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How Do I Get Zoning Passed for Tiny Houses in my Area?

This article on how to get zoning passed for tiny houses is a guest post by Rene’ Hardee ([email protected]) who is head of the Florida chapter of the American Tiny House Association


How do I get zoning passed for Tiny Houses?

Tiny Houses. You’ve heard of them. You’ve watched the shows. You may have read some blogs, or liked a group on Facebook about them. You’re intrigued. Could I really live like that? And the more you watch, and the more you read, the more you answer “yes”. This is new. This is exciting! This challenges the status quo and makes me question my definition of “success” and “living”. I want in. I’m going to do it. I’m building my own Tiny House! So…where can I put it?

And there is it. The unicorn of all questions regarding Tiny Houses… WHERE CAN I PUT IT?

This question has plagued me ever since I got wind of this magnificent movement that is sweeping the Nation. Whenever I asked this question, I usually encountered either one of two answers; a complete avoidance of my question, substituted by more selling as to why I should build a Tiny House, or a lot of uncomfortable silences and eye contact avoidance, peppered with some “wells” and “uhms”. Neither answer was satisfactory for me.

How Do I Get Zoning Passed for Tiny Houses in my Area?

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Set of construction tools. House renovation background.

You see, I am a family of 4; myself, my husband, and our two small children. We both work in the City. We don’t want a long commute. Our kids go to school. We need routine. We need stability. We need to know someone is not going to ask us to move tomorrow.

With no clear answers, I could have called it quits on our Tiny House dream. No one would have blamed me. I could’ve let others blaze the trail, excusing myself as being too busy or risk adverse. Or I could’ve simply waited 20 years until the movement became more mainstream.

But my desire to have a Tiny House didn’t seem to be waning, just growing stronger. So I thought I might hike up my big-girl pants and do something about it. Since there wasn’t a place already designated to put a Tiny House in my City, I decided to actually MAKE a place.

Below is an outline of the steps I took (with some lessons learned inserted) to get a new Tiny House zoning regulation adopted into the city of Rockeldge, FL. They are meant to provide guidance to everyone who wants to build a Tiny House, but doesn’t know where to put it.

1. What are your goals/challenges?

Step To Success

I know this part might sound silly to you, but I really think it’s an important step that is too often glazed over. Ask yourself precisely why you want to live in a Tiny House? What is your motivator? Is it money? A simpler life? Smaller footprint on our Earth? What do you think Tiny House living will achieve for you? Do you want to live on a large plot of land in the middle of nowhere by yourself, or in a city community of like-minded individuals? Off-grid or on-grid? On wheels or on a foundation? What are the challenges you face that Tiny House living will solve? There are no wrong answers here. Once you’ve given this some thought, actually write these things down. On paper.

2. Check your attitude.

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I’ve noticed a general theme floating around the interwebs regarding City Officials…and it’s not very pleasant. It’s one that is ripe with red-tape bureaucracy, power hungry corruptness, and money grubbing employees that are out to shut down the Tiny Housers the first chance they get. However, in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth! Every single interaction I had with my City Officials, be it via email, phone, or in person, was downright delightful! They were responsive, thoughtful, respectful, accommodating, and generally all around helpful with my situation. We really need to remember that they too are human beings, just like us. They have families, tell jokes, eat ice cream, and put their pants on one leg at a time, just like us. And they want to be good at their job, just like us! Their job is to foster a community that meets the needs of its people. You can actually help them be good at their job by letting them know about this new way of living!

The bottom line here; if you go into discussions with an adversarial attitude, don’t expect much cooperation in return. Nobody wants to work with a jerk. And now you’ve done double the harm because you’ve left them with a bad taste in their mouth for all Tiny Housers, and the next person is going to have to overcome that. Remember the old saying, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”!

3. Who’s in charge?

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Now that you know what you want and you’ve put on your happy face, you need to know who you should contact. Luckily for me, my city has its own website with the names, titles, job duties, and contact information of all the City Officials. My city has a Planning Commission with Planning Director and City Planner positions as city employees. If your city doesn’t have a website, a call to City Hall to ask for the name and email address of the person in charge of zoning regulations should suffice.

4. Ask for a meeting.

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This first contact is so important. It sets the tone for the entire interaction, so plan carefully! In my case, I sent an e-mail asking for “help achieving a goal” to the Planning Director. I recommend setting up a face-to-face meeting if you can spare the time.

Tip! – Leave a lot of the details out of the email and maybe avoid the words “Tiny House”…you never know what connotations those words might elicit, especially to a zoning official.

Sample email:

Good morning Mr. Griffin,

My name is Rene’ Hardee and I am a proud citizen of Rockledge Florida!  I would first like to thank you for all the hard work you have dedicated into making this community a great place to live.  I love it here!

I am writing to you today to inquire about meeting/speaking with you concerning building a new home or renovating an existing home in the city.  I have a specific goal in mind for my family, and was hoping to dialogue with you about my options.  Are you available to meet with me sometime next week? 

Thank you for your time!

