Legalize Tiny Resources
This Powerpoint had great responses from Jefferson County in Colorado. Feel free to use for your efforts to legalize tiny homes in your community.
Tiny House Parking
The first decision to make is do you want to live legally first or park on someone else’s property while you search for a legal spot. We are not advocating for living illegally, we are simply saying that you still live the life of your dreams while working toward a legal spot to call home. The cities and counties may not make much change on their end until they see the need for it, which is why we decided to go tiny before we knew where we were going to park. We parked in backyards while we looked for the perfect property and it has worked great for us. We wrote up a letter to send to land owners that explained our story, photos of our tiny house, our resumés and recommendation letters. We also explained why we needed a temporary spot, how we can help with their chores, provide rental money, and what would happen if we were asked to leave by the county. What happens with most cities and counties is you get a letter saying please move in X amount of days and that’s it. If you don’t move you will be fined. The best thing to do once you find a good spot is to have a meeting with the landowners. Get to know them, talk about expectations, and write up a small contract, especially if you are doing work to lower rent. If it’s a good fit, be sure the closest neighbors know who you are, how long you are staying, and how you will be helping the community. It’s a great idea to have the landowners go with you to approach the neighbors and bring a small gift of appreciation. Most tiny house dwellers that have had to move was because there was a complaint from neighbors, so asking up front can avoid this problem. Some really helpful websites for finding a spot are Tiny House Hosting on Facebook, Search Tiny House Villages website, or do as we did and put out an add on craigslist and Facebook.
If you are looking to live tiny legally, start by watching the documentary series Living Tiny Legally, by Alexis and Christian of Tiny House Expedition. It inspired me to start advocating in my local area. Next, you want to search the county and city you are interested in for their current zoning laws. You want to look for minimum square footage requirements, current ADU requirements and if they already have tiny house language in their zoning, such as Appendix Q in the IRC. Most tiny house dwellers have had the best success with Unincorporated or Agricultural zoning. Once you find a property you like, check for utilities, because most cities are not on board with off-grid set ups, but it’s still worth doing some research and presenting your off-grid idea once you build a relationship with them, because it’s more sustainable. When you approach your city at first, it’s best to stay vague. Something along the lines of, “I am thinking of putting a structure on this property, and I noticed you had no minimum square footage requirement. I would like to have a 400 square foot structure on the property. What would be the requirements to do so? You can then ask, “If the structure is on wheels, would you like me to fasten it down, and if so would you like a mobile home tie down, camper tie down, etc.” You want them to feel in control of the situation. Ask a lot of questions. Make it known that you are working with them to make this happen. Don’t be afraid to ask for a variance or other parts of the zoning code that can help address the issue. Most of all, don’t give up. Remember this is new to them and they are just making sure everyone is safe.
Some other things to come prepared with is ideas how to tax the tiny structure, how you will skirt it, what kind of deck you will have, different ways you can run utilities. Don’t bring up composting toilets at first…this will scare them… just stay vague and perhaps suggest an outhouse that may end up being purely ornamental in reality or plumb for a regular toilet. When talking to DIYers and builders, the recommendation is to plumb for a regular toilet just in case you need to park somewhere with a regular septic system. It’s not about getting around rules, simply giving them ideas on what the future could look like with slow, gentle change. It would also be a benefit to come prepared, especially the second meeting after you get a read on their interest level, with some demographics, certification options such as Bildsworth or Pacific West Tiny homes, and some sort of indication you will be insured. You want everything to be as similar to a regular home as possible. Some other things to consider are photos of different exteriors, maybe not your tiny home, but you can have some examples of beautiful skirting, and some examples of hook up set ups if applicable.
If all this sounds a bit overwhelming there are some amazing resources out there, such as the American Tiny House Association that is working to educate tiny home dwellers on how to approach their local municipalities, local tiny house Meetups, tiny house groups on Facebook and workshops. Getting involved locally is the best place to start, because a lot of the requirements are very specific to each location. We create the change we want to see in the world. By joining together on this journey we will be able to create places to call home, whether that’s an ADU set up, community or private land, we all deserve a beautiful place to call home!
You can support Emily’s efforts to legalize tiny homes across the country by buying her book here: www.mindfulminmalistmama.com/products