding conundrums and issues.

In the book, I’ll also share with you a few strategies to help you beat the system. I’ll explain what you need to do if you choose to fly under the radar and how to live in your tiny house safely, without getting caught.

Whichever approach you choose to deal with the tiny house building code issues and regulations, both are covered in Cracking the Code: A Guide to Building Codes and Zoning for Tiny Houses. If you’re wondering how to understand codes and enjoy life in your tiny home hassle-free, you need this book!

Cracking the Code by Ryan Mitchell

 

 

128 Comments
  1. Wow.this guy wrote all that in such a beautifully composed manner as if he’s really on our ‘tiny home lover’ side, just so he can sell his book. Dude people can easily learn their own local building code and zoning regulations for such homes by simply asking questions from the right people that operate within their local city government.

    • True, as long as they know HOW to find the info and what to do with it. It’s getting easier to access government codes, statutes and laws, but with official’s time taken up by lobbyists it’s still difficult for an individual to get any where.

    • Absurd, on two counts. First, he has done some footwork and orgamized some information, and if your time is worth anything, it is highly unlikely that the price of a book will be greater than that cost in time. Second, he didn’t do anything “just so he can sell his book.” He’s not selling it to you. He is offering it for sale. You have a choice. In your case, your time is worth nothing, so it costs you nothing to reinvent the wheel instead of leveraging someone else’s effort for the price of a book.

      • Excellent and Intelligent Commentary Stewart. Educated and informed people will appreciate this book and all of the hard work and details that it takes to even Self-Publish.

      • You nailed it earthling. The other humanoid is sweating the moleculer bitstream.

  2. I own my home and when I bought my home that same yr I had a 10×20 shed added to my backyard and later when we had a sun room added we had the building inspectors out and he commented when I had shed installed I told him in 1992-1993 and he said it was grandfathered in because they didn’t even have building code inspectors in our town back then but now I want to add an addition and a bathroom to the structure because we insulated, electric,sheetrock and a kitchen with counter top and heater because my husband was a gardener and put all his canning goods stored in the cupboards but he died in 2016 and now I want to sue it as a guesthouse

    • The structure may be grandfathered in, but you are changing it, and if the city inspectors get wind of you doing additions without permits, you may end up running into problems. Cover your bacon and find out the necessary codes before you do anything.

  3. building codes are just a legal form of extortion. I want my fucking country back..

    • true, but that will take a revolution we the people VS Satan and his ilk!

    • I agree, building codes and regulations are annoying and can feel like an intrusion into your life.
      BUT-
      Here is why YOU (and all of us) want them:
      Let’s suppose you have a daughter.
      Do you want her to buy and live in a structure built by a guy with an “I want my country back/they can’t tell me how to build/I’ll build whatever I want/however I damn well please” attitude?
      YOU, may be a skilled builder who builds with care and integrity but are you willing to risk your daughter’s safety on a “wild west” culture where any ol’ asshat can plumb a gas line, hide it in a wall and turn around and sell to anyone who will slap down the cash?
      Probably not… Well, not unless YOU are one of those asshats.
      One of those who say “Fuck all these people I live around who can be affected by my actions”.
      And if that is what you believe then it really isn’t your country -is it? Then you’d just be an angry guy leaching off the culture around you.
      I doubt that’s true about you -is it?

      • Some building codes are good for safety, but the level of bubble wrapped, cotton padded, stupid, ridiculous, idiotic, moronic, bureaucratic, self-important, mind-numbingly retarded building codes and laws on the books, just to build a simple structure: We have TONS of homes and structures built in the 1940’s and 50’s in Los Angeles, which are still there, doing just fine, not having fallen down and killed anyone. How about a return to not having to spend tens of thousands in permits for a simple addition, hundreds of thousands to build a new house or as a society actually focus on affordable housing that is safe AND cost effective?

