It’s the top question in the tiny house movement – “How do I get a legal tiny house?” As a tiny house dweller, consultant, & teacher, who works with builders, developers, and city officials, I have good news!
You can have a legal tiny house. In this article, I am going to give you:
The #1 Legal Tip you need BEFORE you get into “tiny homes”
Multiple legal tiny house solutions
Be aware that I normally spend 90+ min breaking down this topic in A Tiny House Workshop, so in this article I am giving you the Coles Notes version. THE #1 TINY HOUSE LEGAL TIP This advice might confuse you… … stop calling it a “tiny house”. Q: “Why stop calling it a tiny house?” A: There no such thing as a “tiny house” under building codes. Essentially, you don’t ask “WHERE” until you can define “WHAT” (remember this line for later). Asking where your “tiny house” can go is like asking your city officials where you can place your Lerkim (yes, I just used a Dr. Suess reference). You have asked a nonsensical question. So the answer is NO. “Would you like a Lerkim or tiny house?” I certainly do not want a “Lerkim” or “tiny house”. I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. So What Do I Call A “Tiny House” then? Do you know what DOES exist? There are 4 building codes that you can build a “tiny house” to. Yes, that’s right… YOU ARE STILL ALLOWED YOUR “TINY HOUSE”. *confetti cannons fire now* It can literally look exactly as you want it… …it can have wheels (or not)… …you can live in it year-round (or not)… …you can EVEN sleep at night without getting a VACATE ticket (or you can be a rebel with your stealth shed on wheels… I salute you, you rebel you). So what are these 4 building codes, that get you a legal Mini Maison?
State/provincial Building code (and there are numerous classifications under this – ex. garden suite, carriage house, alleyway house, etc)
It is ESSENTIAL to know what each of these options is about and what their pros and cons are. “Why?” So you choose the building code that matches how you want to live in and use your tiny house. If you build your tiny house LEGALLY (building codes), but you USE IT “ILLEGALLY” (zoning and bylaws), then you are skirting on the grey side of the law or are outright illegal. Call the po-po. “What does this mean for you and YOUR tiny house that you are totally allowed?” Make sure you pick the right building code! DO NOT PICK a tiny house on YouTube because “ERMAGERD I WANTS IT!” … pick the right building code based on WHERE you want to place it and the lifestyle you desire. Don’t ask “WHERE” until you can define “WHAT” (Whoa. Dejavu…. If you didn’t get that joke, you were skim-reading too fast). “And I will let them park a tiny house. And I will let them even with a spouse. And I will let them here and there. BUT... I will not allow them everywhere….” Welcome to Zoning & Bylaws. While building codes determine HOW something should be built, Zoning and Bylaws determine WHERE that thing should go (and how a property can be USED.) There are TOTALLY legal places for “tiny houses” to park… but only in the places that the 4 above building codes ARE ZONED FOR. Tiny Houses on Wheels (THOWs) are often built as RV’s OR as an organized pile of wood on a trailer frame (which isn’t a legal house… but it is a legal vehicle!) … Zoning wise, RVs and organized piles of wood are the most discriminated against. … Building code-wise, RVs, and mobile sheds are the #1 solution for getting around the restrictive state/provincial building code. Huge con but also a huge pro. But there are more options and hacks! Example: In Edmonton, you can place a separate dwelling permanently in your backyard (a.k.a. Garden suite)… and you can be approved to place a manufactured code tiny house. (Btw, manufactured homes are often built on trailer frames and you can pay to keep the wheels after it’s been delivered.) Essentially, to play the game of “where can I park my tiny house”, you need to (1) know yourself and what you need, and (2) become an informed citizen of the rules. “And I will let them here and there. OF COURSE, I won’t let them everywhere! I do so like tiny homes and rhymes! Thank you Kenton for helping me avoid the fines.” OK. WHAT NOW? If you appreciated my humour and want a tiny house really bad, I invite you to join me at A Tiny House Workshop. In the workshop, you will learn:
Which of these building codes to use, and WHY.
Tips and tricks to navigate the system (or change it!)
How to build a tiny house for YOUR climate (so your house isn’t a glorified shed).
To ensure your house is designed perfectly for YOU and your goals ( so you love your tiny house for life).
Step-by-step processes on how your house gets built and the choices you get to make
Utility systems (all that stuff you don’t see in the tiny house shows. Like poop.)
Gain confidence to get your tiny house. Avoid making mistakes and save money. Live big in a tiny house. To read more about the IN-PERSON workshop and to sign up for a city near you CLICK HERE… …or take the ONLINE workshop from the comfort of your PJs. (P.S. If you wear your PJs to my in-person workshop, you are my hero, and I will take a picture, and put you on my Instagram). Warmly, Kenton Zerbin (with the sick Dr. Suess rhymes) Tiny House & Permaculture Teacher.