Tutorial: Tiny Houses & Zoning Bylaws

Tutorial: Zoning Bylaws & Tiny Houses


Tiny houses are making waves across the country.  Many towns and cities are reassessing their age-old zoning laws and creating legal infrastructure for tiny houses.  Hopefully, the future will hold much clearer guidelines for tiny homes.  However, most towns have not assessed the topic yet.


The following is a beginner’s guide to zoning laws associated with tiny houses and is for people who wish to find a legal place to park a tiny home (be it on wheels or on a permanent foundation).   Becoming informed about the town’s zoning laws will give you a stronger opportunity to discuss the topic with town officials and ask knowledgeable questions.  Zoning bylaws can be very lengthy, touching upon topics from factories to swimming pools.   That is why this resource will teach you how to navigate the codes by using keyword searches, making the process more efficient.


The details provided in this guide are intended to help people who do not have extensive experience with navigating computer search tools.  If you have persistent trouble navigating your computer for these tools, seek the help of a friend who might have more experience with technology.

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The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation. – Albert Einstein

Guest Submission: Millennial Expectations Driving Housing Market in Small Cities

Below is a guest post from Jordan Ilyes, a developer in York, PA.

What do millennials actually want?

In small cities, meeting the millennial demand is driving a market full of opportunities that some developers may be missing. In York, Pennsylvania, a city of 44,000 located about 50 miles north of Baltimore and 100 miles west of Philadelphia, developers are seeing exactly this — an increased demand for market-rate apartments located in the heart of downtown. A Residential Market Feasibility Analysis conducted in 2015 found a “significant unmet demand” for more than 100 apartment units in the 6-by-6-block Central Business District alone.george3

At Distinct Property Management, a development and property management company based in York, we and other developers are seeing several trends in this emerging market as we strive to meet millennials’ housing expectations. Here’s some of what we’re seeing here in York:

What do millennials expect?

  • Affordable housing – Market-rate apartments and townhomes that don’t blow the budget
  • Mid- to high-end finishes – This generation has high expectations when it comes to how thgeorge-st-suites-thumbeir apartment looks, even if they have a market-rate budget
  • Hassle-free living – Turn-key move-in, automatic bill pay and more relaxed rules make things easy for busy, young professionals
  • Walkability – Livable, walkable, workable locations are in demand among the millennial generation
  • “Standard” amenities – Millennials are looking for more than just a stove and refrigerator. Wi-fi, a dishwasher, an in-unit washer and dryer and even bike racks are expected amenities for today’s apartments and townhomes

How does a developer meet all of these needs needs while still keeping an affordable rent rate? That’s where location comes in — small cities like York are prime areas for affordable development.

Why focus on small cities?

  • Real-estate affordability – As an up-and-coming small city, real-estate costs in areas such as York are often far lower than those in a major metro area
  • Ideal proximity to other major cities – A key selling point for millennials is proximity to other major cities. For York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C. and even New York City are within a 3-hour car ride
  • Community encouragement and collaboration – York fosters a tight-knit group of individuals who are working toward a common goal of downtown revitalization, which often leads to generous support when taking on new projects
  • Better relationships – In a small city, officials with permits, zoning and even the Redevelopment Authority know developers by name, and are often helpful to cutting through the levels of red tape
  • Ripe for development – The region is evolving into a thriving metro area through various efforts that will attract millennial residents

In preserving and redeveloping historic buildings throughout York City we can salvage the existing framework and façade of the homes to save on initial building costs while also keeping the charming character of these spaces intact. The interior of the buildings is then transformed to cater to millennial expectations – a win-win for small cities, developers and millennial tenants.

Launching the MHL email list

Earlier this year, we put out a call for people ot join the Millennial Housing Lab network. We are happy that almost a hundred people have registered — a great start to bringing together the various individuals, groups and projects aiming to build sustainable, community-minded, affordable and humane housing for a new generation. Today we launched the email discussion list for the network. If you would like to join the email list, you can fully register for the network or just join the list directly at: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/mhl-general.  We hope you can join in the discussion!

The Millennial Housing Lab Network

We have often mentioned that we have wanted to build a network of thinkers and practitioners who are interested in and/or working on innovative housing projects.  We feel such a network could help various housing innovators share learnings, develop best practices, and work together on mutual interests (for example, developing a legal architecture for tiny houses). Today, we begin the process of building that network by launching The Millennial Housing Lab Network an email discussion list and online database of such thinkers and practitioners.  If you are interested in joining the network — either joining the email discussion list, being added to our online database, or helping out with one of our projects — please register here:

We hope to have you and your organization in the network. Please reach out to Pete@MillennialHousingLab.org with any questions.

Tiny house villages for people without houses: a winter roundup

A series of tiny house villages for people without houses have been in the news recently.  Here’s a roundup:

  • Alternet has an article on Dignity Village in Portland, which is governed by a democratically elected council of nine residents and town-hall style meetings for big decisions.
  • The GoodNewsNetwork has a piece on a tiny house village in Seattle that has been built on Lutheran Church property to house people.DignityHut_610px
  • The Savannah Morning News has an update on the efforts of the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless to build a tiny house village aimed at homeless vets.

