Category Archives: California

10/08 San Jose waives state building codes for tiny houses for the homeless

A newly signed law will allow San Jose to become the first California city to create tiny homes for the homeless by bypassing the state’s confining building codes.

City housing officials and advocates for the homeless call the new legislation a “game-changer” in the fight to solve one of the Silicon Valley’s most intractable problems.

The law, authored by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, as Assembly Bill 2176 and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 27, 2016 goes into effect in January 2017 and sunsets in five years. It allows the city to temporarily suspend state building, safety and health codes for the purpose of building “unconventional” housing structures — everything from wood-framed sheds to tiny homes. The city will adopt its own regulations, the law says, based on some minimum standards.

“It was huge for the governor to sign this because it’s outside-the-box and no one else has done it,” Campos said. “Other big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles will be looking at what we do here. We had to do something because what we were doing wasn’t working.”

The law requires the city to first declare a “shelter crisis” — which it did last December — and to use city-owned or city-leased land for the tiny homes. The homes must be insulated, have weather-proof roofing, lighting and electrical outlets, according to the bill.

It’s unclear how many homeless people will benefit from the homes, which must be at least 70 square-feet for individuals and 120 square-feet for couples. A half-acre piece of land, according to city documents, could house up to 25 people inside 20 units.

But no matter the size of the homes, San Jose resident Monica Fuentes says anything is better than life on the streets. The former accountant ended up outdoors after a divorce and brain tumor — and now she moves from one downtown park to another, transporting her belongings in a small plastic cart.

“You can’t live your life out here without having your stuff stolen,” said Fuentes, 47, who’s been homeless for three years.

Ray Bramson, San Jose’s homeless response manager, said the state’s regulatory barriers were the biggest challenge in building creative housing units for some 4,000 homeless residents.

Bramson said the homes are a “temporary stopping point” until San Jose builds more than 500 new affordable housing apartments in the next five years. The temporary homes would include on-site supportive services.

“This law really is the first of its kind,” Bramson said. “It will allow us to create bridge housing opportunities — a stable place people can live and stay while they’re waiting to be placed in a permanent home.”

The next step is figuring out where to put the homes. And then deciding what they’ll look like.

Read more –

10/03 Can tiny houses help solve Ventura County’s woes?

Vina Lustado coming out of her tiny house

Vina Lustado coming out of her tiny house

As Ventura County, California struggles with high home prices, expensive rentals and little room to build, some advocates are proposing a solution: tiny homes that fit living essentials into less than 400 square feet of space.

Last week, about 50 people gathered at the Ventura County Government Center for a workshop about the benefits of tiny homes, ways they can be incorporated into a community’s housing stock and regulatory changes that can help make that happen.

Dan Fitzpatrick, California Chapter Leader of the American Tiny House Association, led the workshop along with members of The Tiny House Collaborative, a coalition of tiny house enthusiasts. The presenters said tiny homes are one solution to the affordable housing crisis in Ventura and elsewhere, particularly for single people and couples.

“Tiny is the next big thing,” said Fitzpatrick, who indicated tiny homes are a popular option for millennials struggling to afford traditional housing, and also baby boomers looking to downsize. “It is sweeping across the country.”

Tiny homes are typically built on wheels so they can be moved, and they come in a variety of designs. They are different from mobile homes and recreational vehicles because of their size, and because they’re designed to look like regular houses, only smaller, Fitzpatrick explained. The design flexibility means communities can require tiny homes to look like other houses in the neighborhood, he noted.

Affordability is a key advantage of tiny homes, advocates said. While the average home price in Ventura County is around $500,000, a tiny home would cost between $85,000 and $90,000 to build and connect to utilities if located on the same property as a regular house, Fitzpatrick said. The homes could also be rented out for about $725 a month, he said, much lower than the county’s average apartment rental price of more than $1,700 a month.

Fitzpatrick outlined how local governments can make it legal for property owners to have tiny homes in their backyards as second dwelling units. For the most part, that’s currently not possible in Ventura County, although the city of Ojai is studying how it might change that. It’s up to local governments to make those adjustments, Fitzpatrick said.