Regards,

Rene’ Hardee

5. Open the dialogue.

Congratulations on getting a meeting! Now you can really show off that positive attitude you’ve been practicing! I’ve found these tips to be quite helpful for meeting with City Officials:

  • Dress for success. Business attire is appropriate.
  • Give a firm handshake. Even the ladies.
  • Use plenty of eye contact.
  • Address the official by Mr. or Ms. Lastname, unless they tell you not to.
  • Thank them for meeting with you.

Your initial interaction might go something like this:


You: Good Morning, Mr. Griffin! [extend hand] Rene’ Hardee. I know you are very busy, so thank you so much for meeting with me this morning.

Official: Hello Mrs. Hardee. How can I help you today?

This is where you should state your goals/challenges. Remember step 1? These should always remain at the forefront of all your interactions. Share with them the challenges you are facing and ask for their help in achieving your goals. What are your options? Remember, you are looking to them as experts in your City’s regulations. They might have some really good ideas that you didn’t think were possible!

For instance, our family goals are to live a simpler life and have more quality family time. The challenges to this are the maintenance and expense of owning a large home, and the lack of options to legally own a Tiny Home.

All possible solutions that city officials and I brainstormed ran through this “goal filter”. I was constantly asking myself “Does this solution make my life simpler? Does it give me more quality time with my family?” If the answer was no, then it wasn’t the direction we wanted to go, even if it sounded like a good idea (like renovating an existing small house that had been grandfathered in before the zoning regulations existed).

6. Come Prepared

Although your City Zoning Officials are the experts when it comes to knowing what the laws currently allow, YOU may be the expert when it comes to Tiny Houses. Come prepared with facts and figures like sizes, costs, common builders, blogs, shows, websites, organizations, etc. Bring handouts with pictures of your ideas. Knowing some current events in the Tiny House Community and where to point the Officials for more information will gain you respect and clout. I made color printouts of the types of Houses and Neighborhoods I felt would meet our goals. And wouldn’t you know it, those inspiration pictures are just what the city fell in love with. 🙂

7. Ask for follow-up.

The result of this initial meeting may end with a “Let us look into this and we’ll get back to you.” If so, don’t be afraid to ask for specific details so there’s a clear contact date. You don’t want this idea losing momentum, and since you have the vested interest in it perpetuating, you need to keep it going. I was told to follow-up with a letter to the City Manager asking for zoning for a Tiny House. The Zoning Officials felt it would be best if the idea came from a concerned citizen directly. Here is my e-mail to the City Manager and the response I received as an example:

Dear Mr. McKnight, 

My name is Rene’ Hardee and I am a proud citizen of Rockledge Florida!  My husband, Chris, 3 yr old son, Max, and 10 month old son, Sam, and I currently live in a 2000 square foot house in Huntington Lakes.  We love our neighborhood and enjoy our Rockledge Community very much.  We frequent McKnight and McLarty Parks, are regulars at Malibus for Saturday morning pancakes, and look forward to the parades and craft shows that frequent Barton Blvd.  Rockledge is the perfect location for our family; 45 minutes from Orlando airport, 15 minutes to the beach, 15 minutes from my job as a Quality Specialist at Sun Nuclear Corporation in Suntree, 25 minutes from my husband’s job as the IT Specialist at Space Coast Jr. Sr. High in Port St. John, and no more than 30 minutes from almost everywhere else in Brevard County.

The reason I am writing you today is twofold.  First, I would like to thank you for all your years of hard work and dedication devoted to making Rockledge, FL a great place to live and raise a family.  I truly feel like we live in paradise!  Second, I would like to share with you a family goal that we have recently created and would like to ask for your assistance in helping us achieve this goal. 

We would like to build and live in a small home of approximately 500 sq. ft. within the Rockledge city limits.  While we are still several years from realizing this goal, we would like to ask for your consideration in zoning an area for housing of this size.

We have several reasons for wanting to make such a drastic downsizing.  We have come to the realization that we need to simplify our lives. There is too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it all. Because my husband and I both work full time, and because we love the community experience, we spend very little time enjoying our home.  The 2 hours a night we have with our children before their bedtime is spent doing chores to take care of our 2000 square feet and all our stuff. Weekends are spent playing catch-up to all the chores that didn’t get completed during the week.  We currently only use about half our house, but even that is more space than we need.  The maintenance required to take care of such a large house is robbing us of our quality time as a family.

We have too much stuff.  As you may know, the more space you have to put stuff, the more stuff you accumulate. And in the end, your possessions end up owning you. We would like a home that requires us to be choosy about our possessions. We want our children to be less driven by things, and more driven by experiences.  We have begun the process of downsizing our possessions.  We have a whole room full of things to be sold or donated, but there is still much more to be done.

We want to spend more time and money within our community having experiences.  We love going out to eat, but rarely do because most of the money we would spend on meals is spent paying for and maintaining our large house. Freeing up our finances will allow us to spread the wealth, to our local eateries, shops, our church, schools, and shared community amenities, not to mention how much more we could contribute to our own retirement and children’s college fund for a better future.

I would like to be clear that in no way are we looking to evade our civic duty of paying our fair share of property taxes.  Our children will soon be attending the public school system, and we plan on using the shared community facilities even more in the future.  Maybe there is a way we can work out a win-win situation where we can build a small home, but still contribute financially?  

