Some own­ers of tiny houses are strug­gling to find places to put them

As tiny liv­ing be­comes more pop­u­lar, tiny-house own­ers are dis­cov­er­ing a not-so-tiny prob­lem: find­ing a place to put those houses, writes Lisa Prevost of The New York Times

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Dar­ryl Bray had hoped to park the 84-square-foot (7.8-square-me­tre) house he built for him­self in a secluded place, maybe on some spare acreage on a farm in Con­necti­cut.

But find­ing that kind of spot proved harder than ex­pected, so in­stead Bray’s tiny home on wheels sits in the park­ing lot of the light in­dus­trial com­plex where he works, out­side New Haven.

Bray, 28, has lived be­hind the U-shaped com­plex for more than two years now, although not with­out has­sle. He started out near a noisy auto shop but has since moved to a qui­eter space.

The city zon­ing en­force­ment of­fi­cer once put him on no­tice that he was vi­o­lat­ing var­i­ous zon­ing codes. While no one has ever fol­lowed up, Bray lies low when he sees a po­lice cruiser pa­trolling the com­plex. (For that rea­son, he asked that his pre­cise lo­ca­tion not be dis­closed in this ar­ti­cle.)

“I do fear coming out of my tiny house and hav­ing the po­lice see me there,” he said. “I have black­out cur­tains on the win­dows, and I lock my door when­ever I’m in there.”

Bray’s sit­u­a­tion high­lights one of the big­gest chal­lenges of tiny-house liv­ing: find­ing a place to park.

HGTV pro­grammes like Tiny House, Big Liv­ing, which have helped pop­u­larise the move­ment, of­ten gloss over this not-so-tiny de­tail.

But the many Face­book pages and web­sites de­voted to tiny-house cul­ture are ob­sessed with it: On­line dis­cus­sions are dom­i­nated by re­quests, if not out­right pleas, for tips on how and where to find tiny­house-friendly lo­ca­tions.

Zon­ing reg­u­la­tions in most places — es­pe­cially densely de­vel­oped re­gions like the New York metro area — typ­i­cally do not al­low full-time liv­ing in tem­po­rary struc­tures like recre­ational ve­hi­cles or mov­able tiny houses.

Most tiny homes are built on wheeled trail­ers that can be towed. Un­like RVs, how­ever, tiny houses are gen­er­ally not wheeled for tour­ing, so much as for flex­i­bil­ity of lo­ca­tion.

Zon­ing also com­monly spec­i­fies a min­i­mum home or lot size that is too large and ex­pen­sive for a life­style geared to­ward af­ford­abil­ity. Res­i­den­tial build­ing codes can also present a prob­lem for tiny houses built on foun­da­tions.

“As a re­sult, eas­ily up­wards of 90% of tiny-house own­ers are liv­ing il­le­gally, when it comes to zon­ing,” said An­drew Mor­ri­son, a pro­fes­sional builder and tiny-house ad­vo­cate in Ore­gon who trav­els the world teach­ing sem­i­nars on tiny-house con­struc­tion.

For some, flout­ing zon­ing re­stric­tions is an ac­cepted, even cel­e­brated, as­pect of a cul­ture that re­jects the Amer­i­can ap­petite for big houses, ram­pant con­sump­tion and ex­cess stuff.

“It’s one of the last things we have where you can kind of stick it to the man,” Mar­cus Stoltz­fus, a coowner of Lib­er­a­tion Tiny Homes, near Lan­caster, Penn­syl­va­nia, said with a smile.

In the right set­ting, il­licit tiny-house dwellers can usu­ally get away with it.

“If it’s off the road and you’re on good terms with your neigh­bours, you prob­a­bly won’t have an is­sue,” said Dave Cramer, an owner of Hud­son River Tiny Homes, in the Al­bany, New York, area.

But with the tiny-liv­ing craze hav­ing lasted well past the fad stage, pres­sure is grow­ing for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to em­brace tiny houses as le­gal res­i­dences. And more tiny-house build­ing com­pa­nies are pop­ping up, an­tic­i­pat­ing just such a shift.

“The way they’re le­gal­is­ing it, it’s coming from West to East,” said Tori Pond, who opened a tiny-home com­pany called Craft & Sprout with her hus­band, Ken, in Green­wich, Con­necti­cut, last year. “It’s a mat­ter of when, not if.”

