Tiny Home Laws To Consider
In Austin, there are currently $401,999 (median home value) reasons why people want to leave their single-family homes and pack their lives into a 300-square foot tiny home. It’s relatively inexpensive, there’s a lot less surface area to clean, and, depending on their size, it’s relatively easy to move from one part of the country to another. However, what all the internet-based shows don’t really mention is that living in a tiny home full time can pose a few legal challenges.
Now the first question that must be asked is, is the tiny home considered an “accessory dwelling unit” or an “RV”? According to Curbed.com, if the tiny home has wheels then it will legally be considered a recreational vehicle. That means owners will have to register it as an RV with the state, and it must be roadworthy, e.g. have working taillights and turn signals, to be transported.
In the city of Austin, it’s illegal to sleep in a vehicle parked on a public road or dwell full-time in an RV that’s not parked on a property that’s zoned as a trailer or RV park. So those looking to keep the wheels on their tiny rolling abode are forced to rent a space at an RV park, that is if they permit non-factory structures like a custom-built tiny home. As always, it’s best to call ahead.
Then there’s the rent. Oftentimes when people rent a space at an RV park, a monthly rental fee upward of $650 plus utilities will be imposed. That’s also how “tiny home communities” like Constellation ATX work. Owners pay $100-150k for a tiny home then also pay a rent/HOA of anywhere from $725 to $1050 per month. Combined with the tiny home’s tiny mortgage, those who made the plunge may find out that they’re saving less than initially thought.
For those planning on staying for a year or more, they might be better off just renting or purchasing an apartment/condo that’s near work, has a gym, and is closer to the action.
If the tiny home doesn’t have wheels and is set on a foundation instead, then it’s considered to be an accessory dwelling unit, or an ADU. Accessory dwelling units in Austin, according to the American Tiny House Association, must adhere to these rules:
- Only one parking space is required, and zero are required if within 1/4 of a mile of an Imagine Austin corridor that has a CapMetro line.
- Can build an ADU on 5750 sq ft of land, which is the standard lot. They used to require at least 7,000 square feet.
- Can build an ADU to .15 FAR (up to 1100 sq ft) instead of just 850 sq ft.
- Only SF-3 is eligible, not SF-2 – which are zoning codes that can roughly approximate to urban vs suburban.
Of course, the catch is the prospective tiny-home owner must already own the property or work out an agreement with its owner where the ADU will be located. Plus owners will still have to figure how to supply their homes with water, electricity, and a sewage removal solution. Since these laws are dynamic and incredibly geo-specific, we always recommend calling the city housing authority before building.
In the end, whether or not it’s a good idea to buy a tiny home over a condo or a smaller home outside the city depends on the owner. Some people just like the idea of living small or that, at any moment, they can hitch their house up to a truck and move. However, just be sure they’ve thought things through.
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