If there is one question most tiny house builders get asked the most it is the dreaded “Code” question. Building a tiny house is in part an act of rebellion. It is a sort of civil disobedience. Tiny houses are not considered truly legal anywhere, so building one can take a little creativity. I reached out to Macy Miller of MiniMotives to get her professional take on building codes. She is not only a tiny house builder herself but she works with her city as well and had an insider’s view of code enforcement. Here is the interview I did with her for your code research pleasure.

Where is the best place to start to find out what your local codes are?

The best place to start is to go down to your local City Hall, inside of it there is a “Planning Department.”  People are there to help the public through all their building and zoning questions.  If you are curious about code requirements but are planning to build on a trailer you may want to leave that part off in the conversation.  Once you mention that the tiny house is on wheels they will look at you like you’re crazy and stop helping – once it’s on wheels it becomes a DMV/Highway District issue rather than a city code issue.  However, the DMV will not be able, in most cases, to help you out with any ‘code’ related stuff. They will do their own checks as much as they can to make sure your house won’t fall off the freeway and endanger others, even then, they are not structural engineers so don’t expect too terribly much!

Even though most code officials won’t be able to help I still highly encourage people to go speak with officials, this will serve to let them know there is a growing demand for help and safety in this area.  Those people you speak with are more likely to bring it up at their next meeting and the code officials are the ones who make the codes – they all meet and discuss the priorities and adapt to them, the more people they collectively see coming in to ask about tiny houses the more likely it is that tiny houses are going to start to be considered at the code level.

If you want to go the passive way around things you can look up a copy of the Residential Building Code as well as your local building requirements (generally found on your cities website under something that resembles a ‘Planning and/or Development’ department – this book and these codes are however pretty complex and difficult to work through without experience. If you try and you get stuck you always have the code officials at City Hall to help you understand.

Photo credit Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens.

What are the typical things that tiny house builders will come up against in the process?

Typical things that will come up and what drives a lot of people to go with the wheels route instead of a foundation are minimum house sizes. That is probably the biggest limiting factor as I see it.  The smallest minimum habitable dwelling I have heard of is 400 square feet and even that had to be as an accessory dwelling (in combination with the bigger “main structure”).  There are of course other factors, I think the next biggest one would be the egress requirements from a loft type of space.  [This is typically] 5.7 square feet of operable [window/door], which are navigable; but not if you already don’t meet the size requirements.

Once you get into a tiny house on wheels situation you have other enforceable code issues you will have to work with, not so much in the structure but in the parking.  If you are on wheels you will have to register your house as a semi-trailer, an RV, or a mobile home (these are the only divisions I have heard of, there may be others out there though).  The issues with each should be considered, a mobile home can only be parked in designated mobile home parks (maybe not the ideal situation for most of the crew that is interested in tiny houses… unless someone starts to develop tiny house parks… which is a development option I am interested in looking into – but that’s a whole OTHER story! 🙂 – the best I can tell this is because they have systems set up to tax these dwellings appropriately for city functions like fire/police/schools etc.).  Semi-trailers cannot be lived in for any amount of time and RVs generally have rules set by each city for how long you can live in them in the same location (our limit is 30 days).  Not to say that you couldn’t find a place to park it where no one will ever complain.  Generally the time limit with RVs isn’t enforced unless there is a complaint. The best way to avoid this would be to speak with your would-be neighbors and make sure the subdivision/city codes don’t have any statements prohibiting RVs.

What is the best way to make your case to the local government about building a tiny space?
Right now there is no way I know of.  These are not legal; you won’t get any sort of official approval.  You may be able to do it and fly under the radar but there is not a single tiny house that is fully “legal.”  The best thing we can do right now is bring the issue up to local officials so they can start to put it on their radar for future meetings when talking about codes.

Right now the 2015 codes is being worked on, I have pretty much been assured that tiny houses won’t be addressed in it.  Currently most areas are still on the 2009 code, switching over to 2012 next year (they re-evaluate codes every 3 years).  That means, in the best case possible, we are looking at getting tiny houses incorporated into codes by 2018 and not fully adopted until 2019-2020 but every government process is very involved and time consuming.  We need to be able to show a demand for change and we need a few strong leaders that can push at a higher level for change.  I think we definitely have a group of willing people to step up and push at a higher level, myself included, but if there are others I would highly recommend they get involved, they can email me specifically if they want! [You can reach Macy through her blog at Minimotives.com]

What are the best ways to get around codes when thinking of building tiny? 
Building on wheels is the biggest thing you can do.  You become a DMV/Highway District issue, you pay your permits through them (which are much cheaper than building permits) and you do what you can. There is a huge lack of security in knowing you can just be where you are, you become very dependent on your relationships and finding someone who will share their lot with you and hopefully doesn’t have neighbors that will complain. If they do, you find a new spot.

What are the best ways to work with the community to make changes that will help tiny house builders?
Be involved!  Talk to city planners and code officials and let them know what you would like to do. You can do this without telling them you’re going to do it anyway.  Get this on your local cities radar, just endure the crazy looks.  One local county here actually saw the demand and have changed their local zoning codes to say that you can live in an RV full time, so long as you meet a short list of requirements, that means that, in that county tiny houses registered as RVs are in-fact legal with a little extra care. Unfortunately this is a very rural area and isn’t where I personally want to be.