So far, ad­vo­cates have made the most progress in chang­ing or­di­nances gov­ern­ing so-called ac­ces­sory dwelling units and back­yard cot­tages. Some high­cost mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­clud­ing Fresno, Cal­i­for­nia, and Nan­tucket, Mas­sachusetts, now al­low tiny houses to share land with ex­ist­ing homes.

“It’s a spirit of co­op­er­a­tion,” Mor­ri­son said. “It’s a sim­ple way to bring in af­ford­able hous­ing that doesn’t cost the mu­nic­i­pal­ity any­thing.”

Ad­vo­cates hope the move­ment will gain more ground in coming years now that the In­ter­na­tional Code Coun­cil has ap­proved a model code for tiny houses for in­clu­sion in its In­ter­na­tional Res­i­den­tial Code, the most widely recog­nised res­i­den­tial build­ing code in the coun­try.

Mor­ri­son, who led the ef­fort to write the code, said it should al­le­vi­ate both safety and aes­thetic con­cerns for those states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that adopt it.

“There’s a fear that peo­ple are go­ing to end up liv­ing in shanty shacks,” he said. “We don’t want that ei­ther. We want peo­ple to be safe in their houses, and in some­thing they can af­ford.”

For the time be­ing, how­ever, find­ing a place to live long-term in a tiny house re­quires cre­ativ­ity, flex­i­bil­ity and con­sid­er­able net­work­ing.

For Amy Garner and John McCarthy, it was a con­ver­sa­tion over cof­fee with a well-con­nected ar­chi­tect that led them to the ideal lo­ca­tion for their 340-square-foot (31.5-square-me­tre) tiny house in New Haven: wa­ter­side, at a ma­rina on the Quin­nip­iac River.

For about $400 a month, in­clud­ing util­ity hookups, the cou­ple en­joy up-close views of the river through the glass front of their Trav­eler XL, a high-end tiny home made by Es­cape Trav­eler.

The spot along­side the docks has made their home a favourite hang­out for friends, de­spite the close quar­ters, and it is only about a mile from their busi­ness, a Pi­lates studio.

“It’s per­fect,” said Garner, 30. “You wake up in the morn­ing, and the sun re­flects off the wa­ter, and you get this twin­kle ef­fect on the bed­room ceil­ing.”

They have been there since April with­out is­sue, other than the oc­ca­sional cu­ri­ous passers-by.

Lisa Co­hen and Richard Rat­cliff, who met last spring while hik­ing the Ap­palachian Trail, are hop­ing for sim­i­lar sta­bil­ity while they fin­ish con­vert­ing a school bus they bought on eBay into a tiny house.

Find­ing a place to park it within rea­son­able com­mut­ing dis­tance of Sarah Lawrence Col­lege, in Bronxville, New York, where Co­hen is a grad­u­ate stu­dent, was no easy feat.

“We asked a few farms, a gar­den­ing cen­tre and a flea mar­ket,” Co­hen, 27, said in an email. “Ev­ery­one was kind and said they would think it over but then would ei­ther not an­swer calls or said ‘no’ in the end.”

Even­tu­ally the cou­ple found a restau­rant owner in Dutchess County will­ing to let them park off to the side of his lot for $150 a month. (They asked that the restau­rant not be iden­ti­fied.)

Set­tled there for about a month now, they have ac­cess to elec­tric­ity and well wa­ter.

Bri­anna Welch, 25, starts grad­u­ate school at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont in Jan­uary and hopes to move from her Bronx apart­ment to the Burling­ton area in a 340-square-foot (31.5-square-me­tre) tiny house be­ing built by Craft & Sprout.

She and her hus­band, Chris Mur­phy, a 24-year-old soft­ware prod­uct man­ager, are ac­tively hunt­ing for land to rent, hop­ing to get set­tled be­fore the first snow.

A year-round RV camp­ground they looked into was al­ready booked for the win­ter. Some­one of­fered to rent them a build­ing lot, but that par­tic­u­lar town would re­quire them to in­stall a sep­tic sys­tem, at a cost of about $18,000, and pay an $8,000 im­pact fee.

As they look for farm­land to rent, they are tap­ping sites like Tiny House Host­ing, on Face­book, for con­nec­tions.

“I think it’s go­ing to be through our net­work that we find some­one who knows some­one who has land,” Welch said. “We knew this would be the hard­est part, but I didn’t think it would be this hard.”