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4/30 Tiny houses face big policy hurdles in Petaluma

Steve Marshall, of Tiny House on a Trailer,  holding a model tiny home

Steve Marshall, of Tiny House on a Trailer, holding a model tiny home

The diminutive “tiny house” has now firmly entered the mainstream consciousness in the United States as the minuscule residences, evoking rustic cottages or sleek modern designs, provide something of a bohemian counterweight to the country’s suburban sprawl.

For one such home designer in Petaluma, the tiny, wheeled structures have also shown to have a more somber purpose, providing relatively affordable, secondary housing for aging seniors, disabled adults and their caregivers.

While the tiny units sound primed as the ultimate infill project, Stephen Marshall, owner of Little House on the Trailer, cited one major barrier to their widespread adoption in Petaluma and in many cities elsewhere: red tape.

“Being a tiny house on wheels doesn’t get you around any rules,” he said.

In contrast to the image of young, mobile, money-savvy buyers eschewing the trappings of material possessions to live in a quaint cottage, Marshall said more than three quarters of his customers today are over 60 years of age. After eight years in business on Petaluma Boulevard North, many of his current buyers are seeking an accessory unit to their primary home, akin to a concept commonly known as an in-law or “granny” unit.

Those models from Little House range in both size and price, starting at the $50,000 Sport House, a wheel-equipped unit at 400 square feet.

A long-time homebuilder, Marshall said many of his buyers view the approach as a more affordable option to building something from the ground up, since trailer-bound structures avoid the cost of a foundation or the expense of a building permit.

“When I build second units for people, which I don’t do anymore, they start at $300,000,” he said. But with a trailer-based tiny house, “you buy it for $50,000, and by the time it’s all hooked up, it’s $70,000. You’ve created real affordable housing.”

While the approach is relatively straightforward, the rules can be tricky. Trailer-mounted tiny homes are often considered a recreational vehicle, and many cities, including Petaluma, have very narrow rules around their use. Rural areas are generally more lenient, with full-time residence in an RV allowed in unincorporated Sonoma County if conditions like required hookups and safety conditions are met.

Living long-term on an RV as either a primary or accessory dwelling is not currently allowed in Petaluma, said Kevin Colin, a senior planner for the city. Yet the rules do allow pint-sized homes on a more traditional foundation, possibly without the need for a hearing.

“It’s just a small little dwelling,” said Colin, who noted that the structure could be considered an accessory dwelling to a primary residence if up to 640 square feet.

Petaluma does have a handful of mobile home parks with special zoning, with rules around the nature of those units coming down from the state, he said.

Read more –

Shareable Presentation: Tiny homes on wheels as accessory dwelling units

Here is a PowerPoint presentation created by Dan Fitzpatrick, our California State Chapter Leader. It’s similar to the one he used for his presentation to the Ojai zoning board and can be modified to suit your local community.

If you have any questions regarding its use or modification, please can contact Dan at

Generic Tiny House as 2nd Dwelling Unit PowerPoint

04/13 With laws changing, tiny homes may have a big effect on housing

Housing consultant Betsy Morris calls tiny houses the "kittens of the housing world" — irresistibly cute.

Housing consultant Betsy Morris calls tiny houses the “kittens of the housing world” — irresistibly cute.

At UC Berkeley, 25 really smart students are building a house for $25,000. It’s a tiny budget, for a tiny house.

The tiny house is called THIMBY, or Tiny House in my Backyard. Imagine a cabin mounted on a trailer. That’s THIMBY.

THIMBY will be state-of-the-art efficient. It gathers power from the sun and stores it in batteries. It captures and recycles gray water from the shower and sink, and filters it for reuse. It uses a “poop oven” to zap human waste into fertilizer.

With a lofted bed, and space below for cooking, working and showering, THIMBY comfortably fits one or two people. THIMBY’s footprint is about the size of two parking spaces placed end to end. Like many tiny houses these days, it’s built on a trailer.

THIMBY is being built at the Richmond Field Station for a tiny house competition put on by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The Cal engineers, architects, designers, and physicists are building a showcase of efficient housing design, but they are also building a small, low-cost structure—the kind that is gaining increasing popularity as people explore how tiny houses can fill unused space in cities, house the homeless, and form into villages. THIMBY could become housing for visiting scholars at UC Berkeley’s Global Campus in Richmond.