For some perspectives on tiny house villages for people without houses, we recommend:

Getaway in the spotlight

Getaway, our effort to build and share tiny houses in the woods, has been in the news these past few weeks:

  • CNN“Sure, living in a tiny house full-time may sound daunting, but renting a wee retreat for a couple of days is an easy way to get a taste of the downsized life.”
  • Yahoo“Hilary and Shane Lentz were hooked on the idea of a tiny house, but they weren’t sure the reality would be so appealing.Their curiosity led them to the hills of New Hampshire, where a business that started at Harvard University rents out tiny houses for $99 a night.”
  • L.A. Times“Ten designers, adventurers, campers and doers put their heads and brute strength together to build three homes on wheels. The results seem to have jumped from the pages of Dwell magazine. Get out of the city and leave its distractions; play a board game or grab the marshmallow stick that’s waiting for you. If you are OK with using a compost toilet and paying a nominal amount for the stocked provisions, you’ll be all set to enjoy the peaceful wooded surroundings and, of course, see if you could live tiny long-term.”
  • Associated PressGetaway is the first project at Harvard’s Millennial Housing Lab, a group of business, law and design students exploring new housing ideas. Staff, a graduate student in business, said his stints living on a boat and in an Airstream trailer inspired him to help spread the tiny house movement. “Small spaces force you out into the world, and I think that’s a good thing,” he said.”

Plus, Zipcar recently released a video about Getaway:


Adult Dorms: Microunits + Community

At the Lab, we are always interested in ways that micro-units (be they in apartments or tiny houses) and community-building mix.  We were naturally excited to see a recent Atlantic article on “Dorms for Grownups”:

Coworking is probably a familiar concept at this point, but Evans wants to take his idea a step further. On Friday, on the top two floors of the building, he’s starting construction on a space he envisions as a dorm for Millennials, though he cringes at the word “dorm.” Commonspace, as he’s calling it, will feature 21 microunits, which each pack a tiny kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living space into 300-square-feet. The microunits surround shared common areas including a chef’s kitchen, a game room, and a TV room.

We like to talk about the ‘hardware’ and the ‘software’ of these projects.  The hardware is the physical design of the space. The software are the community elements laid over the space. Commonspace seems to be going hard on the software:

Worried about the complicated social dynamics of so many Millennials in one living unit? Fear not, Evans and partner John Talarico are hiring a “social engineer” who will facilitate group events and maintain harmony among roommates.

Read the full article here.

Massachusetts Regulatory Review = Tiny House Opportunity

We at the Lab received this message from a group working to #LegalizeTiny in the Cape/Islands area of Massachusetts:

On March 31, 2015 Governor Baker issued Executive Order #562 commissioning a complete and comprehensive review of every existing Executive Branch regulation in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR).

This is an important opportunity for those of us interested in making tiny houses a safe and legal housing option to report on our experience with State regulations such as the Mass Buulding code and Sanitary Codes.

The review process gives tiny house advocates the opportunity to point out where you have found that State regulations go beyond the requirements of health and safety (and common sense) and become a barrier to the tiny house initiative.

Send comments to: http://www.mass.gov/anf/regreview.html

Tiny house groups of the Cape and Islands can attend a general topic “listening session” on the Cape (at which you could provide feedback on the Mass Building Code 780 CMR 51.00):

Thursday, November 19, 2015, 1PM-3PM
Sturgis Library
3090 Main Street
Barnstable, MA 02630

The Island Coalition for Tiny Houses will have people attending the Barnstable listening session: we hope to meet you there!

Contact us at: icth@hushmail.com


Housing and Friendship

In Vox this week, David Roberts has a great piece on the connection between housing and friendship.  In addressing why the role of friends tapers off in our middle years, he shines the spotlight on housing designed around cars:

Why should it require explicit scheduling to see a friend who lives “within striking distance”? Why shouldn’t proximity do some of the work? That answer, for many Americans, is that anywhere beyond a few blocks away might as well be miles; it all requires a car. We do not encounter one another in cars. We grind along together anonymously, often in misery.

Car-based urban design, according to Roberts, limits spontaneous contact, which is a key ingredient to building friendships:

I read a study many years ago that I have thought about many times since, though hours of effort have failed to track it down. The gist was this: The key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact. That’s why we make friends in college: because we are, by virtue of where we live and our daily activities, forced into regular contact with the same people. It is the natural soil out of which friendship grows.

How do we increase spontaneous contact? First, according Roberts, is better public spaces:SunwardCohousingPlayStructure2005

One is living in a real place, with shared public spaces, around which one can move relatively safely. It seems like a simple thing, but such places are rare even in the cities where they exist. (I live in North Seattle, undoubtedly coded as urban for census purposes, but my walkshed is pretty lame. Meanwhile, a few miles south of me they’re building million-dollar single-family homes square in the middle of a perfect walkshed, right across from the zoo.)

The second, is co-housing:

The idea behind baugruppen, and co-housing generally, is that it’s nice to live in an extended community, to have people to rely on beyond family. It’s nice to have bustling shared spaces where you can run into people you know without planning it beforehand. It’s nice to have friends for your kids, places where they can play safely, and other adults who can share kid-tending duties.

SunwardPiazzaGathering2005We at the Lab like to say “when people say they loved their time in college, we don’t think they were talking about the classes or parties…they were talking about living near their friends.”  How can we design housing and neighborhoods to promote friendship?