Category Archives: District of Columbia

09/30 A Tiny House in Cleveland Park? DC’s New Zoning Rules in Effect

Rendering of accessory dwelling unit at 3406 Rodman Street NW in DC

Rendering of accessory dwelling unit at 3406 Rodman Street NW in DC

At the beginning of September, significant new zoning rules went into effect for DC. Now, we are seeing those rules in action.

This week, the Historic Preservation Review Board unanimously approved the first accessory dwelling unit in a historic district since the new rules went into effect, by giving the green light to a tiny home behind a house in Cleveland Park.

The project, designed by Catarina Ferreira, Principal at archi-TEXTUAL, PLLC, will remove a garage and construct a new building dubbed the Granny Pod, that will function as a house for visitors. The building will have a roof with solar panels and a skylight on one side, and a vegetated roof on the other. The property will be enclosed from the alley and adjacent side yards by privacy fences.

“The ANC originally opposed the idea, but after some revisions and it became clear that we had strong support from the Cleveland Park Architectural Review Committee, we were encouraged to move forward with the original scheme,” Ferreira told UrbanTurf. “We were able to get it approved (unanimously) even though we did not follow all of the ANC or HPO’s recommendations for revising the design, as we felt that simplicity of the building and the quality of the architecture would be compromised. A tiny house should be a simple, efficient building by definition.”

Read more –

05/16 D.C. shift could make tiny houses more abundant in backyards

Brian Levy in 2014 stands in the doorway of his 210-square-foot tiny home in Northeast Washington.

Brian Levy in 2014 stands in the doorway of his 210-square-foot tiny home in Northeast Washington.

The popular tiny-house movement may get a big boost in the District this fall when significantly looser restrictions regarding “accessory dwelling units” — the technical name for the trendy residences — go into effect.

Under provisions in the city’s new zoning code, from Sept. 6, homeowners will have an easier time getting the necessary approval to build and rent out tiny houses. Given the lack of affordable housing in the District, advocates say they think they’ll see a dramatic increase in the number of rentable tiny homes, micro-homes or two-story carriage houses popping up alongside gardens, tree houses and swing sets behind homes all over the city.

Previously, owners seeking to rent out the units were required to argue their cases before the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) to receive an exception. Under the new rule, the structures will be permitted in some neighborhoods as a matter of right: Once homeowners acquire building permits from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), they will be free to build and then rent out the units.

The changes are not applicable citywide: They are largely limited to R-1, R-2 and R-3 zones, which cover outer neighborhoods such as Brookland, Chevy Chase and American University Park, where there are larger single-family homes.

Other regulations restrict size and alley access: The tiny houses cannot be more than 35 percent of the gross floor area of the primary home, which must be at minimum 1,200 square feet in most zones and 2,000 square feet in R-1 zones.They must be adjacent to either a 24-foot-wide alley, or a 15-foot-wide alley and at most 300 feet from a main road for fire safety. And the principal dwelling must be owner-occupied.

Still, advocates say they think that the rules are not overly restrictive and that many homeowners will jump at the opportunity to create rental units.

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Tiny house friendly legislation proposed in Washington, DC

From Greater Greater, “Vincent Orange wants to build 1,000 tiny houses. That’s a great idea if they go in these spots.”

Excerpt: …On much of the city’s land, tiny houses aren’t a great idea. If you’re going to put a small dwelling unit there, it’s even better to put a small apartment building with four, eight, twelve, or more units. The building could have outdoor space that people share; there are a lot of great buildings like this all around DC.

There is one place where this is a great idea: Alleys. All around DC there are small garages, sheds, or historic carriage houses along alleys. Some people have large backyards and don’t need all of that space. There are also some alley lots, lots that border an alley but no main road, such as in blocks where the alleys make a loop.

Property owners could build tiny houses here or convert existing garages to tiny houses. This would be a perfect way to give existing owners some income and create new housing in the kinds of spaces Orange is talking about.

The DC Office of Planning was trying to legalize these units, called accessory apartments. The long-running DC zoning update, now eight years in the works, included provisions to allow them. But, facing outcry from some residents of upper Northwest neighborhoods, they pulled back on the rule on accessory apartments in separate buildings.

If the zoning update ever gets approved (the DC Zoning Commission was going to discuss it on October 22 but delayed until November 16), property owners could build an accessory apartment in an existing or new garage, but would have to still go through a time-consuming zoning hearing first.

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11/03 Councilmember Introduces Bill That Would Build 1,000 Tiny Houses For Millennials in DC

Brian Levy's Minim House in Washington, DC

Brian Levy’s Minim House in Washington, DC

Councilmember Vincent Orange must’ve read the results of the ULI survey on millennials in the region.

On Tuesday, Orange introduced a very peculiar piece of legislation focused on providing more housing for millennials in the city. Specifically, the bill proposes construction of 1,000 homes, measuring out at around 600 square feet each, around DC. The homes would be sold for a maximum of $50,000 to residents ages 18 to 33 (mind you, this age restriction violates fair housing) and those making minimum wage.

Orange envisions the tiny homes would have a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, but there is no mention of a living room in the bill. Orange would like 125 of these homes located in each of the city’s eight wards.

