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Tiny Houses Now Legal in Portland?

The answer is, not really! The truth is that tiny houses on wheels and RV’s parked on residential properties are simply being tolerated while parked on residential property in Portland, Oregon for the time being.


In other words, they’re de-prioritizing code enforcement in these cases because changing the law is complicated (so this is a temporary solution for tiny dwellers in Portland). Please learn more, see what you may be able to do to help, and spread the word below. Thanks!

Will Other Cities Do The Same Thing and ‘Tolerate Tiny’?

What do you think? Is this a good solution? Do you see it spreading?

Do you think this is a step in the right direction or could this backfire somehow?

Learn more using the links below. Thanks!


Resources

  1. Are Tiny Houses Legal in Portland Now? Not Exactly, But They’re “Allowed”
  2. Tiny House Eviction Stay Guidelines
  3. Portland Will Allow Overnight RV Camping and Tiny Homes on Private Property
  4. Portland deprioritizes fining people for sleeping in RVs, tiny homes on private property

Our thanks to Lina Menard (Niche Design Build), Billy Ulmer (PAD Tiny Houses), Dan George (ESCAPE), and Randy Woodman (TruFormTiny) for sharing!

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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!




{ 19 comments… add one }
  • jb October 26, 2017, 11:31 am

    I hope the zone laws in many places change; but in most places; I would not hold my breath waiting for that to happen. Too many big foot home owners want nothing but other big buck monster homes around them.

  • Peter Matheson Peter Matheson October 26, 2017, 11:44 am

    Hi Alex. Great discussion. For your readers from Canada, this link is a good resource regarding current practices for THOW parking: http://www.thetinyhousefestival.com/

  • Bill Burgess October 26, 2017, 12:55 pm

    Zoning is always an issue. With a simple ADU clause amendment, 90% of the issue could be resolved. You don’t have to change a whole law just an amendment and get on with life. But those same Purist Police don’t seem to like the Poor or People of Color….So 35 million Americans will have to live under an overpass or a tarp someplace away from their sight….

    • James D. October 27, 2017, 11:15 am

      I disagree that 90% of the issue could be resolved by simply allowing ADU’s…

      Not all ADU’s can be used as rent-able properties and those that can’t only help immediate family members, for example.

      ADU’s are also tied to the property and thus can’t be sold separately and that means it’s no different than renting an apartment as unless you own the whole property then you won’t own the ADU, only rent it… While those who rent out the big house doesn’t address the issue of a system that is still forcing people to own big houses and won’t help those who can’t afford to own both a big house and a Tiny House…

      ADU’s also won’t replace apartments in ever more congested cities and that won’t address the growing need for more flexible housing options everywhere.

      Nor does ADU future proof us from an ever growing population and how housing demands will someday go beyond what ADU’s can address…

      I do believe ADU’s would be a major step in the right direction and would address the needs of many for now but we still need to push for more reform to address the needs of everyone else.

      This is not to say Tiny Houses on wheels are a cure all either, it’s obviously not, but we actually need multiple, and preferably interchangeable, solutions if we are to truly have a system of housing that can be flexible and adaptive enough to address the needs of everyone and efficiently address every possible living situation people may have, both now and going forward…

      • Bill Burgess October 27, 2017, 1:05 pm

        Perhaps I should rephrase that. An ADU Type Amendment could also mean just a Tiny Home amendment that could be added to Zoning in some states as the ADU amendment was added. Not changing Zoning, just adding to it?
        The very idea that a Congress that has not approved REAL Low Income Housing since the 1980’s will suddenly see a problem or have an urge to stop obeying their OWNERS and do what needs to be done is unrealistic.
        In places like Vancouver, the waiting list to be considered for Section-8 Housing is a three-year wait minimum….But there is some limited income housing if you fall below the less than 50% average area income levels…If you happen to fall in the income level just above the poverty level, usually the housing starts around $ 1295 for a one or two bedroom…Plus utilities…
        Don’t get me wrong, there is new five to twenty story Low-Income structures being built, you just have to be in that 50% below the average wage level to get into a unit and the Idea you could need housing if your social security put you at 55% below the average wage level is just too bad….