I would love to dialogue with you more about this topic in person if you can spare the time.  I have already met in person with Mr. Griffin and Ms. Bernard during my initial research phase and they were both very welcoming to my inquiries.  

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this letter, Mr. McKnight.  I hope to hear back from you soon!

Regards,

Rene’ Hardee

Below is the response:

Rene’,

First of all, thank you for your kind comments about your city.  It is truly a team effort that starts with the City Council and the policy decisions they make for staff to carry out.  While we have 235 dedicated employees, we also have some wonderful volunteers that a make a big difference every day in our community! 

I think it would be best if we sat down and discussed your concept rather than emailing thoughts back and forth.  It is certainly a request I have never seen, but appears the Hardee family has the right priorities!  Please call and we will set up a time to meet and discuss your ideas.  My Assistant is Margaret and she will arrange a time that best fits your schedule.

Jim McKnight, City Manager

8. Getting on the Planning Commission Agenda

If you’ve done a good job and your City is receptive to the idea of zoning for Tiny Houses, your item will go in front of the Planning Commission. Most cities have periodic Planning Commission meetings, and the frequency will be based on City size. The Rockledge Florida Planning Commission meets the first Tuesday of every month. We have a population of 25,000.

For those that an unfamiliar with your local government operations, all meetings most likely follow Roberts Rules of Order. There will be an agenda, and you will need to get on it if you want to address an agenda item (like your tiny house zoning request). Contact your officials and request to be put on the agenda to address your item. If you did not get on the agenda ahead of time, there may be some speaker cards in the meeting room that you can fill out and turn into the secretary prior to the start of the meeting. When your name is called, move to the podium, state your name and address for the record, and address your item. How much or how little needs to be said will be dependent on any opposition you may face from the Commission members.

9. Going in front of the City Council

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If you are successful in wooing the Planning Commission with your Tiny House charm, the item will then move to the City Council. Same meeting rules apply as before. Because the City Council has many more items to address, keep any speeches to around 30 seconds. The Council has most likely reviewed, researched, and already created an opinion on your item, and they will appreciate your brevity.

In the case of Rockledge, Florida, the City Council voted to move forward with the concept of creating a Tiny House Community. The exact verbiage was worked out by the City Planners over the course of a few months after approval.

10. Finding a developer

This is the stage I am at now! Stay tuned as this project unfolds!

Stay in Touch with Rene’

The best way to get Rene’ Hardee’s updates is by joining her Rockledge Tiny House Community Facebook Group.

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!




{ 47 comments… add one }
  • Kathleen-Florida June 29, 2015, 4:07 pm

    Thanks for this Alex and Rene. This will save a lot of us from having to call Rene directly and attempt to take up tons of her time 😀 hahahaha.

    — Great job Rene!!! As a former resident of Brevard County, Rockledge is a GREAT city AND location to pave the way for the rest of the cities in Florida to get on board with the tiny house movement. You are an inspiration. <3

  • Elaine Walker June 29, 2015, 4:14 pm

    Great article Rene’! You’re a tremendous asset to the American Tiny House Association! Thanks for being our Florida State Chapter Leader!

  • J. Weaver, CBO June 29, 2015, 5:09 pm

    Excellent article Rene’. As a building official myself, a large component of our responsibilities include not only ensuring the public safety of the build environment, but also providing education regarding the laws and regulations in place as well as how to navigate the permitting process. Your article points to many tools in furthering that dialogue and identifying solutions how a jurisdiction and a first time tiny home advocate can work together to accomplish the desired goals. Thank you again.

    • Susi June 29, 2015, 8:08 pm

      Does your Zoning Board make the ordinances up as they go along ?? With all due respect, I highly doubt that. Any Tiny Home Afficionado’s best bet is check town ordinances BEFORE making any Tiny Home purchase. I see that you are a Building Official, not a Zoning Official; these roles have very different purvues, as you likely well know. If a petitioner is a first-time Tiny Home-er for a town, the Zoning Board isn’t going to ‘make up’ a law; that would have to go to the Town Council and would most likely have to be voted on before it could ever be approved to become an ordinance. Your town may have a “dialogue” with petitioners but ours doesn’t. Either the ordinances permit a structure or they don’t, period. There are variances, of course, but that’s a whole other can of worms and can’t be relied on by Tiny Home-ers. I think it’s unkind to lead people on or present misleading “information” making folks think this is an easy process.

    • Rene' Hardee June 30, 2015, 8:35 am

      Hi Susi, I wanted to address this comment,
      “Any Tiny Home Afficionado’s best bet is check town ordinances BEFORE making any Tiny Home purchase.”
      Agreed! This is exactly what I did! I met with my City’s Zoning officials to understand what is/was currently allowed. Then I asked them to please consider changing the zoning to allow for a smaller square footage. They said yes! Then they created new zoning regulations and passed them through the approval process.
      I am confused as to how you think I have been misleading? I think we are both on the same page here.

  • Ruth Vallejos June 29, 2015, 5:24 pm

    This is WONDERFUL! This is the missing step for many people, without which all these thoughts of small housing fall short. Where DO I put these houses? Right now, the only kind of property where small houses can be built are either country parcels in jurisdictions with “easy” regulations, or “infill” parcels in someone’s back yard. The infill parcels set up a slough of questions about shared property or leasing or …. on and on.

