Americans have a fascination with tiny house living. Even in Texas where everything is bigger, tiny house communities are popping up everywhere. Television shows like Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House, Big Living make the simplified lifestyle seem idyllic. Maybe it is the freedom of being able to live anywhere, or perhaps it is the lack of a large, monthly mortgage payment that is enticing. Whatever the reason, when considering a tiny house lifestyle, you need to be informed. Along with the joys, you also need to be aware of the challenges that accompany this unique lifestyle choice. Here are the four most important things you need to know about living tiny in America:
1. If your tiny house is on wheels, finding a place to park it may be more difficult than you think.
Taking your tiny home on a trailer, anywhere in the country is the appeal that draws many to the tiny living lifestyle. Legally parking your tiny home anywhere, however, may be not as fun. City zoning laws and building codes often restrict tiny houses from legally residing on residential property. Most city building codes require a house to have a minimum of 1,000 square foot and a slab foundation. Other minimal code restrictions exist for ventilation, ceiling height and heating to name a few. Additionally, there are certain characteristics that distinguish a tiny house on wheels (THOW) from a permanent tiny home. Knowing the difference means staying legal.
According to Andrew Morris, a tiny house builder, up to 90% of tiny homeowners are living illegally. It is important to call and talk to your local planning and zoning departments to become aware of the laws in your community. Other, more temporary options for parking THOWs do exist. With permission, you can park your tiny home on someone else’s property. With this, however, comes use of land regulations and landowner rules to abide by. Another option is parking in an RV park. Keep in mind, however, that most recreational parks prohibit a vehicle from parking there permanently. Ultimately, tiny homeowners must be open-minded, flexible and skilled at networking to live legally in a tiny home.
2. Insurance companies haven’t caught up.
Today, tiny houses generally fall into two categories: on wheels or on a foundation. Knowing which category your home falls into will dictate the type of insurance policy you need. If your home is a THOW, it is considered a recreational vehicle and should be insured as an automobile. If your tiny house is on a permanent foundation, like many tiny home communities require, you will need to insure it as a dwelling. These homes are sometimes referred to as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. Most towns allow ADUs, but the rules and guidelines can vary greatly. An insurance policy for a tiny home that has wheels and is also considered a dwelling by today’s insurance standards does not exist yet. As a result, tiny house owners have to stay abreast of the ever-changing laws and ordinances that affect tiny houses where they live to say properly insured.
3. Many local governments still restrict tiny homes; the lack of a collaborative effort contributes.
Even with minimal research into the tiny house movement, it becomes quite clear that ambiguity exists on many levels. If you think the tiny home construction is a learning curve for the homeowner, imagine the challenge city officials face when trying to regulate these homes. The 2018 International Residential Code defines a tiny home as “a dwelling that is 400 square foot or less in floor area, excluding lofts.” The straightforward guidelines stop at square footage. Intended use, design, number of stories, location and utility hook ups are all factors, among many others, that cloud the ability of city zoning and building departments to create codes and ordinances that accommodate these tiny homes.
This confusion is compounded by the varying groups of people laying claim to these communities for different reasons, with little to no cohesive effort on a local level. Just in the state of Texas, the list is long. There are tiny vacation homes available for rent in the Texas hill country. Then you have tiny homes built by nonprofit groups for the homeless. Additionally, you have traditional homeowners in the suburbs wanting to simply build a granny pod or she shed in their backyards. Tiny house food trucks represent yet another emerging group, adding another complicated layer.
Even with the best intentions and diligent efforts on the part of the city, change within city government takes time. Currently, the American Tiny House Association is laying the groundwork for what they call “tiny-friendly change” in communities throughout America. ATHA volunteers work with local governments to help them craft tiny-friendly ordinances. More collaboration is needed, however, between tiny house groups to push for more tiny-friendly building and zoning changes on the local level.
4. Texas is friendly to tiny house communities.
Texas is expansive, and rural communities are plentiful. These areas outside the city limits are typically not subject to zoning laws. Instead, homeowners comply with land use regulations and landowner rules. In contrast to city ordinance and zoning laws, land use regulations are less restrictive and more conducive to tiny home living.
Since the early 2000s, the tiny house movement has gained a following in Texas. As far back as 2014, the West Texas town of Spur declared itself the tiny house capital of the America when residents voted to do away with all building restrictions. Spur is so popular, city officials created a website, spurfreedom.org, to help newcomers move there. In Austin, Texas, four tiny home communities offer a refreshing alternative to the rising price tag of traditional homes. These lot rental fees range from $350 – $1,000 per month. One of these communities even offers a shared swimming pool, club house and outdoor fire pit. Just last week, city officials in Lake Dallas, Texas, announced plans to move forward with a tiny home village project dedicated to tiny homes on wheels, the first of its kind in America.
If you don’t want to live in any of these communities, don’t worry, Texas is not the only tiny-loving state. North Carolina, Georgia, California, Colorado and Florida are also tiny-friendly. Home search websites can also help you find you the tiny house of your dreams.