We started as a society of hunters and gatherers and today we are continuing with this trend. Not only are we always buying, but we are also keen on buying bigger to impress our families, friends, neighbors, but most importantly ourselves. As I started to delve deeper into this concept, I realized I too was guilty of this behavior, especially the incessant buying. And so in the last few months, as I began my journey towards embracing the minimalist lifestyle, eliminating the clutter and keeping only the essentials, I became fascinated with the tiny house concept so much so that I hope to one day become a self-proclaimed expert on this alternate housing choice. Even more importantly, I want to understand the current laws and regulations so I too can one day take part in this movement.
Tiny house or tiny headache?
While the tiny house model is not brand new, it is still a novel lifestyle choice. And although this is not for everyone, it is no longer just for the young and single. These days, families of all sizes and ages are starting to consider this as an alternative. There has been a major uptick for the 55+ age group who are looking to do more in their sunset years.
Building a tiny home might be a huge undertaking, but living legally in one might prove to be even more difficult. In some situations, current housing regulations and laws do not apply to these small structures and trying to figure out towns ordinances not only be tricky but downright fuzzy.
When the tiny house revolution began, the focal point was to become more eco-conscious both in terms of owning less, purchasing less and, therefore, producing less waste and a smaller carbon footprint. Another by-product was to bring people closer to the environment, to become one with nature.
With a smaller living space, people would be drawn outdoors and spend less of their lives indoors. The tiny home was only really meant to provide shelter and a place to prepare meals, and so the construction of 100 to 150 square feet minimalist homes with the barest of essentials began to crop up.
Slowly over time the, tiny house phenomenon morphed into bigger homes with more functionality than some 2,000 square feet foundational homes with acres of outdoor space. This was predominately due to a new group of people entering the market. People who were not willing to pay the high price tag of traditional homes were now opting to save money by building tiny homes that nestled in their parents’ backyard.
Even with today’s low interest rates, households with two incomes are still unable to afford a typical home that was easily purchased on one income in the 1960’s. Major increases in housing costs over the last decade in most metropolitan areas have pushed households further away from the City and their jobs increasing commuting times and stress levels.
These marginalized folks, less concerned about the environment and more driven by the financial savings are considering tiny homes as an alternative to their current living situation. This conglomerate is not as willing to part with certain comforts that a regular sized home could afford and have decided to build bigger tiny homes in the range of 400-500 square feet.
These larger designs come with more multi-purpose functionality to increase space efficiency and allow for the storage of more belongings and goods, additional technology like clothes and dish washers, for time savings they were hoping to acknowledge through the purchase of a house or condo, and closed in porches and rooftop decks, for additional relaxation and entertainment options they were hoping to benefit from by having a house on a plot of land.
Where to go?
But one topic that no one is addressing including tiny home TV shows is, where do you put that tiny home once it’s built? Make sure to do your research before you start to design your dream home. Right now the laws and regulations are a bit loose and there isn’t anything on a federal level that clearly states what rights the owner has. But you still need to be aware of your local laws. Currently, unless you can park your home on someone else’s property, with their permission, finding a stand-alone lot can prove difficult and possibly illegal.
Tiny house zone?
The problem with tiny homes is too many-fold. If your home is really a tiny home, it may not meet the minimum threshold for zoning. Most zoning laws only kick in at a minimum of 450 square feet so you may have to petition for a variance, an extra layer of bureaucracy to delay your dreams. Good news is cities with astronomical housing prices like Boston, New York, and Seattle are now looking into dropping their minimums to under 450 square feet.
If your home is on wheels and does not have a solid foundation, that too is an issue. Even though there is no designation for this type of housing, it also does not fit into the RV /mobile home realm. But the even bigger problem is your potential neighbors. They get to weigh in on whether you can call their neighborhood home. The fact is, your contribution of $0 in property taxes translates to even less in tax revenue for the city or town. Your future neighbors may not be too enthusiastic about picking up your financial slack yet watch you reap all the same residential benefits they get with a hefty tax bill.
With more and more tiny homes being built, some on trailers for easy portability, greater attention will need to be heeded to these alternative houses. New laws and legislation need to be enacted, but that will take some time. Everyone will need to weigh, consultants need to be hired, task groups need to be formed to determine the overall impact. In the meantime, a workaround needs to be created so tiny home residents are not skirting their fiduciary responsibility.
Tiny house, big city
A concern of many will be if, less tax revenue is flowing into town and city governments will this place a strain on municipalities and negatively impact their economy. Or, will this force some cities and towns to adopt efficiencies and apply outside the box approaches to how they run their government?
Check out future articles for updates on legislation affecting the tiny house movement as well as what impact the rise of tiny homes will have on both struggling and thriving economies and populations in cities throughout the country.
Feature image courtesy of Zastolskiy Victor/Shutterstock