    And yet – it would be nice if you could build any size house on any lot. That every neighborhood would be full of houses that fit their families and the way they lived.

  • jim sadler June 29, 2015, 5:38 pm

    I am not so certain that all of the hand shaking and dialogue should be a factor at all. In essence when one buys land one should be allowed to build almost anything upon it. I live very close to the area in question and have seen a certain things must stay the same type of attitude. I do think that since the area has frequent hurricanes that some really strict wind codes must be in place to protect neighborhoods. Wood is now usually avoided as wooden dwellings do tend to fail in storms. Metal frames and strong metal exteriors might make tiny homes more acceptable particularly if they are still in place when regular buildings disassemble themselves during storms.

  • Bill Dodds June 29, 2015, 6:51 pm

    Excellent submission! Bravo!
    Perfect synopsis of what needs to happen.
    What doesn’t need to happen is, a bunch of yahoo’s going before the powers to be and a whaling and moaning before they think it thru.
    If the governing bodies don’t respond favorably then perhaps a more firm political movement should address the issue thru their elected officials.
    Here in Oregon for example, We had established facts RE: Standardized Testing in public schools, presented them to teachers and parents and the politicians.
    With bipartisan support, we now we have ‘Opt Out’, for those who wish not to participate in Standardized Testing.
    I am looking for like minded people in the Gresham Oregon area who want to join me in an effort to try and establish some ground rules RE: Tiny Housing My cell # is 503 577 8517
    I have worked with building director for Gresham, Eric Schmidt before and found him to be fair and understanding.
    Feel free to call me and lets get started. Thanx, Bill

  • Susi June 29, 2015, 7:02 pm

    Being a Zoning Board Official in my town, I’d want to say the positive attitude is wonderful to encounter but won’t bend town ordinances one whit, nor will the hyped-happy emails and handshakes. What WILL work: have fully drawn schematics of your tiny house plans, along with several photos of front/back/sides of your tiny house model printed out. Make as many copies of these as there are Board Members. Also have very well-defined & detail-specific drawings and plans for how you’ll handle septic and other utilities, such as rubbish collection and recycling or alternative energy and whether it’s off-grid or grid-tied. If you’re using a composting toilet, for example, take literature from the company you’re buying from, completely explaining the toilet; don’t assume a zoning official will know anything about it or how it operates. Have an exact plan drawn out for grey-water handling if you’re doing it, along with photos of your grey-water storage structure. Have the exact dimensions ( height-length-depth) of your Tiny House, both set on a cement pad as well as left on it’s wheels and wheels covered with wooden lattice or other aesthetically-pleasing wheel covering. The more specific you are, the shorter the turnaround will be on your petition. There are filing fees in most towns to present a petition to build or renovate or add a structure, is usually a couple hundred dollars. Call and ASK what the fee is, don’t wear out your town official with a bunch of emails. These decisions are made by committee, meaning emailing more than once is a waste of the town officials’ time, and since the majority of them are either volunteers or get only a tiny stipend for their work ( which is in addition to their “regular” employment), it’s rude to bog them down with multiple emails, and one person isn’t going to make the decision anyway. Most towns have very stringent rules about mobile homes and where they can be placed and if it has wheels, I guarantee you the town will call it “mobile”, so prepare for that. Educate yourself on the town ordinances regarding “mobile” home ordinances for your town. Your best bet ? Buy the land, in most instances you’ll have infinitely more leeway if you own the land. You don’t have to buy a state park, even a half acre will most likely do but check your town’s ordinances FIRST. Don’t just go out and buy a tiny house when you don’t have a place to put it and assume they’ll have to let you place it in the city; they do not have to. Also, in the majority of towns, it will not be a Town Council that makes these decisions but a Zoning Board or Zoning Committee. Call your town hall and ask who you need to go before and ask the procedure for filing a petition to put a small home or tiny home on land or leasing land for it. As a Zoning Official I STRONGLY recommend you use the correct term, ‘Tiny House”, don’t try to camouflage it or initially make it seem something other than it is, you’ll only irritate the very people you want to approve your petition and give them the impression your information isn’t credible. Just the facts. That works beautifully. At the end of the day your petition to bring a Tiny House into your town will depend solely on town ordinances. Sure, it’s great to work with a petitioner who is positive but don’t delude yourself into believing that will magically sway town officials into permitting a structure there may be specific ordinances against. CALL YOUR TOWN ZONING BOARD AND ASK IF THERE ARE REGS FOR/AGAINST TINY HOUSES BEFORE YOU BUY !!!! You don’t have to say anything more than that. Then get the filing form, fill it out, pay the fee and submit it. See what your town says before you make such a purchase; it could end quite badly for you otherwise. Renee wrote a beautiful article, but in all honesty it’s quite misleading. I wanted to give you a Zoning Official’s perspective so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot. I am VERY much in favor of Tiny Homes and will be voting yes if a petition for one ever comes before us, but it’s all in the ordinances, so know that in advance. Well-informed and meticulously prepared will go a long way toward getting your petition approved, assuming your town doesn’t already have ordinances against tiny houses. Hoping this helps all you Tiny House Lovers out there ! 🙂