  • Hunter-Grace October 26, 2017, 2:04 pm

    i for one can not understand what codes and zoning are afraid of. who pays their salary’s anyway? US! that’s who. people need to flex a little muscle and go one on one with these politicians. Standing up for our rights is the right thing to do.Or else the bully’s in office will run all of our lives, just like Washington is trying to do now.

    • James D. October 27, 2017, 10:52 am

      Hunter-Grace, it has a lot to do with property values and how our society views property similar to how many would view stock options…

      Mind, as a nation, we have invested 30-40 percent of our entire net wealth into real estate. So for many owning a house is akin to a 401K plan…

      So part of the problem is most existing home owners don’t want anything that could possibly hurt their property values and we have decades of rules and regulations designed specifically to do exactly that…

      This of course has lead to many of the problems with modern housing because the concern for property value has grown to the exclusion of most other concerns and those in charge are mainly simply protecting that system and what they see is the concern for the majority.

      There’s of course also the misinformation that people have been indoctrinated into believing. Like property value always rises when that really ebbs and flows with the economy, that it’s always a secure investment when events like the housing bubble crash proved it’s not, that anything but complete conformity will lead to devaluing of property, that the only way to happiness is to own a big home, etc.

      So whenever new ideas are presented they’re usually automatically rejected as anything difference is assumed to be wrong and even bad.

      It doesn’t help that historic examples, such as mobile/trailer homes have been stereotyped as promoting drugs, neighborhood blight, unclean and messy conditions, poor construction, homes for societies undesirables and the poor and homeless.

      All of which only re-enforces the conception that anything different is automatically wrong and even bad and thus is a stigma that plagues Tiny Houses.

      Add most people today don’t know much about construction and how it can actually effect the cost/value of a structure, they don’t actually known what is livable and assume downsizing automatically means suffering, they don’t realize how anti-social our society is becoming where most people don’t even know their neighbors anymore, or how many people are living much harder lives than there should ever be a reason to with all the resources we have available… Giving you a situation where most people simply have no reason to consider alternatives seriously.

      Needless to say this is a system and mindset that’s a major roadblock to any real change but the more and more people who are becoming aware of the reality of the housing market and how it is not serving the needs of everyone, and even causing growing number of problems, then the more progress will be made to real reform.

      The simple fact the existing system is ultimately unsustainable and will eventually collapse will eventually become all too apparent… Just hopefully before the next housing crash…

      Though, concern of property value won’t just go away and thus has to be addressed to really remove most of the roadblocks to proper reform.

      But many advocating for Tiny Houses to be legal are taking that into account and proposing ways it can be done to help everyone get what they want and thus there has been some progress as resistance is slowly removed…

      Options such as ADU’s, for example, are increasingly being allowed even in areas otherwise intolerant of alternative options… The creation of options like micro-communities and showing that Tiny Houses and the big houses can co-exist and that there can even be mutual benefit is helping to change minds and get more and more support for change… Among other factors that are starting to show the real benefits of alternatives solutions…

      It’s just a slow process but big change usually is and we just have to keep at it until it happens…

  • Veronica Cavanaugh October 26, 2017, 2:12 pm

    I heard Portland was going to start housing the homeless in Tiny Houses. Is that true?

    • James D. October 27, 2017, 4:00 pm

      Yes, Kenton Women’s Village actually already started back in June and there’s ten similar micro-communities across the nation so far, with more that should be in service by next year.

      Federal and state cuts to social services and affordable housing programs, combined with Portland’s growing homeless population — up 9.9% since 2015 — have spurred officials to look more closely at the village model. Other cities, such as San Jose and Seattle, either have homeless villages or are considering them.

      There’s still a lot that needs to be done, the pods/tiny houses they’re using are extremely basic and many need more than just a roof over their heads as Sixty-one percent of the county’s homeless population — 4,177 people by a recent count — report living with disabilities such as a mental illness, chronic physical condition or addiction.

