The ATHA started in early 2015 with a mission to assist people in finding information they need and to be advocates for tiny houses with officials.



Where Are Tiny Homes Popping Up?

Making Tiny Homes & Alternative Housing Fit Municipal Regulations Has Several Challenges, But The ATHA Took The Role Of Political Liaison For Citizens 

'Tiny House Giant Journey' Vloggers Show Tiny Home And RV Tow in the Petrified Forest [Photo Credit: Tiny House, Giant Journey]

The tiny house trend has taken America by storm. It seems everywhere you look there are tiny houses. There are television shows on all of the do-it-yourself networks talking about buying or building your very own tiny house, such as Tiny House, Big Living and Tiny House Nation. As happens with many crazes, the trend has gotten ahead of the regulators and municipalities and counties are left trying to figure out how to handle tiny houses.

“The first people that started building tiny homes built them on trailers because they were trying to avoid having to pay taxes and regulations such as building or zoning codes. That is coming back to bite the whole community in the butt because now many city officials are jaded against tiny homes. No one bothered to ask or open a dialogue on how you can live tiny”, claims Chris Galusha president of the American Tiny House Association.

This is something that the American Tiny House Association is working to change. The ATHA started in early 2015 with a mission to assist people in finding information they need and to be advocates for tiny houses with officials. “Most of our effort and what we do is helping people navigate zoning regulations and codes and assisting officials in trying to work through their own codes to figure out what minor changes can be made to allow tiny homes in their community”, Galusha stated. The Association is a volunteer led non-profit that has officers spread throughout the country.

Taking tiny homes and making them fit municipal regulations has several challenges. “The biggest problem with tiny homes on foundations is that many municipalities are funded through property taxes and that’s why they have minimum square footages”, said Galusha. In addition to revenue, municipalities have valid safety concerns. “There’s a safety concern with anything that’s not built well. That is the biggest problem that cities look at with these things built on trailers. A lot of them are do it yourself and they are built by people who have never built anything in their life. That makes city officials nervous because the whole reason for building permits and codes is to prevent things that have happened in the past”, explained Galusha.

Prefabricated Movable Homes For Sale in Monroe, WA [Courtesy/Wikicommons]
Many municipalities have accepted tiny houses into their community as long as owners are paying their dues [Courtesy/Wikicommons]

There are steps that builders can take to ease concerns of regulators. “There are tiny homes being built to RVIA certifications. If they have an RVIA certification, the manufacturer has been inspected and they have been built to RV standards. The National Organization for Alternative Housing, they inspect homes just like a regular building inspector would. You have a foundation inspection, framing inspection, electric and plumbing inspection. They do all their inspections through secure video feed and they always start from the VIN of the trailer”, Galusha stated.

While many municipalities have stepped back and tightened their zoning and building codes to preclude tiny houses, there are some that are doing the opposite. The small town of Spur, Texas was one of the first municipalities to openly welcome tiny houses. Spur has taken several steps to welcome tiny housers to grow their town.

“Number one, they took tax delinquent lots and put them up for sale and made them available in an attempt to attract tiny housers. We sold about 100 lots in tax delinquency status at a very decent price and that was the number one thing that worked”, claims Danny Schallenberg tiny house developer and builder with Alpha Omega Builders. “The number two thing that worked was the Spur Freedom website. The national attention has been due to the website for sure”.

While Spur welcomes tiny houses, they still have requirements that must be met. “Spur is very lenient on house size, basically you can build pretty much anything you want to build as long as it is built to international building standards. You do have to submit a set of plans to the City, but to my knowledge they haven’t denied any tiny house plans. We can take tiny houses on wheels if the wheels are removed and they are set on a proper foundation, tied down, and skirted. You have to be attached to city water, electric, and sewer. They want people paying taxes and utilities”, explained Schallenberg. 

Street of Spur, Texas, which has seen 14-15 full time tiny houses move to the community [Photo Credit: Rene Gomez]
Chris Galusha, president of the American Tiny House Association [Photo Credit: Sheri Hall]
Small house legally settled In Oregon during winter [Courtesy/Wikicommons]

Spur has seen 14-15 full time tiny houses move to the community since the project started. “You have tax paying residents that are now contributing to the local economy. They are buying groceries, going to the football games, paying taxes, buying gas, it’s a small town and they have an impact”, Schallenberg said.

Spur is not the only municipality attempting to be more welcoming to tiny houses. While most changes are occurring in rural areas, there are some larger cities beginning to embrace the idea. “Fresno redid their accessory dwelling unit rules a few years ago to allow for tiny houses. They are working on doing the same thing in Los Angeles. In Kansas City, there is a project for a veteran’s community. They are building tiny houses on foundations for veterans. The City of Dallas, Texas has an area where they built tiny homes on foundations for their homeless”, claimed Galusha.

As the trend continues, more municipalities will have to deal with the questions raised by this alternative housing. Both Galusha and Schallenberg are committed to continuing to work towards expanding regulations to allow for tiny homes. 

Jared Langenegger

A graduate of New Mexico State University with B.S. in wildlife and fisheries science, Jared spent 15 years working in fisheries and parks management. He enjoys camping, fishing, hunting, painting, and wood working.


Make Sure To Check Out: 

Spur, Texas, where they propose that tiny houses in small towns yield even more freedom and offer a unique opportunity to regain a sense of community and self sufficiency. 

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