“We see tiny houses as one potential solution,” says Ian Bolliger, a PhD student and THIMBY’s project manager. “They’re kind of perfect infill units—they can go in existing infrastructure, and if they’re cheap and sustainable, it hits all targets of what you might want in the housing infrastructure of the future.”

Read more –

02/04 State of California Issues Information Bulletin on Tiny Homes

2020 W. EI Camino Avenue, Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95833
P.O. Box 1407, Sacramento, CA 95812-1407
(916) 445-9471/ FAX (916) 263-5348
From TOO Phones 1-800-735-2929

February 4, 2016
TO: City and County Building Officials
Mobilehome and Special Occupancy Park Enforcement Agencies
Division Staff

This Information Bulletin is intended to clarify the legality of use, design and construction approval of any residential structure that may be commonly referred to as a tiny home. Currently, neither the Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) nor any other state or local agency has specific statutory or regulatory definition authority of construction approval for tiny homes as a specialty product. These structures, which may range anywhere from 80 to 400 square feet in size, may be built with a variety of standards or no construction standards; may or may not be constructed on a chassis (with or without axles or wheels); and are usually offered for use and placement in a variety of sites. It is the purpose of this Information Bulletin to describe when a tiny home fits the definition of one of the following: recreational vehicle (including park trailer), manufactured home, factory-built housing, or a site-constructed California Building Standards Code dwelling and therefore would be legal to occupy.

As residential structures, tiny homes must receive one of several types of state or local government approvals prior to occupancy, depending on the design of the structure and the location of its installation. While HCD supports efforts to make housing more affordable and efficient, state laws mandate that residential structures meet state standards. Failure to comply with these statutory requirements results in the tiny home being a noncomplying residential structure in which occupancy is illegal and is subject to punitive action by the appropriate enforcement agency, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).

In order to be occupied, a tiny home must comply with the standards of, and be approved as one of the following types of structures:

  1. a HUD-Code manufactured home (“MH”),
  2. California Residential Code or California Building Code home (“CRC” or “CBC”),
  3. factory-built housing (“FBH”),
  4. recreational vehicle (“RV”),
  5. park trailer (“PT”) or
  6. camping cabin (“CC”).

The approving agency will vary depending upon whether the tiny home is located inside or outside of a mobilehome park or special occupancy park…

RVs manufactured on or after July 14, 2005, must be constructed in accordance with the NFPA 1192 standard. Compliance with these standards can be determined by an owner-provided label or insignia similar to those issued by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) that is permanently affixed to the RV. However, an insignia issued exclusively by RVIA is not required (HSC §18027.3). For more information regarding RVIA certification, see

Unless otherwise allowed by a local ordinance, RVs generally may be occupied only in
mobilehome parks or special occupancy parks governed by the Mobilehome Parks Act (“MPA”).

Enforcement and Prosecution
If a structure called a tiny home or similar name is sold, offered for sale, leased, rented or occupied as a residential structure which does not comply with the standards for any of the units described above, the enforcement authority having appropriate jurisdiction (as described above) is responsible for pursuing the appropriate legal remedies to terminate the sales, rentals or occupancies. The enforcement agency may initiate actions under the authorities listed previously and/or any other authority it has to abate the sale or occupancy of unpermitted structures including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Prohibiting occupancy if the nonconforming structure violates local land use laws or violates any state or local public health, safety, fire, or similar authorities.
  • Prohibiting the manufacture, sale, lease, rental or use in California.
  • Mandating correction of any violations of applicable laws and regulations of a unit sold, leased, rented or occupied in California.

If you have any questions regarding tiny homes as they relate to this Information Bulletin, please contact the Manufactured Housing Program at (916) 445-3338 or by email to either or

Revised notice: California Department of Housing & Community Development Information Bulletin revised May 9, 2016

Original notice:

California Department of Housing & Community Development Information Bulletin

02/02 Tiny homes could help solve San Francisco’s housing crisis — except for one big problem

Organizers of the Tiny House Village meet to talk strategy.

Organizers of the Tiny House Village meet to talk strategy.

Chelsea Rustrum can picture her future tiny house village like she’s looking at a postcard.

