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In most towns, a building permit isn't required for a structure of 120 square feet or less. However, these small structures are considered sheds or workshops. Full-time living in a tiny building is generally not allowed. Some people live successfully "under the radar" but it's risky. A grumpy neighbor or diligent official could make your tiny life untenable.
To be a legal residence, a structure must be built in accordance with local building codes. Most states have adopted the International Residential Code for One- and Two- Family Dwellings. However, there is great diversity in the specific versions. Scroll down to see the US map. In addition to the IRC, a state, county or city may have additional codes that must be followed. Rare exceptions do exist. This book, No Building Codes, written in 2010 by Terry Herb, provides information on areas where building codes are absent or rarely enforced.
While the 2015 IRC has eliminated the requirement for a house to have at least one room of 120 square feet or more, states will need to adopt the new code in order for it to be effective. In addition, the IRC still contains other minimum size specifications that prove challenging: rooms (except for bathrooms and kitchens) must be 70 square feet, ceiling height must be 7 feet, etc. (additional code discussion). Accordingly, while it is possible for a tiny house to meet building codes, a house built on a foundation on its own land is more likely to be small (more than 400 square feet) rather than tiny. In addition, a building permit will probably be required.
This increase in popularity of tiny houses, and particularly the rapid increase in the number of both amateur and professional builders, has led to concerns regarding safety among tiny house professionals. In 2013, an Alliance of tiny house builders was formed to promote ethical business practices and offer guidelines for construction of tiny houses on wheels. This effort was carried on in 2015 by the American Tiny House Association. In 2015, the nonprofit American Tiny House Association was formed to promote the tiny house as a viable, formally acceptable dwelling option and to work with local government agencies to discuss zoning and coding regulations that can reduce the obstacles to tiny living.
One of the biggest obstacles to growth of the tiny house movement is the difficulty in finding a place to live in one. Zoning regulations typically specify minimum square footage for new construction on a foundation, and for tiny houses on wheels, parking on one's own land may be prohibited by local regulations against "camping." In addition, RV parks do not always welcome tiny houses. DIYers may be turned away, as many RV parks require RVs be manufactured by a member of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association "(RVIA)".
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