    • Rene' Hardee June 30, 2015, 8:23 am

      Thanks for your insight, Susi! I documented my encounters with my City Officials exactly as they happened, so I don’t feel I am misleading anyone. New zoning regulations can happen as exactly as described 🙂
      I completely understand your point about coming prepared though. The more prepared you are, the more credible you look!
      If you already own a Tiny House on Wheels, then you absolutely must be up front with exactly what you want. Sounds like you may be speaking from experience, Susi?
      In my case, I had no ulterior motives except to begin the dialogue about what our options were for building/renovating a smaller house on a foundation.

    • Seth June 13, 2016, 1:53 am

      Susi,

      Since you are a zoning official, I’d love nothing more than to ask you a few questions about all these topics. Would you be willing to share your e-mail with me? If so, please contact me at schy[dot]seth[at]gmail[dot]com (Pardon the bracketed punctuation, just don’t want my e-mail address being poached.) Briefly, my wife and I would like to build a THOW, buy a parcel of land, and then live full time in our THOW on our own land.

      Regardless of your reply, I appreciate you taking the time to read this!

  • Local Official June 29, 2015, 8:06 pm

    Great article! Especially if you need to get changes to local zoning, this is a good way to go about it. Keep in mind it may take several years — our local bicycle advocacy group spent about 8 years showing up at city council meetings and advocating for bikes and meeting with officials, but now there are bike lanes mandated in every road renovation!

    In general, the more information you can give me, the better I can advocate for you. And my personal pet peeve is people who start their letter asking for my assistance, “As a taxpayer …” It’s local government, we’re funded by sales taxes and property taxes, even illegal immigrants and 10-year-olds are paying taxes to us. It is not the killer claim you think it is! I prefer things like, “As a committed resident of the Transitional Neighborhood” or “As a champion of the New Urbanist policies in the Urbanist District.”

  • Dave June 30, 2015, 3:16 am

    I’m curious about “normal” rules and regulations for tiny home communities regarding parking, number of vehicles, outbuildings for storage or a garage, carports, etc.

    I love the idea of living in a tiny home–currently my family of 6 plus 2 dogs lives in a 2 bed/2 bath 1270 square foot house, and I doubt we could truly live small with 4 kids all 4 or under, but I sure do like the idea of being mortgage free and applying that money to shared experiences together.

    Thanks for the site, Alex, and for the daily email. I thoroughly enjoy all your hard work.

  • Lisa Fail June 30, 2015, 8:56 am

    Congratulations to Rene and kudos to the planning and zoning boards of Brevard County and the city of Rockledge for their forward thinking. Please feel us posted.

  • Susi June 30, 2015, 1:34 pm

    “I am confused as to how you think I have been misleading? I think we are both on the same page here.” ( Renee)

    —because your experience is absolutely the exception, not the rule. In most towns all the positive attitude and handshaking and stating of personal goals will make zero difference in the outcome. ‘Fact-stacking’ and being thoroughly/meticulously prepared, however, may help convince a town governance that they might need to reconfigure their ordinances, which is a lengthy and involved process in most towns, but could be accomplished over time. As more town boards are faced with more petitioners who want tiny homes, they will eventually be obliged to re-visit the ordinances. Understand, personally I am very much in favor of this movement; it makes sense on so many levels and could eventually solve a looming housing crisis. As a Zoning Official I can have a positive impact on the process, but that by no means guarantees the rest of the Board would make that leap with me, and even if they did, it still has to be crafted into an actual ordinance, which costs the town $$$, town attorney is involved, Town Council meetings must be held, town hearings ( property abutters) by law MUST be given the opportunity to speak for/against this movement in their town and then ordinances may be eventually drafted. Note I say MAY be. It is a long, arduous process. Your experience was exceptional, I’d even call it remarkable. You are leading a charmed life from a Zoning Official’s perspective and I’m genuinely happy for you and your family. The misleading part is to give any potential Tiny Home-er out there the impression that they can send a few letters and emails, make a “positive attitude presentation” and somehow arrive at the end of the rainbow. It just doesn’t work like that, wish it did. Towns are basically contained businesses; they craft ordinances that serve the best interest of the collective, both for the present and the future, but not the individual interest in many, many cases. Alot of hard, committed work must be done to demonstrate to town councils and zoning boards that tiny homes are not going to have a deleterious impact on their town infrastructure or economic growth. There’s not even a tax system in place in most towns for tiny homes. I am trying to illustrate that this is a complex matter and will take time and patience to sort out to everyone’s satisfaction. The market appetite for Tiny Homes has far outdistanced the ability of towns to address it. It doesn’t have an easy fix and your article, although extremely well-written and positive, could inadvertently encourage someone to dive in without doing the massive due diligence that’s mandatory for this movement to have success. I don’t think it’ll be anything near “twenty years” as you say in your article, but it will take time and some towns may just not want these in their city limits. Nowhere in your article do you say “Don’t buy a tiny home before you thoroughly investigate your town’s ordinances”. Nowhere do you say “You must be prepared for a big, fat “no”. Your advice about emailing is also misleading. You encouraged people to not use the term “tiny house”, when that is precisely what they need to say. You encourage them to send emails to town officials when that is totally unwarranted and could actually be counter-productive. They should check their town’s website if they have one or just call the Town Clerk’s office and ask for the Zoning Board or Zoning Officer, leave him/her a voicemail if they’re not in. The question to him/her should simply be: “I want to buy a tiny house and put it here in our town. I’d like to know what the ordinances regarding that are, and if I can then go forward with filing a petition with the Zoning Board to be heard”. Period. No dissertation on what your personal goals are or writing out happy affirmations are going to change the outcome of that question and answer. You can present all the rest of the things
    ( strictly factual: photos/ dimensions/drawings/schematics/utilities/waste handling etc etc) you need to say when your petition is heard. There is every possibility the Zoning Officer or Zoning Board will tell you “no”, and then you’ll have to start working on helping your town/state representatives to see this movement as a positive thing for all concerned. That’s what is misleading about your article. Your experience is absolutely NOT the norm and your success is extraordinary, to put it mildly. That doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t TRY, only that they should respect the process and go through it by the numbers and be completely, realistically prepared for an outcome that may not be what they’re hoping for. If you want to effect a positive outcome for Tiny Home-ers, present ways people can go above the town council’s ‘head’, so to speak, to the state, to get representatives to care about this movement and the positive impact it could have on towns and states. They should only do that if the town has given them an unequivocal “no” answer, however. Otherwise, work first with your Town Council to try to draft ordinances favorable to Tiny Homes; find other towns that permit Tiny Homes, get copies of their ordinances and present them to your town. THAT is what will get this situation turned around, not affirmations and emails. I feel so strongly about this that I may volunteer to write an article myself for “Tiny House Talk”. Please grasp that I am not about attacking you, Renee, but in assisting Tiny Home-ers into getting what they want and need. There is a prescribed method for doing that and to suggest otherwise is, sorry, mis-leading, mo matter what your uncanny personal experience with this was.