        We aren’t talking about reasonable, we are talking about insanity at this point. It’s not about safety, it’s about reasonable. It’s about legal extortion and government mandated housing price increases. How about some cheap and reasonable housing that wouldn’t force others, like me for example, to find alternative means of getting by?

        The real ‘problem’ is people like you who have your blinders on, and not enough actual time spent looking into the actual costs associated with doing something like building a house, doing some repairs, having some improvements made ~on a modest budget.

        YOU sound like and asshat. Where do you live, how much do you make and how does that compare to the stagnant wages and bloated asset prices for the bulk of this nation?

        • I’m a GC. I develop commertial property. But I have done residential development as well in the past. I assume it is residential permit costs and system and development fees which you are agitated about. These costs vary nationally by local governments and I’m only familiar with Cal, Or, & Wash. But I would hazard a guess the rest of the country falls into a similar range. Building permits are not a revenue stream for any Department I’ve worked with. Their budgets are all supported from the general fund. This means my, and my neighbors, tax dollars go to defray the real permit costs of all the jackwagons out there squealing at the cost of things they don’t understand.
          They are unable see farther than the horizon of their own beliefs, like the grandparent who tells the kid they will help with college -and then sends them $25 a month. It is the thought that counts…but that thought ain’t going to get the job done.
          Hell yes, permits and building fees are expensive and regulations are frequently onerous and frustratingly arbitrary. Because it’s a system to service everyone, even the asshats who whine because it isn’t perfectly tuned to meet their specific needs.
          Look, for the most part, people are idiots. You appear to fall along this mean and it’s not for me to educate you -even if you had the inclination to listen you appear to be more invested in what you believe than grappling honestly with the world around you. Good luck with that.
          And yes, probably I am an asshat -been called worse by better than you.

          • You see, the real issue that seems to avoid you is the one that you do not have to worry about: affordable housing. Building codes, regulations, costs of permits, tons of things which drive the cost of housing way up and the affordability of maintaining that property to unreasonable means. It’s not that I don’t understand where many of these issues come from, it’s that you don’t actually comprehend the seriousness of the issue.
            But hey, for the most part people are idiots. You seem to very much fall within the not so narrow confines of our less than aware class of people, but I’m a nice guy so let me attempt to bring some reason into that seemingly small measure of space.
            What we have in the United States is a housing crisis that is not talked about, the price of homes has been inflated to obscene highs once again, the bubble is filled. Much of the problem can be traced to the inability to build affordable housing, as the costs associated with it have skyrocketed. In So Cal alone you cannot build a new house without having and indoor sprinkler systems like businesses. The goal might be ever safer and “better” homes, but the truth is that the state would rather see someone living in a cardboard box than living in a home that isn’t up to insane levels of “safeness”.
            I know it might be easy for you to ignore the trend of Americans becoming renters, being homeless at record levels and having inflation of housing prices keep them well out of reach, but people like me who have to find an alternative and have a brain actually try and look at the real issues and find the underlying cause. The one being largely that in many areas, such as mine, it costs much more to build a new house than to buy one, and the cost of existing housing is already past an affordable cost. You could simply say that it’s my problem, not everyone else’s, but the simple fact is that the problem is only getting worse and the most obvious solution to these issues is to make building houses more affordable. So what costs and regulations are actually necessary to build a relatively safe structure that will help to shelter people from the world? Obviously much less than what we have now, as there is no shortage of houses which still remain safe and structurally sound that have built in the not so distant past. If you like I can provide a considerable amount of data to show the trends and issues I’m talking about, as I read an exorbitant amount of data on a regular basis.

  4. Can I have a tiny house that doesn’t have electricity, no solar, no plumbing? Ontario.
    I am thinking of composting toilet, battery powered lighting (I work nights so don’t need much lighting as I go to bed when the sun goes down!)
    Thank you!

  5. If I build a tiny house on wheels 8×26 same as a trailer with solar panels,can I stay on my own land.Ontario

    • under law you do not exists you have no right forget to pay rax and the irs takes it all, welcome to hell on earth and the coming antichrist 666 beast system!

