Category Archives: Zoning & Building Codes by Country or State

12/29 In Rapid City, Tiny houses are a step in right direction

Rapid City Iowa Mayor Steve Allender

Rapid City Iowa Mayor Steve Allender. Photo from his Twitter profile.

Mayor Steve Allender is thinking big and out of the box these days as he begins to tackle Rapid City’s affordable housing shortage.

Allender is looking at tiny houses as part of the solution in a community where jobs that pay even $14 an hour are difficult to find.

But now, the mayor is going from the talking to the doing stage in an unprecedented effort to open more doors for those working-class residents who want to call Rapid City home.

The Journal reported last week that Allender is working with a private developer and Neighborworks Dakota Home Resources to build five tiny townhomes near the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

They would be from 360 to 968 square feet with attached garages. The prices are expected to range from $100,000 to $142,000. Those who seek to purchase a unit could receive help with the down payment and closing costs, assistance that likely would come from Neighborworks, an established nonprofit that helps local residents buy, repair and keep their homes.

If all goes as planned, work could begin in February or March on the townhomes. Mayor Allender hopes the project eventually will pave the way for 100 or more tiny homes in Rapid City, which would be a remarkable achievement.

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12/27 Transition to tiny house life poses big challenges for Nebraska family

Melody and Darren and their four children in their RV

Melody and Darren Mike and their four children

For the six-member Mike family, living in their pair of tiny houses felt just right. But everything else that comes along with owning a tiny house — construction costs and the bureaucracy of finding land — wasn’t so cozy.

Since the family sold its house this summer, moved into an RV and built its collective 688-square-foot tiny houses west of Ceresco, they’ve faced a rocky road to find a permanent, legal home for their new way of life. They’ve been kicked off properties several times, and despite filming a reality TV show about the construction of their tiny houses, aren’t living in them at the moment.

The construction of the two houses was filmed for an episode of “Tiny House Nation: Family Edition” set to air Thursday evening on Lifetime.

“We want to live in them,” Melody Mike said. “It’s breaking our hearts right now that we can’t.”

The Mikes — parents Melody and Darren; Darren’s teenage son Carter; the couple’s young daughters McKenzie, Trinity and Joey; and their dog — all moved into twin tiny houses in November. The World-Herald detailed the family’s plans in a July article.

Before filming, the family sold its house and moved into a retrofitted RV parked at The Gathering Place, their church in Valley. Shortly after, a neighbor complained, and the city told the Mikes that they had to move. So they moved into a two-bedroom apartment above the church.

Filming went well and was mostly fun for the family, Darren said, but the price quickly outgrew their budget, eventually by about $17,000, even after trade-outs from the TV show.

After construction, the family lived the tiny life for six weeks. They lived off the grid, drawing water from a well and power from solar panels. Darren shot his first deer, and cooked steaks and stew for the family. The kids played outside in the woods, and they made nightly campfires, staring up at the Milky Way.

“We absolutely loved it,” Darren said. “It was a lot of work repairing and fixing, but the lifestyle, it’s totally us. We’re somewhat desperate to get back into that.”

A month and a half in, connections to the underground cistern came loose. Then, the family was told that it had to vacate the land. Zoning problems are a common obstacle for tiny house owners. It’s something the Mikes hope will change soon, and they plan on appealing to nearby counties to find a solution.

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12/20 Tiny house rules loom large in Pitt County, NC

Pitt County commissioners in 2015.

Pitt County commissioners. (Photo from 2015, not this Monday’s hearing.)

Pitt County commissioners delayed action on amendments to the rules governing tiny houses and recreational vehicles after two people speaking at Monday night’s public hearing said the language was troublesome.

The commissioners directed Planning Director James Rhodes to meet with the speakers and explore ways to help them before a vote on changing text in the county’s zoning ordinance.

Stephen Brand said when he sought a permit three years ago to build a tiny house on 10 acres of land he owns on Dixon Road, the building inspector told him the project did not fall under his jurisdiction.
Brand said he and his father built the home to the standards available at the time. The county permitted a septic system and a solar panel array at his property, but he worries his home won’t be permitted under the proposed rules.

