How to Find City Codes for Tiny Homes

A modern tiny built with proper city codes home in a forest.

Building the tiny home of your dreams is a major accomplishment. But before you break ground on your new project, there are important building codes and zoning regulations that you need to consider. If you're planning to build your own tiny home, here is a helpful guide on how to find city codes in your locale.

Building Codes and Zoning

There is a difference between building codes and zoning laws, and you should be able to tell them apart when you start constructing your tiny home. In simple terms, building codes dictate how the house is built, both inside and out. Zoning laws, on the other hand, tell you where you can build your home in the first place.

The main thing to consider about zoning laws is size requirements. Some locations will limit the minimum size of the house to 1,000 square feet, which is significantly more space than most tiny homes accommodate. With building codes, you will need to pay attention to how large bedrooms are required to be as well as ceiling heights.

Exceptions to the Rules

There are a few myths related to the building of tiny homes that you should avoid at all costs. While it is true that you do not need a permit to build a structure under a certain square footage, you will need a permit if you plan on living in that structure. No matter how big or small the project is, all dwellings need a building permit to start construction.

Another common myth in the tiny home industry is that you do not need to worry about building codes if the home is on wheels. Just because the house is placed on wheels does not make it an RV, camper, or mobile home. In fact, most cities will only classify a dwelling as an RV or mobile home if it has been constructed by a certified builder. Unless you have the proper certification and LLC license, you likely do not qualify for this loophole.

Step 1 - Create a Plan for Your Tiny Home

A tiny home built wth city codes in a suburban backyard.

The first step in getting your tiny home dreams off the ground is to come up with a basic building plan. For starters, you will need a place to put the house, whether that is on existing property or land you're going to purchase. Then you can sketch out where you would like to place the house and some rough dimensions of the home. You do not have to be very specific about the building plans at this point; this step is just to get you started in the right direction.

Step 2 - Contact the Local Building Code Office

Once you have a plan of action, contact your city’s municipal building code enforcement office and schedule a meeting. Talk to the staff members about your plan, and they will tell you if building a tiny home is possible in your location. They can also tell you about building requirements and codes you need to meet when constructing the dwelling. This should give you a clear idea of how to move forward and what changes you need to make to your original plans.

Step 3 - Improve Your Plan

With your town’s building codes and zoning requirements in hand, you can make the proper adjustments to your building plan and get everything up to speed. After you've made the improvements, show them to the building code office to double-check your work. You may also need to purchase special permits to get the construction process rolling, depending on where you live.

Step 4 - Building a Tiny Home up to Code

A tiny home built with city codes and surrounded by flowers, trees, and grass.

It's very important that your tiny home is built to code. If you are planning to connect the house to city water or electricity, for example, an inspector will come out to make sure everything follows local zoning and building codes. It's much easier—and less costly—to build the house right the first time than to go back and fix things later. So, avoid shortcuts when you begin construction and double-check to make sure everything is being built correctly.

The Future of Tiny Homes

As the tiny home revolution continues to grow in popularity, many states are starting to adopt specific zoning and building codes related to tiny homes. Some states—such as California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Texas, and Oregon—have adopted flexible laws that enable people to build tiny homes to different standards than traditional dwellings. As more and more individuals build tiny homes, we may find that other states adopt laws that make it easier to downsize houses.