Located within commuting distance of San Francisco, it has 10 to 20 homes on wheels nestled in the grass. They circle a community center where residents can grill over a fire pit, stage a film screening, and tend the garden. Pathways connect homes to the hub like spokes on a wheel, and each 150-square-foot abode has as much character as its owner.

“I saw creatives, entrepreneurs, mindful people, and those of all ages living the dream by doing more with less,” Rustrum, who works as a consultant on the sharing economy, tells Tech Insider. “I thought about how much money people would save, and how they’d value each item they owned with more fervor.”

What she didn’t see coming was a legal battle.

The problem is that most city and county governments don’t authorize residences under a certain square footage. Development codes have requirements on plumbing, utilities, and building foundations that such unconventional dwellings can’t possibly meet.

Cute as they may be, tiny houses are often illegal…

“Money isn’t an issue. We have a number of investors ready to be part of the project,” Rustrum says. “Interest isn’t the issue. I have thousands of people who want to live there and multiple people emailing me daily to ask about the progress of the village.”

She estimates that between land, development, design, and engineering, the tiny house village will cost at least $1 million to build.

Rustrum and her team of 10 cohorts now regularly meet with city and county government officials, and are developing templates for legalizing tiny homes in towns surrounding the Bay Area.

They’re also planning a hackathon, where designers, developers, civic engineers, lawyers, teck workers, and other tiny house evangelists would come together to brainstorm ways to remove legal hurdles.

“It’s going to take more than talking to city officials,” Rustrum says. “It will take the public to say, ‘we want this.'”

Read more –

01/13 Tiny houses on wheels now legal as backyard cottages in Fresno

Nick Mosley pokes his head through an egress window in the loft of a California Tiny House

Nick Mosley pokes his head through an egress window in the loft of a California Tiny House.

Tiny houses are getting a big break from the city of Fresno. Now, other communities across the country are interested.

The pint-sized houses on wheels – complete with kitchen, living room and loft – are now considered backyard cottages thanks to changes in the city’s zoning and development code. That means tiny homes can be used as independent living quarters on the same lot as a single-family house granted it meets some requirements. Previously, the mobile units could only serve as temporary lodging.

The big deal is this “allows you to put tiny houses on your property and live in them legally, full time,” said Pat Mosley, owner of California Tiny House, a Fresno builder.

The new ordinance, spearheaded by Fresno City Council Member Esmeralda Soria, went into effect Jan. 3. California Tiny House will drive its latest model to City Hall on Thursday where Soria and the mayor are expected to tour the home. The public is also invited to get a look.

Fresno is believed to be one of the first communities nationwide to adopt a zoning code making tiny houses [on wheels] legal [in the backyards of existing homes without having to be a caregiver unit].

Read more:

12/16 Homeless church deacon arrested for living in his donated tiny house

Michael Clark, known as "Red", with Lisa Kogan in front of the tiny house she gave him.

Michael Clark, known as “Red,” with Lisa Kogan in front of the tiny house she helped provide for him.

A group of San Diegans are outraged after building a tiny house for a homeless man only to have police arrest him for living in it.

Lisa Kogan was among those who raised money to have the tiny home built.

“What has really hit me in my heart is there’s a need out here, there’s a need for people to have shelter,” Kogan said…

“Had they written him a ticket and asked him to move the house he could have had plenty of help,” Brown said. “There was no discussion of a ticket. It was immediate handcuffs.”

“They said, ‘Well, we are going to give him two hours to move it,’” Brown explained. “Five minutes later there was a tow truck here and they took the house away.”

Police booked Red into the San Diego Jail for two misdemeanors, encroaching and lodging without consent.

Read more and watch the video –

Follow up story, 12/17/2015:

San Diego Police Department Capt. Chuck Kaye said Clark wasn’t singled out, and the house was treated like any other illegal item on the sidewalk.

“The encroachment issue is real,” he said. “We enforce it.”

While this was the first time he recalled a “house” being impounded, Kaye said the structure was treated no differently than the tents and other temporary shelters that homeless people erect on sidewalks downtown.

While tents and other shelters are a common sight on 16th and 17th streets downtown, they are illegal and may be occasionally cleared out by the city’s Environmental Service Department.