      Though, some of these micro community villages are helping to change minds and grow acceptance, as they help promote safer and cleaner streets and nearby residence are starting to see those there as people rather than just a problem.

  • mary October 26, 2017, 3:53 pm

    Does anyone know of other areas in either TN, NC or SC that are legal for tiny homes

    • James D. October 26, 2017, 7:25 pm

      In Aiken County, SC there’s a compromise rule in place that as long as the property is at least 2 acres in size, at least 50 feet away from a public road, and the Tiny House is the only structure on the property then it’s allowed…

      Wilmington, NC and Winston-Salem, NC have started to inch towards Tiny House acceptance but there’s still numerous limitations…

      Jackson, NC has guidelines for Tiny Houses…

      https://www.jacksonnc.org/_literature_231471/2016_Tiny_House_Brochure

      In Tennessee, there’s a number of Tiny House Communities being open where you can rent a space and live there full time but otherwise…

      Dandridge, TN is starting to give approval for Tiny Houses on foundations… While Etowah, TN did the opposite and is banning them.

      Some zones in Nashville can accept Tiny Houses as a ADU, has to look like the primary building and other requirements… Otherwise you can legally own one but not live in it…

      Knoxville, TN has some guidelines…

      http://www.knoxvilletn.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_109478/File/PlansReviewsInspections/tiny_homes_guidelines.pdf

      All of this is ongoing and changing, with differences in nearly every county. So you’d have to check with the specific one you want to be sure about…

  • Mary October 27, 2017, 12:51 pm

    Zoning is a health and safety measure. There are numerous issues with zoning and building codes. They are adopted from time; but can be modified by local governments.
    Big houses have all kinds of support; but not with dwindling of building materials, knowledgeable workers and tradesmen and land and growing need for easy housing with busy work lives people are doing what they have to do and eventually, hopefully the governing laws will eventually accept change.
    Your specific inspector or official has last word. They have some subjective wiggle room. Don’t challenge or hassle them. Keep asking “How can I do this”, What if we do this? Some are helpful, some are not. You can appeal to Head of Inspections and/or appeal board, do your home work. Make it as easy as possible to say yes. They don’t like disagreements any better than you do. PS New traditional home builders do not necessarily make good tiny home builders.

  • Paula Philips October 27, 2017, 4:07 pm

    It all boils down to money and who gets it – City, State, County or Feds and how they can collect taxes/permit fees, levy fines, dictate codes and maintain control over your living situations – it is one of the reasons there is the high degree of homelessness in this country. Slowly affordable housing is disappearing. No one is being allowed to address the issues surrounding this because there has to be money collected by officials for living here. Usury, Taxation without Representation and certain code and taxes used to be illegal…

  • Alison October 27, 2017, 6:48 pm

    Don’t forget about the cost of infrastructure. With greater density you’ll need to upgrade the sewers and treatment plants (are there any urban areas that allow composting toilets?). Someone has to pay for that. A tiny house with two residents might use as much water as a larger house with two residents. There are traffic and fire safety issues. People should not be required to build large houses. But just because a house is small does not mean it has no impact.

    • James D. October 27, 2017, 10:08 pm

      Those are some of the arguments used against them but they’re mostly not true.

      Smaller houses require less resources and can be much more energy efficient than bigger houses and can even exceed LEED certified standards.

      Though, there are some valid issues but they’re mostly because the existing system isn’t designed to accept many alternatives and insists on the maintaining the existing infrastructure as it is presently structured.

      Some of this also ignore what is possible with modern technology like there’s no real reason why an address can’t be mobile now when we can have GPS and other real time ways to determine a location. So things like emergency services can quickly locate and get to those in need.

      All relevant data can be handled securely in a similar manner as Bitcoins with block chains. So such a system can be extremely secure and still provide privacy.

      Systems like composting toilets can actually be modernized with septic system like infrastructure that actually flush but with a fraction of the resources and maintenance requirements and virtually none of the environmental impacts sewer and septic systems impose.