  6. Ilive in a old travel trailer havent changed nothing on outside except roof and i remodeled tge inside its no longer a rv its got everything a mobile home has now new plumming a breaker box insted of a rv box no water holding tank reguler tolit its 22 feet long its a tiny mobile home now but its not registered

    • I kept mine registered when I did the conversion. It is still Registered you see the registration is for the TRAILER

    • James, I am age 81 and want to do something to avoid paying high real estate taxes a little later in my life. Sounds as if you found the answer. I am living in northern half of ca a very taxing state but love the mountains and the ca weather.

  7. I live in covington ga. We will be moving to the county outside of the city limits. I would like to purchase a frozen building ,rent to own, for the back yard. This will be on my daughter’s propetty. Could I have it insulated, and some electric installed for part time a d u I living? I am 67 years old and want to be close to family but still have my own space.

  8. I see you don’t monetize thetinylife.com, don’t waste
    your traffic, you can earn additional bucks every month with new monetization method.
    This is the best adsense alternative for any type of website
    (they approve all sites), for more details simply search in gooogle: murgrabia’s tools

  9. Why the animosity towards the governing authorities. Have you considered the safety aspect of building a house? No matter how small it is? Are you qualified to do electrical and plumbing correctly? What about sanitation. I am going to guess that most of the tiny house dwellers have substandard means of disposing human waste. Not a good thing if you care about your children or possibly the food your growing. It takes much more than the “fuck the man” attitude to do this correctly. When your done you’ve built a house. Think about that.

    • Electricity and plumbing are only around 100 years old. We humans, have done without them for centuries! I am not against paying taxes, I personally am against spending 3/4 of my paycheck on rent!

    • Excellent point that SHOULD be considered! The system that has been developed is to.protect US from our OWN stupidity and lack of common sense. It is not ALWAYS about “Ourselves” but also the people who live around us and THEIR rights to live safely and securely.

      That said, it is “illegal” to be homeless, too. There is a pressing need for shelter that is practical and “affordable” and tgere are, and always have been “alternatives” that are rarely considered, much less “acceptable” among the laws and regulations that are “on the books.” There ARE avenues that are required to go through to make changes. Unfortunately, most cannot afford the costs associated with change, nor are the verses well enough to.follow through themselves. A “No Win” from many angles.

      • The strong will survive. The weak Sissy’s that complain that my house dust isn’t right, or that it’s the wrong color. That I don’t cut my grass often enough. They don’t like the way I look or my car for that fact. YOU people are the problem. Your the reason why I can’t build my tiny house. If it doesn’t look,smell, and taste like yours then it’s wrong. That’s what I’ve learned.

    • Mr Walsh, you assume a lot To infer tiny home owners are of inferior intellect and abilities. I for one learned building trades before I left high school. My tiny home has a biogas digester that functions as my waste water disposal. I have solar, wind and steam powered inverter generator.my unit is built to code, wired to code, and plumbed to code. And, I did it myself!

      No I did not get a permit nor an inspection. I did it to code. I don’t require someone else’s opinion or review to make it any better magically because they say so. For the know, if it is built to code it is complete and no inspection well change that. The purpose of inspection is for Public Health and Safety. My home is not within public domain.