    • Rene' Hardee June 30, 2015, 9:51 pm

      Susi, thank you so much for your thorough reply! As a city zoning official, I value your opinion and experience very much! I only have my own experience as an example of what can be done, and I decided to share it in hopes it would be of some help. Since we have the same goals, I hope you do write a blog post from your perspective so more people can be prepared to begin dialogues with City Zoning Officials!
      I would like to clarify a few things:
      1) When I started this process of talking to my City Officials, I had no clue of how anything worked. None. So I asked for a meeting, shared my side of the story, and then asked a TON of questions. They were so patient with me. At the time, I was very open to their suggestions on how to accomplish our family goals; meaning, I was not deliberately “trying to pull a fast one” over the city. We discussed renovating existing housing that had been grandfathered in, the technicalities of what constitutes a “kitchen”, what counts towards square footage, maybe building two small houses connected by a covered walkway, etc. Lots of discussion and possibilities! I was grateful for their time, and at their behest, I wrote the City Manager. My large house challenges struck a chord with the City Manager, and we ended up with the new zoning as a solution. I personally don’t think I would’ve been successful here if I would’ve remained “all business” as you suggest.
      2) Although you categorize my experience as “extraordinary” I do not in any way want to diminish all the effort that my city officials have put forth towards this endeavor. Their movement was swift, but deliberate. They researched, then researched some more. They watched the shows. They read the blogs. They met, discussed, drafted, edited, voted, discussed again, redrafted, revoted. If getting zoning changed is as complicated as you say it is, then Rockledge City Officials should be praised for their ability to work so cohesively and quickly. I am very proud that Rockledge is braving the uncharted territory of Tiny House zoning. Our Officials care. They responded to their people. They exemplify their position.
      Maybe Rockledge is at the end of the rainbow?

  • Mr Burlesk June 30, 2015, 3:51 pm

    I have bookmarked this article (and its comments, especially) for further reference since I have a feeling the dialogue about the process described here isn’t over — and may need further elucidation. Despite the ultra-positive nature of René’s article, I found Susi’s comments particularly noteworthy for their pragmatic and informative bent. I’m not in the market for a tiny home…yet. I’m at the “fascinated” and “curious” stage while exploring online and collecting as much information as I can about this new “movement” and its living options. As with any home the bottom line is always: location, location, location. Even if you’re a nomad and your location is technically “mobile,” you have to have a destination (which = location). I would love to see more articles about the subject presented here, and hear from more Zoning Officials (and others involved in the process involved in granting Tiny Homes places to live). What I liked most about René’s approach were: 1) Doing a bit of soul searching and listing your Tiny House Goals (the “whys” about one’s desire for a Tiny Home — they’re bound to be different for each one of us); 2) Having — and presenting — a good attitude toward Town Officials versus being “adversarial;” and 3) Sharing your experience (be it good or bad) with other potential Tiny House owners. However, there is nothing as valuable as hearing how things work from the side of the officials who are willing to share their expertise and candor about the zoning process. I hope Susi will write an article for this blog — and share her article with other Tiny House blogs so potential Tiny House owners will best understand How Things Work (and Why They Work The Way They Do).

