We are not the first people to build a Tiny House on Wheels but the Tiny House Movement is still a relatively new thing. Because of this the rules and regulations are not yet super clear. Figuring out the next step(or the first step!) legally for pretty much anything involves a lot of hoops to jump through, especially for things not well-established yet.
Between doing things we’ve never done before…like designing a house, running electrical, and installing plumbing…there’s all the research in making sure its truly what we want, that its up to a code that didnt exactly exist when we started, and truly understanding it enough to DIY.
It is our complete intention to do everything as legally as possible, so we asked around A LOT prior to starting the build. Trying to understand what we needed to do to make it legal for us to live in it full time.At the time the pioneers of the Tiny House Movement said that getting our home registered through the DMV was sufficient enough.
The DMV seemed obliging at the time over the phone and instructed us to bring our custom flatbed trailer there to be registered, so we did. Unfortunate for us, after the hassle of towing our trailer with what we now know is the wrong kind of licence…they turned us away saying they couldn’t register it until we were 100% complete with the build. And also instructed us to document the whole processes and tract our expenses.
So the building process began.
Quite a few months after the painfully slow process of nailing down a design and actually physically starting the build, a news bulletin for the state of California was released, topic being ‘Tiny Houses’ and ‘Regulations’.
In it, it detailed how ‘Tiny Houses’ now had to fall under 1 of 6 possible codes and regulations…like Travel Trailer, RV, and various others. Okay, so this was a new layer in the legal process, obviously not the most ideal thing at the time but was one step closer to Tiny Houses being recognized as full-time housing. So we can live with this, literally.
On the bottom of this news bulletin, there was a contact for the local HUD worker, if we were to have any questions. Well, of course this development sprouted many questions in our minds…
Do we need permits?
Do we need an inspection?
Who inspects it?
So, after a lot of phone tagging and emailing, it was established that the government does not actually physically handle the inspection of Tiny Houses. We were instructed to contact the RVIA – Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
And I have to say… the RVIA has one of the most difficult websites to navigate and there is actually a reason for that! To fully access the website and get more detailed information you must pay for a $2000 membership per year.
Something that makes sense for a manufacturer but not for DIY individuals, like us. Feeling like we hit a dead end, we contacted them anyways. They instructed us to get in contact with a 3rd party that can certify Tiny Houses!
WAIT, SOMETHING LIKE THAT EXISTS? Yeah, that was my reaction too! But I couldnt help but wonder, how come this information isnt more easily accessible? …I guess there’s more pioneering in this movement to be done.
So! Thankfully the RVIA sends us a list of 3rd parties, after much time and undeniable frustration. Which brings us to the Pacific West Associates, a consulting engineering firm in Wyoming that can certify Tiny Houses.
You send them needed pictures and video of your Tiny House as a way for them to inspect your progress. Pretty cool concept really!
We asked around on the facebook group Tiny House People if others have worked with this company and the feedback we got was great. The mere fact that someone in the group actually had a certified Tiny House because of this company was very reassuring and many people talked of the customer service being excellent.
We then moved forward to contact them, a new session of phone tagging ensued, both because they were having office issues and we were having phone issues. When we did finally get in verbal contact with them, they checked out our Tiny Gallery here on the website and told us the only things right off the bat that may be an issue is the windows in our lofts. Though, they reassured us they would look into it and see if there was a way around it.
We finally got word this week that there is no way around it, as it stands, they will not be able to certify our Tiny House until we replace those windows.
Im going to be completely honest, I cried.
As per fire safety codes, these windows need to open up 3-4 more inches then they do now to be considered fire escapes. Even though both Aaron and I could easily fit though the windows and have concluded that if anyone is entering our lofts they are surely small enough to fit through them also – but that doesnt matter. Codes are black and white – for good reason but doesnt change how annoying this situation is.
So, while building a Tiny House is freaking cool, its not been easy. The patience and dedication its taken to cultivate a completely new skill set and dump all of our income into this project in an effort to do things debt-free…can really just suck.
I dont want to be a downer because being a downer never inspires vision…though, sometimes I have to be real to let others know what to expect if they choose to take the same journey we have.
I dont want to make this journey look all cupcakes and rainbows, causing someone down the road to cite our own DIY experience and wondering how we navigated this so easily, if it turns out to also be difficult for them. How horrible would that be to meet someone that didn’t disclose their struggles and only their accomplishments…just for you to turn around and encounter your own string of struggles, when taking what you thought was the same road?
In saying all of this, yes, this is about a $400 to $500 mistake but there is one thing we have to celebrate…for rookies, having that be the only glaring problem so far, Id say we’ve done pretty good.
So two things –
1. We hope if you are starting your Tiny House journey now that you take advantage of this information to avoid costly mistakes! We were just navigating in ignorance(due to the lack of information out there!) but we hope in sharing our experiences, you can have a better experience in your Tiny House journey.
2. We do not currently have the funds to replace these windows AND pay for other Tiny House expenses. So we ask, if you feel led and believe in our vision for both our Tiny House and our local community, please consider purchasing a shirt from our T-Shirt fundraiser or donating to us through the donate button – both of which you can find below.
As always, prayers are appreciated and thanks for coming along with us on this Tiny Townley Adventure!
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