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Do I Need a Permit for a Tiny Home

Tiny homes are all the rage right now, and I am going to come out with an unpopular opinion. I am not a fan, except in very rare circumstances. I hear people say that they will solve affordable housing crises, but this is not how they are being used. I hear people say that they help people to live responsibly with less waste. This may be so, but they work for a select few, which takes flexibility out of living and produces more waste in the end. These are not affordable, they cost a lot to build! The reason we hear of all the inexpensive tiny homes? They are not including all the costs.


The government likes to force us to permit everything because they are so money-hungry, right? Well… actually, in the instance of a tiny home I fully support permitting. The reason being, toilets need to follow strict plumbing codes to ensure they are properly connected to the sewer or septic system or that they are functioning properly as a compost and not polluting. Additionally, it is incredibly difficult to meet building code with a tiny home and they are almost never accessible (let’s not forget about aging in place or basic consideration for different ability levels). Why is code so important? Well, it exists for our safety! Here are some common features of tiny homes that violate code and create safey hazards:

  • Cooking ventilation: The oils and gasses that escape your foods can cause damage to the house (steam/mold) as well as to your health!

  • Habitable space sizes: There are minimum sizes for each habitable space for the basic ability to get in and out in case of emergency. A sleeping space alone is required to be 70 square feet. That’s often almost half the square footage of these tiny homes! Now, try to squeeze a bathroom and kitchen that meet the minimum square footages into this space.

  • Stair/ladder height and railings: There is a minimum height for stairs, and railings are required at a certain height. So, all those ladders to the only sleeping area? Those aren’t to code. That right there pretty much knocks every Pinterest sighted tiny home out of legal status.

  • Fixtures must be under a minimum ceiling height: We often see extremely low celings along the perimeter of these adorable spaces and they seem so perfect for the sink to go there, but how functional is that really to have your forehead against the ceiling while washing dishes?

So, they aren’t accessible (even this tiny home toted for its accessibility is lacking a KITCHEN and is only meant to be temporary). It’s not all that affordable. It’s really not sustainable in that it is not flexible. They are not being utilized to provide affordable housing for the most part. What is a good reason for a tiny home?

1. A Traveler’s Home. I love the idea of a home on wheels that can follow us wherever we may end up. Portability is a fantastic idea… but not parkability. I see wonderful homes that can move around easily on wheels, but am always disappointed to find that all they really do is park (as in, people do not use them for travel). Additionally, many are parked illegally and must keep moving to be legal.

2. A Guest House. Who doesn’t love to have a good old slumber party? But, isn’t it so much better to wake up at a friend’s house while having a space to call your own?

3. An Office. Work from home while creating separation from the house. I particularly love the versatility of this being able to double as a guest house.

4. A Mother-in-Law. I think it’s kind of a sweet idea to have a space like this for your older teens and young adult children, then as they transition into having their own family, maybe the spaces can be traded. The parents downgrade into the tiny home and the family that needs space gets it. It’s a lovely way for families to support one another and for spaces to provide a sustainable use over time. Whatever happened to keeping houses in the family?

None of these are solutions for affordable housing or sustainabilty however. What’s the lesson here? Well, really think about the tiny home before building and wasting resources. There are more empty houses out there than there are homeless people. What if these homes were subdivided? What if they were maintained? Before we use more resources to create masses of sprawl with our tiny homes on 5 acres of land… first think about how we can use what we have.

Some great reads (in addition to those linked above):
Answers to Affordable Housing Are ‘Everywhere’

MacroUnits: Answer to Affordable Housing Crisis?