I have actually expected more crazy looks than I’ve gotten. There are a lot of people who will think you’re brilliant for wanting to do this. Tiny houses were not a big deal 60 years ago, they were totally normal.  Now there are whole generations of people who have bought into the “American Dream” of so much debt you can’t help but work ridiculous amounts of your life away paying for it.  With the economy how it’s been we are seeing a lot more understanding and almost jealousy of being able to pare down to something that makes so much sense!

I should say, if you ever get a chance to talk to a planner/code official, either by going down there purposefully or just bumping into one, the best question you can ask is “Are you guys (or is your city) looking at the possibility of tiny houses and allowing for them in zoning codes?”  They will almost always say “nope,” but it will plant a seed in their head and it will carry forward.

Laura is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings and she walks the walk. Her and her husband live in a 120 square foot cabin in Asheville, NC that her and her husband Matt built themselves. You can learn more about Laura and Matt at their website 120squarefeet.com.

Want to get great tiny-house related stories like this sent directly to your inbox? You’ll also get new tiny houses posted for sale as well, absolutely free. Click here to join us.

Leave a Reply

  1. Barry Brouillette

    What is the rural county in, I hope, CA where you can make an RV liviing space legal?

  2. Calvin Roberts

    We need to start a something for the state we live in to save are rights to buy land and to put a camper or tiny house on

  3. Kevin Adams

    Very informative. Most municipalities have adopted the IRC code, which stands for International Residential Code. It is also used in many other countries. The IRC code book is almost 1,000 pages, is boring to read, but very informative.
    When it comes to tiny homes on foundations, while the IRC code lists minimum square footage, there are often minimums set by cities, counties, and lot developers. These minimums will take precedence based on the largest requirement. So, if a lot developer decides 1,200 sq. ft. is the minimum allowed, you can’t say you are going to build a 400 sq. ft. tiny house because it exceeds IRC requirements.
    If you are considering a tiny house on wheels, the first question you need to ask yourself is Why? If you want to do it because of the desire to have something you built yourself, OK. If you think it is a solution for cheap housing, you should instead, pay a visit to your local RV dealership. A travel trailer if much less expensive, more refined, and both safe and easy to tow.
    Several articles I have read, indicate Park county, Colorado “allows tiny homes”. Most areas including park county treat tiny homes on wheels as RV trailers. While they are allowed, there are limitations on how long they can sit immobile. They are required to be moved off the property at some point and for a certain length of time every year.

  4. Rebecca Santellan

    We are looking at property and would love to start a community here in MI. It is rural area for sure where we are looking. I wonder what hoops we would have to go through to set it up as a RVpark?

  5. Ferne Collee

    I wasn’t actually expecting much because it is one of their budget lines (MX100 I believe), nonetheless it is in fact out performing the Samsung.

  6. Mike Merchant

    if I wanted to build a tiny home on wheels who do I need to talk to about building code?. Another question I have if I travel from state to state with my tiny home is there a national code that I would be able to build by?.
    Would I be subject to fines from city to city or state to state?

  7. Tiny Home Movement Threatens to Go Big [Video] · Guardian Liberty Voice

    […] The Oregonian Portland Alternative Dwellings Tiny House Listings […]

  8. Lena Wilson

    What about if you buy land and park it there? I mean can you still be forced to move it if your neighbors complain when it is on YOUR land?

  9. Roger E. LaVoie

    I couldn’t believe your name, and wonder what the connection is. I was a Fl. GC and also did a lot of rehabs on music row in Nashville. My daughter is going for her masters perhaps next year. I am going to give her a 27′ trailer. If it works out, she and her boyfriend will convert it into a tiny house. The property has NO RESTRICTIONS and is small enough (appropriately) for quite a few units. There is city water which is a big deal. I see the sewage issue as a problem. Perfect to me would be to lacerate the solids, combine with grey and black and use for (if nothing more) for rugged landscaping. A garden would be great, but I would settle for really nice, dense shrubs. Are you aware of any grants or woman’s groups that might help her with the project? Her boyfriend of several years is a builder.


    I hate feeling like I woke up in a communist country. I believe that if a tiny home isn’t putting anyone in harms way,including that resident,then it should be smiled upon and greatly encouraged by all. I mean they will save on gas and electric billing, to say the very least. They certainly have a way of bringing families closer together; no pun intended. As well,much less lumber is used in their building,etc.I could go on forever.I won’t.

  11. chancekbmc615blog.ampblogs.com

    Even though a slowdown running a business has felt by many industries
    as a result of recession, but this may not be true with diamonds.
    How to acquire excellent of wedding ring forr reasonable prices.
    It ‘s better to select which cut you desire previously itself. http://chancekbmc615blog.ampblogs.com

  12. authentic jersey wholesale

    authenyic jersey wholesale աhere can і get cheap nfl jerseys

  13. Jeannette Northrup

    Hi to every body, it’s my first visit of this weblog; this web site includes remarkable and truly excellent stuff designed for readers.

  14. Darwin Wainscott

    I every time used to read post in news papers but now as I am a user of web therefore from now I am using net for content, thanks to web.

  15. Melina Liu

    cheap Seth Joyner jerseys Amazon Shopper online retail,with link: wholesale Ramon Humber jerseys

  16. Enrique Taggart

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Many thanks for providing these details.

  17. Angelo Corfield

    What’s up i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anywhere, when i read this article i thought i could also make comment due to this brilliant paragraph.

  18. Manuel Pino

    Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author. I will always bookmark your blog and will eventually come back in the future. I want to encourage continue your great posts, have a nice day!