  • Bernie Winter June 30, 2015, 9:20 pm

    Hi there Susi,

    Thanks for your thoughtful article.

    For us living in rural Australia, it illustrates the value of a top-down approach rather than the bottom up approach you suggest. The tiny movement now needs to mobilise and build political influence at the highest legislative level (for us at national level), rather than cycle through many iterations of dealing with individual city councils. Without that level of influence, potential tiny people will continue to disappear under regulator’s sight rather than contribute and build the wider movement … enjoy the unfolding …

  • Warren July 1, 2015, 10:04 am

    Very interesting article. Years ago when I became interested in building a tiny house I walked into the city offices in my home town (Davis, CA) and asked if it was possessible. The person I talked to at the counter said no. I gave up and for years after told other people that I had already tried and so you don’t need to waste your time. Now I wonder how things would have gone if I had tried a more organized approach like this? It’s interesting to me that some comments seem to imply that the author is too positive? Seems to me that she is a very organised person who just happens to have a positive attitude and from my experience in dealing with city officials there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • Alex July 1, 2015, 11:34 am

      Great comment, Warren, nice to witness someone being so honest about themselves. I agree. How you approach makes a huge difference. And bringing a bad attitude about codes, enforcement, zoning, etc. to the table will just reinforce the bad beliefs we might have. Having negative beliefs about officials whom we’ve likely never even met sets us up for failure. Rene’ is sharing an amazing example of what it takes to get it right whether we like it or not, LOL

  • dea July 1, 2015, 12:36 pm

    Thank you everyone, so good to see intelligent conversation! I have gone the no route in my area little more than a year ago, and now I have seen an even larger growth in the TH community movement, so i will use several considerations brought up in the postings here to provide more validation and support (I’m sure I did not have enough) though I did raise some inquisitive eyebrows it was not enough then to achieve the goals, which was redesignating/rezoning(rather adding another code to the list)for vacant land re use. The city did not know what to do with several odd parcels and not necessarily in great neighborhoods, more on the fringes but the TH are perfect for them and for revitalization… The article & comments here gave me a few more ways to put some power in my approach next time at the board will be much better!

  • Mady-Panhandle July 15, 2015, 9:35 pm

    Congrats on getting the zoning passed! I’m hoping to be start my tiny house journey in 2016, but want to be fully legal, so hearing that you were able to get the zoning laws changed was great news!

  • Evie November 29, 2015, 2:01 am

    Very educational, a needed education. Still confused about one point:
    What is the difference between a mobile home/prefab and a same shape custom built, permanent tiny home? I live in Northern NJ, willing to live in the outskirts of suburbia. Can I not buy a piece of land, buy my mobile custom made Tiny home( 400sq feet), and like prefab mobile home owners simply place my home on my property? Are there no outskirts in the US East Coast, that allow for mixed dwellings? I understand wheels changing the outcome, but many modern TH are being built exactly like older boxie prefab mobile homes but with more options and so much more beauty. Also many are using compost toilets no need to dig up a hole. And solar panels, batteries, rain catch systems ect.. making this new type of living, clean, easier to install, beauty, modern and a beautiful positive addition to any neighborhood. Advice.

    • Rene' Hardee December 22, 2015, 2:43 pm

      Mobile homes are recognized and federally regulated by HUD to be acceptable forms of permanent dwelling units. They follow standards and guidelines regarding size, construction, and safety conformities to ensure the health and safety of residents in and surrounding the mobile home. A THOW can be constructed by anyone who can swing a hammer. There are no regualtions or assurances that it has been built to a certain standard. A municipality has an obligation to its residents to ensure it is a safe living environment for its dwellers, and those surrounding it.

      • Evie Aguia December 22, 2015, 4:30 pm

        Thank you Ms. Hardee,
        If I understand your reply, I need to be sure of the standards of how my home will be built. Understandably for my safety. Assuming for a minute this scenario:
        I buy a simple pre-fab, can I place that pre-fab home anywhere besides a trailer park? let’s please assume that it’s HUD approved. Thank you Evie..

        • Rene' Hardee January 26, 2016, 2:53 pm

          You can place a pre-fab home anywhere your City has zoned it as appropriate.

  • Paul Wehrmeister December 17, 2015, 8:28 pm

    Thank you so much For the article. I actually have been looking into this myself you’re a lot farther along than I have gotten. I’m looking into Mobile homes.In Illinois mobile homes are 320 square feet or more. If you were to make a tiny home that is 320 square feet on a trailer it is actually considered a mobile home. So for those not looking for something under 300 square feet you actually can get permits and approval for making a home on a trailer or two trailers made into one tiny home, this is called a double widewide, at 320 square feet mobile home. It’s quite interesting what I found so far I’ll try leaving more when I have the chance. Thank you again for your article I’m going to use it to try something like that here in Illinois.