      A diversified infrastructure that has just about everyone with solar and other alternative energy sources would be far more bullet proof and future proof than the existing monolithic systems that have proven so unreliable when we really need them.

      Along with the ability to function off-grid helps ensure when outages happen that they are localized and quickly remedied.

      We are basically no longer limited by the limitations we had in the last century but we have yet to actually employ these newer options in our housing system and related infrastructure.

      There’s also the point on materials used in construction… Many natural material structures have lasted for centuries compared to many modern structures that start significantly deteriorating within the first decade, along with using and releasing many toxic elements into our environment that have only accumulated over the years.

      Like how many of our pharmaceuticals have found their way into a residential water system to often alarming levels.

      Options like rain catchment to handle things like gardening and other non drinkable usages would significantly reduce the demand on the infrastructure and won’t need the heavy filtration that a drinkable system would require, and would significantly reduce the impacts of droughts.

      Among other examples where the existing system can be clearly improved and that many of the existing system requirements aren’t actually based on what works best but just rather what we are used to…

  • Alison October 27, 2017, 11:51 pm

    Oh yes, many things are possible, and we can and should find ways to improve and modernize our infrastructure, etc. But right now, if you increase the density of any given neighborhood, you will be dealing with our current, possibly antiquated systems. We have 60-year-old water and sewer pipes where I live. You add a bunch of ADUs, and those main pipes will still be 60 years old (and intermittently failing). Our current sewage treatment system is barely adequate for our current population (where I live); this needs to be addressed before we greatly increase density. It is good to strive for the ideal, but not lose touch with reality. Some say that these things won’t be fixed until push comes to shove. Meanwhile we dump inadequately processed sewage into the ocean.
    But I still support finding ways to allow tiny homes!

    • James D. October 28, 2017, 2:59 am

      That’s the thing with many Tiny Houses, much of the infrastructure to support them is usually already built into them…

      When you have things like a rain catchment system you have something that’s separate from the public infrastructure and thus taking part of the load off what would otherwise be put on the public infrastructure.

      Even without options like composting toilets, Tiny Houses tend to use water much more efficiently than most residential houses are designed to.

      Low water use fixtures and built in filtering systems also reduce the load and makes it easier on the public water treatment plants.

      There are also Tiny Houses that can operate completely off grid, constantly recycling their own water and only needing to replace the filters every six months to a year.

      Limiting public infrastructure usage to only sewage, but only if composting toilets are not allowed as otherwise that’s another 27% of water usage that can be reduced.

      Mind, one of the reasons people like the idea of Tiny Houses is because they can be much more environmentally friendly, and it’s much easier to apply more environmentally friendly technology in them and that naturally reduces their impact on infrastructure and would actually make it easier to support a larger population than simply making more big houses.

      According to the EPA, the average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. On average, about 70% of that water is used indoors, with the bathroom being the largest consumer (a toilet alone can use 27 percent!).

      The average Tiny House can reduce that down to about 17.5% per day, or less than 70 gallons a day for a family of 4… and there are some, such as those who use water recycling technology, who can take that even lower.

      Mind, this is all still normal every day use and is not employing any strict water conservation methods such as those used by people who live on boats as then you can have water usage down to about 75 gallons a week, not counting drinking water usage, or by RV’ers who have to sustain themselves for days boondocking with as little as a 40 gallon tank.

      Much of the existing infrastructure is dealing with houses that were not designed to be very efficient… It’s why some states are starting to mandate higher efficiency standards in all new construction but this is much easier to do with smaller houses.

      Besides, infrastructure that’s over 60 years old needs to be replaced anyway… Most pipes are only rated to last 40 to 50 years before they should be replaced.

      Otherwise, new houses or not you’re going to start having failures and even disasters like what happened to the water system in Flint Michigan…

  • PATRICIA October 29, 2017, 12:28 am

    I think this is a nice option but – there’s always a ‘but’ – it is tied to the property then unless legal documents are signed stating it is a temporary dwelling subject to removal; or else you may have people living on your property who may not be the neighbors you envisioned, may live a different lifestyle – you name it. I like the thought of being able to have tiny homes though.

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