    • Perhaps you have plenty of money to spend on permits and unnecessary things to simply build an affordable house to shelter yourself. Perhaps you live in an area that is quite easy to manage a mortgage and down payment with the local economy. Perhaps you were lucky enough to born in a time without such major economical drags and were actually able to accumulate some wealth. Whatever it is that you have so much abundance of, grow up, look at things from others perspectives and ask yourself the other question. Why are people going through all of this work and trying to live in small affordable mobile homes that they even go through the hassle to build themselves? I live in Southern Ca, and I gotta say you are either completely clueless or live in quite the bubble, it’s that or you enjoy watching people scrape by and not being able to get ahead. People like you ignore the homelessness epidemic and would rather see people in a cardboard box than an insulated one with some running water and solar panels because you don’t know if the latter is safe enough or not? It’s beyond insane, and this idea dies in the real world when you point out the obvious, our nation is crumbling and this is some small solution before things hit the boiling point and finally possibly change. Tens of thousands of dollars just for a building permit, not counting inspectors, tens of thousands in additional material/inspector costs, tens of thousands in taxes, the system is rigged and I’ll work for a decent roof for an affordable price, not all my life struggling to pay it and then struggle to pay taxes on it once I retire. You’re quite blind sir.

  10. I appreciate all the comments. I have sold my THOW for 2 reasons. One being I did fly under the radar for 3 years and someone complained. Then I couldn’t find land to put it on and legally live in it 365. Also I missed not having a bathtub which is doable in a tiny, I just didn’t put one in my tiny bathroom.
    So now I’m looking for land to place a park model home on that’s just under 400 sf and am finding that nearly impossible in the Pacific now. I dont want to live in the desert, I want trees and vegetation growing on the land. So I’m still searching for the best possible solution. I’m sure I’ll find it but its been challenging having to sell my big house also and make all the calls to county officials for ccr’s on different parcels of land.
    I’m looking in Washington and Oregon so if anyone knows anyone with land allowing a less than 400 sf park model home, please feel free to contact me at kimmatic1962@yahoo.com. thank you

  11. i am going to retired next year and would like do down side from a 2500 sqf in Corte Madera CA to a tiny house in Sonoma/Calistoga CA . I do not want to leave in a trailer park but in a small house with some land around me ,so I can spend 1/2 year leaving with my children in Europe and not to have to worried about keeping up with a big house when I am gone ! Why is is so difficult to own a tiny house in marin or Sonoma county in California

  12. I’ve always enjoyed your blog and found it very useful. There are many people out there interested in tiny home living but they are unwilling to do the homework involved. They just want to live in a ‘backyard somewhere’ and they don’t understand that, realistically, that can be harder than it sounds.
    I’ve been living tiny for 3 years and I’m very happy. We’ve complied with local small governments, in two states, and have had much success. Our latest dilemma is an interesting one…
    Say you decide to move into a tiny home community that is properly zoned and built as a ‘RV park’ for all intents and purposes. Everything is done above board and going great. Until a city inspector comes around and wants everyone to pull permits!? Not just for their plumbing (if you decided to bury it because of the cold weather) but also and stairs/decking you put up outside to get in/out of your home.
    Now, in a traditional RV park, inspectors never come inside and start asking for permits for steps, landings or decks. But here, they have not only started to do so, but the owners are allowing it and asking for everyone to just ‘play along’. (Again, we’ll call this situation hypothetical since it can possibly affect dozens of people).

    Is it a dangerous precedent to begin doing this for tiny homes that are professionally built and inspected before purchase; solely to appease the local governments desire for the fees associated with permitting?

    I’d love your thoughts on this.

  13. This is sad on so many levels.
    I don’t think I could live in a tiny house but most houses I’ve seen on the market are just too much space for me. I just don’t need that much and I don’t see why I should pay for what I don’t want. But when I look into the cost of building a house from scratch considering I’m an average working Jane its just discouraging.
    Where I’m from may lack a lot of things but at least this is not a problem. In fact a lot of families band together and help with building a home. You call in an inspector after you’ve built it to approve it for residence and if you want to sell it. No permits needed, no architect needed and I’ve never heard on the news or otherwise of a house collapsing on anyone. Inspector checks out the house, makes sure it’s earthquake and hurricane proof and you are good to go. Cookie cutter neighborhoods are almost non existent. Each home is free to stand out however they want to. I haven’t been everywhere on the island but I’ve never seen a purple house there.

    • My apartment is the size of a tiny house.. so basically I am already living tiny!

Leave a Reply