    • Rene' Hardee January 26, 2016, 3:00 pm

      You are most welcome.
      Just keep in mind that “mobile home” means something very specific to HUD and it highly regulated in its construction. Just because you put wheels on something and it is within the size limits doesn’t mean it meats the standard of a mobile home.
      HUD Definition:
      “Manufactured home” means a structure, transportable in one or more sections, which in the traveling mode is 8 body feet or more in width or 40 body feet or more in length or which when erected on-site is 320 or more square feet, and which is built on a permanent chassis and designed to be used as a dwelling with or without a permanent foundation when connected to the required utilities, and includes the plumbing, heating, air-conditioning, and electrical systems contained in the structure. This term includes all structures that meet the above requirements except the size requirements and with respect to which the manufacturer voluntarily files a certification pursuant to §3282.13 of this chapter and complies with the construction and safety standards set forth in this part 3280.
      Source here: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=a2c5655a37054c584f7dd6a0ed240fb8&node=pt24.5.3280&rgn=div5#se24.5.3280_1102

  • Rico December 18, 2015, 12:46 pm

    I plan on building a small, 400 sq ft. home on skids in my current home’s back yard. I have a half acre in an unincorporated area that is already on well and septic. There are many areas such as this that don’t have a town building department and are quite lax in what is allowed on the property. I plan to live in this small home in retirement and rent out my primary home for monthly income as it is almost paid off.

    I think if people look more at unincorporated and rural areas, you may find many possibilities for locating smaller buildings as long as they comply with county or state building codes and are designed to fit well with the neighborhood. Nobody is going to want regular mobile homes in their neighborhood.

  • Kay December 26, 2015, 1:09 pm

    Thank you Renee for sharing your experience, it was informative. Thank you also Susi for sharing your official perspective. I think we can learn from both of you. I live in the Orlando, FL area and there are a few tiny homes that have been featured on this site or on some of the temporary home rental sites.

  • Mike H January 8, 2016, 7:07 pm

    Hi Rene, Has it been discussed what the nature of the tiny house community is? If I missed it I apologize. Are these lots that people can buy and build a tiny house upon, or is this a community where people can pay lot rent and park their tiny house on?

    • Rene' Hardee January 26, 2016, 3:10 pm

      Lots will be purchased. Houses will be built by the same builder to keep costs low and maintain the same aesthetic. Follow the progress here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/909633985742545/

      • Mike H January 26, 2016, 4:14 pm

        That sounds great. I was worried that what you had essentially done was to create a tiny house trailer lot/rv park. Tiny house property is exactly what the tiny house movement needs. I look forward to watching your progress. Best wishes!

  • Alan Wells January 9, 2016, 10:10 am

    The old adage is that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.

    As I don’t suffer fools gently (government officials), this avenue wouldn’t work well for me. And they care about only two things: power, money. The entrenched interests (current homeowners, property developers, banks, lawyers, real estate agents, zoning, building and taxing departments…. it’s hopeless.

  • Lynn July 28, 2016, 8:39 am

    Loved the article. We have land and would like to share it with aobut 4 tiny homes. We are older and do not want to do all the zoning work, but would love to share our rural area. Any suggestions for finding someone to do the Community work and help us share.

    • Rene Hardee October 12, 2016, 11:27 am

      I know you say you don’t want to “do the zoning work”, but really it’s just having a conversation with city officials. Ask them to consider allowing Tiny Houses and what process needs to be followed to change any regulations. The city officials will do the law modifications; you are just bringing the subject to their attention 😉

  • Keri August 20, 2017, 11:29 pm

    I have picked out my builder and home. Love it! I picked out a bunch of land to look at in a peaceful, woodsy area in north central Wisconsin. And….you can only “camp” during the summer months and then have to remove your RV. And…you have to have a minimum 800 sq. ft. in some places. And, and, and….. Ughh. So, someone suggested I follow you when I asked if anyone has ever been successful in getting zoning changed to allow in Tiny Homes as a permanent dwelling. I absolutely do not want to leave winter behind and go to another state that is more Tiny Home friendly. I love my state. I love the seasons (not so much summer). Zoning is concerned about RVs not being able to winter well and also because they are not built for full time living. If that is their main concern, it might be pretty easy to educate them on the structure of the Tiny Home, especially since my builder is right in Wisconsin, not too far from where I’m looking to buy land and live. Reading your information here has encouraged me. I think and hope that my local Tiny Home builder (25 years experience and very high quality) could even be a good advocate.

  • Brian November 2, 2017, 7:38 am

    This is a very interesting article. This is the first time I have seen the tax base question asked. In my area the main reason for minimum size requirements is to preserve the tax base. I see you acknowledged the concern. How was it addressed? Was the affect on surrounding property values addressed?
    Thanks!

  • Steve in Micco November 16, 2017, 6:30 am

    Rene’, thank you so much for your efforts up in Rockledge (go Raiders!). As a former home owner there, I share your passion for the city. Rockledge has had a storied, but oft times bizzare history, going back even to the 1880s. I miss those old heady days when we had a Sears, a Wal-Mart and a K-Mart. We knew we had arrived! But sadly, we definitively fell on some hard times.

    So where, if I may ask, are you now in this process? Has the city designated a specific area for tiny homes they would prefer? Seems the ideal spots would be along the US-1 corridor with the “graveyard” of abandoned businesses, now seemingly (and sadly) in hopeless disrepair.

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