Find­ing a site in ru­ral towns is of­ten eas­ier, be­cause of the like­li­hood of looser zon­ing and en­force­ment.

In Lodi, New York, for ex­am­ple, Eleanor Lieb­son, an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist, is hop­ing to start a tiny­house com­mu­nity on a por­tion of the 100-plus acres she owns near Fin­ger Lakes Na­tional For­est.

“There’s the po­ten­tial be­cause there’s no zon­ing in our town,” she said. “We can do it.”

The down­side to re­mote sites, how­ever, is the ab­sence of read­ily avail­able util­ity hookups.

Seth Porges, a sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy jour­nal­ist, found that out af­ter he bought a 180-square-foot (16.7-square-me­tre) tiny house last Fe­bru­ary. He put the house on rented farm­land in the Hud­son Val­ley to use as an Airbnb rental and imag­ined it would be an off-the-grid ex­pe­ri­ence.

The house had a so­lar en­ergy sys­tem, 50-gal­lon (189-litre) wa­ter tanks and a dry-flush toi­let. But he quickly re­alised that the so­lar power sup­ply was not nearly ro­bust enough, es­pe­cially when the air-con­di­tioner was on. And the wa­ter sup­ply lasted only a few days be­fore it had to be re­plen­ished.

“Peo­ple think they’ll throw their house on a cheap piece of land and that’s the end of it,” said Porges, who lives in a reg­u­lar house in a nearby town. “They don’t re­alise all the lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges they’re go­ing to face.”

He wound up hir­ing an elec­tri­cian to lay heavy­gauge ex­ten­sion cords con­nect­ing the tiny house to a power sup­ply else­where on the farm. And he in­vested in hoses spe­cially de­signed for potable wa­ter to run down­hill to his house from a spigot. But come win­ter, he ex­pects those hoses will freeze, once again ne­ces­si­tat­ing the use of the wa­ter tanks.

As for the dry-flush toi­let, it func­tions as ex­pected, es­sen­tially “shrink-wrap­ping your waste,” Porges said. But the dis­pos­able car­tridges are fairly ex­pen­sive: He cal­cu­lates the cost at about $1 per flush. Other bath­room op­tions for tiny homes in­clude com­post­ing and in­cin­er­a­tion toi­lets.

For Kerri L. Richard­son, a clut­ter-clear­ing coach and the au­thor of What Your Clut­ter is Try­ing to Tell You, the has­sles of tiny-house liv­ing are more ap­peal­ing than the headaches of be­ing tied to a tra­di­tional sin­gle-fam­ily home.

She and her wife, Melissa Silk, sold their 2,200-square-foot (204-square-me­tre) home in New­bury­port, Mas­sachusetts, about three years ago and have been grad­u­ally down­siz­ing ever since.

They are rent­ing a 500-square-foot (46.5-squareme­tre) apart­ment in Gro­ton, Con­necti­cut, while build­ing a 240-square-foot (22.3-square-me­tre) tiny home on a trailer.

“The roots that we had planted felt more like shack­les,” said Richard­son, 46. “It takes some courage to go against that so­ci­etal tem­plate of life, but we de­cided we wanted to have more ex­pe­ri­ences and less things.”

If it’s off the road and you’re on good terms with your neigh­bours, you prob­a­bly won’t have an is­sue. DAVE CRAMER OWNER OF HUD­SON RIVER TINY HOMES

Seth Porges, a jour­nal­ist, bought his tiny house last Fe­bru­ary and put it on farm­land he rents in the Hud­son Val­ley.

Wall-size win­dows in this 180-square-foot house ‘make it seem like you’re in the mid­dle of na­ture,’ said Seth Porges, the owner.

Mr Porges’s house has run­ning wa­ter annd elec­tric­ity, as well as so­lar power.

MAIN PHOTO Tori and Ken Pond have a tiny-house build­ing com­pany called Craft & Sprout. They keep a model home in their back­yard in Green­wich, Con­necti­cut.

In­side their tiny house.

TOP (LEFT AND RIGHT) The cou­ple re­lax in their 300-square-foot (27.8-square-me­tre) tiny house in their back­yard.

LEFT AND BE­LOW Amy Garner and John McCarthy re­lax in and out­side their tiny home on a space rented at a ma­rina on the Quin­nip­iac River in New Haven, Con­necti­cut.

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