José Ysea, spokesman for the department, said the city gives 72 hours notice before doing a sweep, which are done in responses to complaints from residents or businesses or at the request of a City Council office.

Personal items such as prescription drugs, photos and other things of value are held for 90 days, while trashed items are thrown away. Ysea said homeless people usually know where to pick up their items.

Kaye said police are called if there is a complaint, and tents or other items may be confiscated as evidence.

Clark’s house is being held for 90 days, and Kogan said she plans to pick it up after she has found a place for it. She said she is not being charged for its storage.

Kaye said police officers do progressive enforcement to try to keep sidewalks clear, meaning people usually get a series of warnings before they are arrested.

“This particular gentleman has been provided warnings,” he said about Clark. “He’s been cited in the past. He wasn’t just singled out.”

In Los Angeles, the man who was featured in the YouTube videos has been facing an ongoing battle with the city over the tiny houses he has built.

“It’s always a challenge,” said Elvis Summers. “It has been from the start and will be for a while.”

Summers, who once was homeless himself, is founder of the charity Starting Human and first built a tiny house for a homeless woman in his neighborhood in April. Since then, he said he’s built dozens and placed them in other Los Angeles neighborhoods.

So far none of the houses has been impounded by police, he said, although the City Council has some concerns about his project.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times in August, Councilman Joe Buscaino raised safety questions about the houses and said they were “not the type of real estate I’m looking for in my district.”

The Times also quoted an assistant to the city attorney as saying that the structures qualify as bulky items that can be immediately removed under a new law.

Summers, who said he has hired an attorney, argued that the law is on his side.

“There’s no law against people having these,” he said, adding that the city doesn’t have a legal definition for the structures.

“The city has tried to take them away, but I’ve made it clear that I’ll drop a lawsuit on them so fast, it will make their head spin,” he said.

Summers admits that providing a tiny house for somebody is not a long-term solution to homelessness, which he said also requires help on the many issues people on the street face.

He said it could be a life-saving stopgap for people in Los Angeles and San Diego, which both have a shortage of shelters for the homeless.

“Here in L.A., there’s more than 40,000 people who have no place to go,” he said. “This is a very viable solution to save lives until they build the places that are needed.”

Summers has raised about $110,000 in an online campaign for his project, and this weekend he and volunteers plan to build and install 10 more tiny houses. He also plans to look for property to buy as a way of getting around the question of whether the dwellings are allowed on sidewalks.

Kogan said she plans to start a San Diego chapter of Summers’ charity, Starting Human, and Summers said he will help her with local fundraising.

Read more –

Tiny houses on wheels allowed as backyard cottages in California

Tiny houses on wheels are allowed as backyard cottages in many counties in California. Most require the tiny house dweller to be a caregiver, but Fresno city allows tiny houses on wheels without that stipulation.

Tiny houses on wheels are allowed as caregiver dwellings in the backyard of a person who needs assistance in the following counties:

  • Alameda
  • Contra Costa
  • Lake
  • Mendocino
  • Napa
  • Sacramento
  • Sonoma

Source: Sonya Tafejian of Tiny House Consulting Sonoma County

On November 20, 2015, Fresno city zoning approved tiny houses on wheels as backyard cottages without the requirement for the tiny house dweller to be a caregiver. This goes into effect on January 3, 2016:

Fresno Regulations:
Tiny House. A structure intended for separate, independent living quarters for one household that meets these six conditions:

  1. Is licensed and registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles and meets ANSI 119.2 or 119.5 requirements;
  2. Is towable by a bumper hitch, frame-towing hitch, or fifth-wheel connection. Cannot (and is designed not to) move under its own power. When sited on a parcel per requirements of this Code, the wheels and undercarriage shall be skirted;
  3. Is no larger than allowed by California State Law for movement on public highways;
  4. Has at least 100 square feet of first floor interior living space;
  5. Is a detached self-contained unit which includes basic functional areas that support normal daily routines such as cooking, sleeping, and toiletry; and
  6. Is designed and built to look like a conventional building structure.

Zoning regulations for tiny houses in Fresno: Fresno Development Code Requirements for Second Dwelling Units

Source: Pat Mosley of California Tiny House