Needless to say, UrbanTurf believes that the bill is quite a longshot to pass.


09/09 Updates in DC zoning

The DC Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) is a project that began in 2007 led by the DC Office of Planning (OP) to revise zoning regulations. This is the first time the DC Zoning Regulations have been comprehensively revised since 1958. It has long been clear that there is no more important fight for micro-housing in DC.

The rewrite has been an ideal opportunity to lobby for changes that would support legal, small scale housing that can fill in vacant lots, or empty land behind existing homes (detached accessory dwelling units (external ADU’s) commonly referred to as carriage houses), or in basement/in-home apartments (internal ADU’s).

Early drafts of the rewrite were not encouraging- no new alley construction (there are over 700 alley lots in DC), no ADU’s by right (i.e. a landowner would have to go through a very lengthy and expensive ‘special exception’ process to build an ADU behind their house), etc. Thus in 2013-2014 Brian at the Micro Showcase consulted with the Coalition for Smarter Growth to draft comments on the rewrite, testified several times at community hearings, and organized 55 Micro Showcase supporters who signed letters supporting ADU’s and alley dwellings in the District.

A recent review of the full proposed Title 11 (966 pages) and review with Office of Planning and the Coalition for Smarter Growth shows that our collective efforts have been fairly successful, in many cases leading to direct, line-by-line changes in the code that should encourage greater density and more affordable and small scale housing across the city. These changes are up for final review/comment until September 25, 2015, and then will be codified.

The Good:

a) Detached ADU’s: these are now allowed by right in the majority of residential zones, opening up tens of thousands of lots across the District for new micro housing. DC will shortly join Portland as one of the most progressive cities in the country on ADU’s.

b) Attached ADU’s: previous versions of the zoning code had very high square footage requirements on a primary residence to develop an internal ADU. The new version allows an ADU/apartment in most residential zones in the city in a house as small as 1200 ft2. (there is still unfortunately a higher bar for R-1 zones, 2000 ft2).

b) Alley development: alley development is now permitted in certain residential zones, and the minimum alley width has been decreased to 15ft. Unfortunately not all R-zones are included, but this is nonetheless substantially improved. (We note that the rewrite happily makes the Micro Showcase alley lot now fully legal for residential development.)

The Less Good:

a) Residency requirements: For attached and detached ADU’s, the rewrite imposes an owner residency requirement, which could potentially limit development.

b) Trailers: The rewrite does not make trailer living permittable in backyards- for a variety of understandable code and permitting issues this has long been a non-starter at Office of Planning, as it has been across the country, so no surprise here.

c) Alley trailers: The rewrite adds a provision making trailer living in alleys illegal (the Zoning Commission was transparent on several occasions that this was a direct response to sanitation issues with 2 trailers at the earlier Boneyard Studios popup). See DC policy on trailers.

A more detailed analysis is presented in the following chart –


Building code map

Handy map of the US. Just click on your state (in the link, not on the picture) to see which building codes are in effect:

International Code Council Map

International Code Council map

Park Model RV Regulations, State-by-State

The RVIA has provided a table showing regulations by state for park model RVs

What is a park model? 

Below is a description from the RVIA:

On July 1, 2012, RVIA created a new membership category for manufacturers of park model RVs (PMRVs). A park model RV (also known as a recreational park trailer) is a trailer-type RV that is designed to provide temporary accommodation for recreation, camping or seasonal use. PMRVs are built on a single chassis, mounted on wheels and have a gross trailer area not exceeding 400 square feet in the set -up mode. They are certified by their manufacturers as complying with the ANSI A119.5 standard for recreational park trailers.

PMRVs are most often used in recreational vehicle campgrounds. They may be owned by the campground and rented to guests, or they may be brought in and used exclusively by their owners on a site rented or leased from the campground. They can also be placed by their owners on private property. These RVs are used for recreational purposes only. They are not meant to be permanently affixed to the property, they do not improve property values in any way, and they are neither designed nor intended by their manufacturers to be used as permanent residences.

Two different types of park model RVs are offered. One type is less than 8′ 6″ in width and is designed for frequent travel on the highways while the other and more popular type is wider than 8′ 6″ (usually 12′ in width), and must be transported with special movement permit. The 8′ 6″ unit typically is expandable when it reaches its destination utilizing slide-outs or tip-outs. The wider units, being less mobile, are usually sited in a resort or RV park location for an extended term, typically several years. Park model RVs are titled as vehicles by the various states. This is because PMRVs are built on permanent chassis such that they can be and are moved either within a campground or between campgrounds.

Free Online Zoning Codes

Here are two sources of online codes:

  • Municodes from the Nation’s leading legal publisher.
  • The American Legal Publishing Company provides a free online library of state and municipal codes for most locations. Click on the map to go to the library and chose your state and city. Then search or scroll for descriptions of minimum lot sizes, setback rules, etc.

    American Legal Publishing Compay online library

    American Legal Publshing Company online library

    Information is available for all states except these 13: AL, CO, ID, KS, LA, MO, MS, ND, NV, UT, VT, WA, WY.