Sophie Szymeczek of Fountain said the new language doesn’t explain what a tiny house is. It defines it as a recreational vehicle, which they aren’t, and doesn’t accurately reflect what tiny homes are, she said.
Szymeczek also questioned if the rules would prevent someone from purchasing a tiny home from an out-state-builder and shipping it to Pitt County.

Rhodes said his office is requesting the text update to match definition provided by the state. The proposed changes define the difference between a tiny house and a recreational vehicle, he said.
The new definition states a tiny house and its foundation must comply with the state’s residential building code. If it is built off-site and transported, it must be inspected and certified under the state’s modular construction program. If it is built through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s manufactured housing construction program, it will be permitted and inspected as a manufactured home.

If a tiny house does not comply with either set of rules and is built on a trailer frame with axles and wheels, it is considered a recreational vehicle and is not acceptable as a permanent dwelling.

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12/18 Beech Mountain, NC town planner proposes outlawing tiny houses

Beech Mountain Town Planner James Scott (right, standing) makes a presentation regarding “tiny houses” to the town council. Town attorney Stacy Eggers IV (left, seated) is listening to the presentation

Beech Mountain Town Planner James Scott (right, standing) makes a presentation regarding “tiny houses” to the town council. Town attorney Stacy Eggers IV (left, seated) is listening to the presentation. Photo by Thomas Sherrill.

Town Planner James Scott made three presentations to the council in which he asked for future public hearings on three items. The first request was for the town to amend its regulations regarding fire extinguishers to align with the state’s ordinances. The motion was approved.

The second was to explore a proposed ordinance regarding the minimum size for detached single family dwellings. Beech Mountain currently has no minimum size, so it falls in with the state’s policy, which Scott believes to be 200 square feet. [Note: this is not precisely correct, although practically a good estimate. NC law requires that homes meet the 2012 International Residential Code which requires a house have at least one room that is 120 sq ft or larger, so with a kitchen and bath, a tiny house meeting the 2012 code would likely be at least 200 sq ft.] After going over all of the detached single family dwellings in the town, Scott proposed a minimum size of 800 square feet, which aligns with the smallest known dwelling in town limits.

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12/17 Ma Casita seeks to provide tiny houses as affordable housing in Lawrence, MA

Conceptual model for  tiny steel houses on a Lawrence city lot.

Conceptual model for tiny steel houses on a Lawrence city lot.

In a city where a big chunk of the population, half, spends a big chunk of its income, half, on housing, the chance to own a tiny house with a tiny mortgage generates big interest.

It excites Franallen Acosta, 23, a 6-foot 6-inch Lawrence man who ducks when entering many homes but is keen to build wee houses in this densely settled city of nearly 80,000 souls.

The 2012 Lawrence High graduate wants homeownership for more residents. He has faced housing uncertainty himself; has friends who have battled homelessness; and his mother has for 20 years spent the lion’s share of her pay on rent, likely in the neighborhood of $200,000.

“And she’ll never get that back,” he said.

Acosta also wants to create jobs in his home city, where, according to state labor statistics, unemployment stood at 5.3 percent in October, a major improvement from the 10 percent level of two years ago but still almost twice the state’s 2.7 percent rate in October.

Acosta’s response to unemployment and expensive yet limited housing in Lawrence is founding Mi Casita. Translated from Spanish it means “My Little House.” It’s a small step along a challenging, steep path…

Lawrence’ Director of Business and Economic Development Abel Vargas says the city is working with Acosta on clearly defining tiny houses in ordinance language and identifying a property that meets his needs.

Acosta has filed ordinance language, which upon review will need City Council approval. He has filed survey results, asking residents about the need and their desire for tiny houses.

“He has taken the appropriate steps,” Vargas said. “His idea is promising…”

The next major steps will be to find financial backers — people with capital to support the initiative — and to line-up buyers.

To that end Acosta invited a tiny homes builder to showcase the product at an LCW outside event.

He has also has identified 30 people who are interested in living the homes.

It’s unusual for tiny houses to take root in a post-industrial, urban center such as Lawrence where 11,000 people live per square mile compared to a statewide average of about 840 people per square mile.

Acosta isn’t deterred. The city is sprinkled with vacant lots and the need for housing is here.

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12/16 Tiny House Trouble: kids have trouble donating tiny home to veteran

Tiny house built by students of Elm Street School in Rome, Georgia

Tiny house built by students of Elm Street School in Rome, Georgia. Video available via link at bottom of article.

