What's the legal situation with "tiny" houses in Los Angeles?
May 4, 2016 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm researching building a tiny house in Los Angeles and I'm looking for building code information. Short of going through the building codes (last I checked the codes are upwards of 6,000 pages) with a finished design, I can't seem to locate any sort of basic summary or "must have" list of features a tiny house has to have in order to be considered up to code. I also can find zero information about the status of trailers or if you could skirt the building code by simply building it on a trailer.
posted by Socinus to Law & Government (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can start with the 2013 California Residential Building Code (which is "only" 694 pages). Your keyword for searching is going to be “dwelling unit.” Chapter 3 in particular will spell out required minimum square footages and ceiling heights, as well as fixtures. Chapter 1 talks about all the regulatory agencies. I don’t know if LA has its own particular requirements (I would assume it does). In the long run if this is something your seriously pursuing, I really think you’ll want to hire a local residential architect. But if it’s just curiosity or preliminary thoughts, chapter 3 of the code will be a start.

It looks like "mobile home" is going to be your search word for trailers. The regulations seem like it might be a separate document.
posted by Kriesa at 12:59 PM on May 4, 2016

Here's a post that distills the requirements from the International Building Code; California's code is based on IBC (but not identical). And here's a general article about zoning.

However, here’s a page on LA County zoning that seems to say that the typical minimum SF for a single family home is 5,000 sf (unless otherwise specified; I have no idea where other specifications would be found). May be possible to get a variance. There may also be contact info for someone who could tell you where in the county smaller homes are permitted.
posted by Kriesa at 1:35 PM on May 4, 2016

You either have to read the building codes (free), call the county CPW offices to ask about the building codes (probably slow), or call an attorney who specializes in zoning and building codes (possibly $).

I'd start with DPW and work my way out from there once you find an appropriate contact.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:37 PM on May 4, 2016

the typical minimum SF for a single family home is 5,000 sf

This is definitely not the case. I don't even think the average home in LA county reaches 5,000 sf. That figure seems to be including lot size, not just size of the home.

You may want to ask about "in law" units, which are additions made to existing houses/lots that are smaller than the standard minimum. Tiny houses may meet the necessary parameters.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:40 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Note that the minimum 5k sf size Kriesa mentions is a lot size, not a building size. And you're likely looking for the Planning department, not the Building department.

The LA County Planning Department FAQ says that:
There is a minimum size of 800 square feet and a minimum width of 20 feet for a single-family home. Please refer to Section 22.20.105 for various exceptions.
That goes into a little more detail, but basically: 800 square feet.

You might try finding a trailer park or travel trailer dealer and asking them, because that's essentially what most "tiny homes" are. Also note that in urban areas, if you can afford a lot to put a house on and the development fees to cover utilities hookups, adding enough coverage to make it a full-sized house is a negligible part of the cost. Kitchen fixtures and bathroom fixtures cost way more than flooring and drywall.
posted by straw at 1:45 PM on May 4, 2016

From the Anerican Tiny House Association: State of California Issues Information Bulletin on Tiny Homes:
This Information Bulletin is intended to clarify the legality of use, design and construction approval of any residential structure that may be commonly referred to as a tiny home. (Link to full PDF.)
This also addresses trailers, mobile homes, etc.

I'd also reach out to the contacts listed in the above memo, as well as L.A. Building and Safety and ask them where to start. As an L.A. apartment dweller who aggressively asserts her rights I've found that code enforcers love to talk code compliance and are usually very helpful.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:48 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Little House On The Trailer in Petaluma, CA, holds zoning workshops. The gist of it seems to be either get classified as an RV or put it on a property with a normal-sized residence as a granny unit or caregiver's home.

Tiny House proponents often find themselves fighting City Hall or going off-grid and hoping no one notices. Four Lights Tiny Homes led by Jay Scaeffer has proposed a tiny home village similar to a nice RV park. Word of mouth is positive, but action is slow. I don't know if there's any similar movement in LA.
posted by Eikonaut at 12:11 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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