Part 1 - Introduction

A guide to navigating the zoning, bylaws, codes & regulations affecting Tiny Homes in Los Angeles

By Teresa Baker
LATCH Collective LLC
August 2016

Author’s note: This article is a work in progress, this being the first draft, and part 1 out of a series to come. My intent is that the Tiny House community in Los Angeles might help me write a more thorough resource by sharing their knowledge and ideas. I also hope to team up with legal assistance to check my understanding of these regulations, and to look for further options potentially missing. My goal is to produce a helpful, heavily researched guide to legally living Tiny in Los Angeles that can be used by anyone in the community and further improved by professionals. Please use the feedback form at the end of this post to submit improvements.

INTRODUCTION

Across the nation, family homes have grown to astronomical sizes and prices, making home ownership for the majority of Americans unrealistic. The Tiny House Movement advocates for simpler, affordable, and mindful living in smaller spaces. This movement is spreading to Los Angeles, as Angelenos who are concerned by rising housing and rental costs coupled with urban displacement look to the possibilities of a largely untapped Tiny Home market. Despite the potential solutions Tiny Homes present for the LA area’s housing problems, there continues to be major obstacles for those with ambitiously tiny dreams – living in most tiny homes is not considered legal. The answer to an increasingly common, desperate question from tiny home enthusiasts – “is it legal to live in my tiny home” is anything but simple. Each state, county, municipality, neighborhood, and zone within a neighborhood, has unique regulations, requirements, and other complexities. While some communities in California, such as Ojai and Fresno, are creating legal opportunities within their zoning regulations for Tiny Home owners, Angelenos are challenged with sorting through a very complex web of regulations. The full article will attempt to assist residents in the Los Angeles area understand three main steps towards achieving a legally permissible tiny home: legally defining a home, finding an appropriate location for a defined structure, understanding what building codes and standards each defined structure need follow.

WHY FOLLOW REGULATIONS

     Understanding and conforming to a legal definition, the requirements for parking, and the codes and standards that follow is likely a daunting task for one who is trying to simplify their life by living tiny. Why should the Tiny House community put in great effort to follow these regulations instead of playing ignorance? Some might be satisfied by the simple reason being because it is the law. Failure to comply with regulatory requirements will result in a tiny home becoming a “noncomplying residential structure in which occupancy is illegal and is subject to punitive action by the appropriate enforcement agency.”[1] There are many other legitimate reasons, including safety, finances, long term peace of mind, and the reputation of the Tiny Home Movement. Most imposed regulations are enacted in the interest of promoting community safety and well-being. Ryan Mitchell from The Tiny Life urges us to “not just dismiss [regulations] as unnecessary red tape… A lot of these rules are legislated after deaths with the intention of preventing future accidents.”[2] Consider another warning from Mitchell: “They can… fine you, run a bulldozer through your house to destroy it, or deny you utilities;”[3] The financial risks of not conforming to regulations could have devastating financial impacts.

     As a population of people wanting to promote tiny houses as a legitimate housing solution, we want to continue building an image and reputation of Tiny Homes as desirable, safe, and efficient so that the movement continues to spread. If poorly built or placed in unfit areas, we are only doing damage to our wider goals of neighborhoods welcome tiny homes into their communities and expanding legal living options. Living illegally in your home gives fire to nosy neighbors, especially those who may feel threatened by a perceived negative effects on their property’s value. Furthermore, if neighbors see you living illegally, you have no recourse if they themselves engage in undesirable or illegal activity, which could spiral into a lower quality of life for all in your neighborhood.

     When we follow high standards for our homes, we show public officials that Tiny House dwellers are interested in contributing to improving their community. When you achieve a certificate of occupancy or another form of the official “go ahead” to live in your home, you no longer have to worry about drop-in building inspectors condemning or ticketing your home or having a back-up plan if they do. Weigh the short term headache of sorting out and applying complicated regulations with the long term peace of mind of a job legally done.

In subsequent sections of this article, the following decisions are discussed:

 
Check out this awesome docu-series produced by Tiny House Expedition!

Check out this awesome docu-series produced by Tiny House Expedition!

 

REFERENCES

[1] State of California Department of Housing and Community Development. “Tiny Homes” By R. Weinert. Sacramento:  9 May 16. (Information Bulletin 2016-01) <http://www.hcd.ca.gov/codes/manufactured-housing/docs/ib2016-01.pdf>

[2] Mitchell, Ryan. Cracking the Code: A Guide to Building Codes & Zoning for Tiny Houses. 2013.

[3] Mitchell, Ryan. "Tiny House Building Codes." The Tiny Life: Tiny Houses, Tiny Living. Web. 22 July 2016.


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Teresa Baker