Dozens of kids in Georgia set out to do a good deed for the homeless, but ran into red tape along the way.

Children at the Elm Street School in Rome made it their school project to build a tiny home, and deliver it to a homeless veteran. The challenge, however, is finding a city where a veteran can legally put it.

“We’re reaching out for help. We don’t want this to sit here empty,” said teacher Sandy Hemphill.

The tiny house, which measures four feet by eight feet, will also have a sleeping bag, supplies, and a propane heater that is safe for a small house or tent, but has no plumbing or electricity. The children were inspired by efforts of others nationwide, building tiny homes for the homeless.

“Imagine somebody not having a house, being cold in the winter. This could probably help that person be warm,” said Rosenda Cux Chan, a fifth grade student, who was one of many who also helped raise funds to pay for building supplies.

The children spent months building the home, and has now been sitting at the school since May.

In an effort to relocate the house, teachers have reached out to numerous cities across the state to find a permanent home for the structure, and discovered the legal challenges: they said different zoning laws either don’t address the unique nature of the home, or would ban someone from using it.

The children and teachers hope someone in Georgia or surrounding states can direct them to a city where the home can be legally placed, or a veteran who could use the home.

“Some [veterans] still can’t be home with their family for Christmas. We actually thought this would be a really nice gift for a veteran,” said student Journei Griffin.

Anyone with information to help the students can reach Elm Street Elementary at
(706) 232-5313, or e-mail Assistant Principal Laura Walley at

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12/11 Tiny house community coming to South Bend?

Nikki and David Stillson's tiny house

Nikki and David Stillson’s tiny house

A group hopes South Bend will become a pioneer in America’s tiny house movement with a tiny subdivision on the city’s near northwest side.

The plans, still in the concept stage, would involve six to eight tiny houses, defined as measuring 250 to 400 square feet, built on permanent foundations across two vacant lots at the corner of Cushing Street and Portage Avenue, said organizer Mike Keen, a retired professor of sociology at Indiana University South Bend and founder of the school’s Center for a Sustainable Future.

“People want to downsize and simplify their lives by building smaller homes with less stuff to put in them,” said Keen. “What they say is ‘smaller house, bigger life.’”

The homes, built on site, would cost $50,000 to $60,000 and would target Millennials and baby boomer “empty nesters” looking to downsize and be closer to their children and grandchildren, Keen said.

Keen recently took early retirement from the university to launch Thrive Michiana LLC, a sustainability and innovation consulting firm.

Working with him to build the homes would be Dwayne Borkholder, president of New Energy Homes, a new division of Nappanee-based Borkholder Buildings & Supply. Aside from their tiny size, the homes would be “zero energy,” meaning they are 70 percent more energy efficient than a traditional home for the same cost per square foot, and rooftop solar panels generate the other 30 percent of power.

Borkholder has been building regular size zero-energy homes for six years, but recently started working to adapt that technology to tiny homes. The pair plan to present their ideas, along with some drawings of how the homes would look, and answer the public’s questions Tuesday at 4 p.m. at downtown’s Union Station, 506 W. South St…

Also planning to attend Tuesday is Nikki Stillson, who lives in a 188-square-foot house in southern St. Joseph County with her husband, David, and their cats, Sebastian, Layla and Melo. They don’t live in a TLC, but rather, in the backyard of David’s mother, for whom they are primary caregivers. Their house is on wheels that are on cinder blocks.

The couple talked with The Tribune in December 2014 when they were still planning to buy the home, and they started living in it in September 2015.

“I absolutely love living in my tiny house,” Stillson said. “It’s just enough space. We don’t find that we run into each other. We tweak little things here and there each year, just like you would in any house.”

The couple uses an RV electrical hookup and water hose from the main house.

“The biggest thing we love about it is the financial freedom,” said Stillson, noting they paid for the tiny house in full with cash from savings. “We’re not paying $800 a month to live in a place that all we do is sleep in. We’ve been better prepared to save for our future. We’re not living check to check. We’ve been able to travel a lot more. We’re enjoying the little things in life.”

She and David, an information technology manager, run the “Michiana Tiny House Enthusiasts” Facebook group

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12/09 Tiny house community proposed to Athens-Clarke planning commission

map of Athens-Clark, GeorgiaA development proposal that would return part of an intown residential neighborhood to what it was a century ago has captured the imagination of Athens-Clarke County, Georgia planning commissioners, but neighborhood residents are worried it could bring additional traffic and might force their property taxes upward.

Laurie deVegter, an Atlanta-based real estate agent and developer who specializes in smaller houses, is under contract to purchase a lot of less than a half-acre at 1252 West Hancock Avenue near North Billups Street. She is proposing to divide the parcel, which also fronts on Indale Avenue, into six lots. One of those lots would include an existing three-bedroom house, and deVegter is proposing the construction of five additional homes on the tract. As envisioned, the one-bedroom houses would comprise slightly less than 600 square feet, and would include some loft space, according to deVegter…

She would prefer to develop the property as owner-occupied homes, deVegter said, but one of the problems with that is the lot sizes won’t meet local requirements for owner-occupied dwellings. The tract could possibly comprise rental units, either in a single building or duplexes or some other configuration, although it also might not meet local codes in those configurations. But deVegter would not rule out the possibility of pursuing that option if it became the only viable opportunity for developing the tract.

“It’s hard to do the right thing,” deVegter said in noting her desire to see the property developed as owner-occupied housing.

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12/08 Who profits from relaxed rules to allow micro homes? Rules are bonkers, says Royal Institute of British Architects

Julia Park

Julia Park, interim chair of RIBA’s (Royal Institute of British Architects’) housing group, speaks at a London Assembly session.

RIBA’s housing lead has dubbed the ability of new housing developments that feature communal space and very small living units to skirt planning rules a “scandal”.

Julia Park, who is interim chair of the institute’s housing group, told a London Assembly Housing Committee session on space standards that it was “bonkers” that some housing types did not need to conform to the same accessibility and space standards as other buildings such as prisons.

The discussion was called to investigate whether the capital’s space standards, now adopted nationally, were a brake on the delivery of new homes and whether smaller homes would be cheaper to develop.

Park saved her strongest concerns for the growth of student-housing style micro homes.

“They’re a specific part of the private rental sector, and they’re smaller – below the space standards typically,” she said.

“They get treated as ‘sui generis’ in the planning process, which means we don’t have a proper debate. It’s bonkers…”

Toby Lloyd, policy director at housing charity Shelter, said market pressures – particularly in relation to land values – would immediately absorb any savings from the development of smaller homes.

“People assume that if you make homes smaller it will make them cheaper, but it doesn’t,” he said.

“All it means is that the land-owner can extract more value from the development process.”

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12/01 Couple wins right to keep tiny house in backyard of larger Brisbane, Australia property

couple with baby inside of their tiny house

Inside the tiny house in the backyard of a larger Brisbane property.

In a landmark decision, the Queensland Building and Development Dispute Resolution Committee ruled tiny homes with wheels should be treated like caravans and thus do not require a building permit.

Lara Nobel and Andrew Carter were facing the prospect of having to move following a complaint from a neighbour and a decision by the Brisbane City Council that their tiny home required a building permit to stay on site.

“It’s not a fixed structure so you can’t get a building approval for it,” Ms Noble said.

The pint-sized house, measuring a compact 18 square metres of floor space, comes with a self-composting toilet and a demountable deck — all of which can be moved within a few hours as it sits on a registered trailer.

The couple built and designed their home, and have been living at their current address for about seven months.

A month ago, they were joined by baby daughter, Charli.

Mr Carter said it was a huge relief to know they could stay.

“This is one of the very few ways we can achieve home ownership anywhere near the city in a way that suits us,” he said.
ESC Consulting environmental planner Rikki Pieters, who helped the couple with their appeal, said the decision was a significant win for this type of housing model.

“If you required the tiny house on wheels to have a building permit, basically you would be attaching that dwelling to the land and you would need to go through the planning process similar to if it was a granny flat or a secondary dwelling,” she said.

Brisbane may soon change the rules

But there is still a legal hitch — in Queensland it is not always legal to live inside a caravan in a backyard.

“On the Gold Coast they prohibit it, in Moreton Bay Regional Council you can do it but there are a lot of rules that you need to follow,” Ms Peters said.

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