Editor’s note: In a lengthy report for the San Juan Islander, Merri Ann Simonson, a managing broker and sales manager for Coldwell Banker San Juan Islands Inc., provided some insight as to the legal allowances and ramifications of the Tiny Home movement in this island community off the coast of Washington. It serves as a worthy synopsis to the Tiny Home conundrum nationwide. Below is an excerpt of that report. Click here to read the full report.
If you have been watching HGTV recently, you have been exposed to the latest craze of the Tiny Homes. As an agent I have received numerous inquiries about how San Juan County will regulate this new industry. I have processed some research which I have shared below:
Will it be possible to buy five acres and install 20 tiny homes and rent them out as nightly or monthly rentals? The simple answer is “no.”
If you purchase a Tiny Home mounted on or as part of a trailer and the wheels, tongue and vehicle license remains intact, at the present time, this is considered a Recreational Vehicle (RV). The San Juan County code defines an RV under 18.20:
“Recreational vehicle (RV)” means a vehicle designed primarily for recreational camping or travel use that has its own motive power or is mounted on or towed by another vehicle, including travel trailers, fifth-wheel trailers, folding camping trailers, truck campers, and motor homes (RCW 43.22.335).
“Recreational vehicle park” means a commercially developed tract of land on which two or more recreational vehicle sites are established as the principal use of the land.
Back to the simple answer of “no.” You can park your Tiny Home on your property as it is considered an RV but you may only have one parked as two or more are considered a Recreation Vehicle Park which requires permits and applicable zoning.
The county doesn’t have any occupancy regulations attached to their RV definition so it is silent as to whether the RV on site can be used just for recreational camping, or nightly or long term occupancy. However, many plats have covenants, conditions and restrictions that indicate the RV or trailer may only be on site during the course of construction or only on site for a certain number of months at a time.
Although some Tiny Homes have composting toilets, the county would prefer that the RV units be hooked up to a septic system. The owner must confirm that the existing system is large enough for the connection as the Tiny Home is considered as a one bedroom addition. Grey water systems are not allowed in the state of Washington so connecting to a septic system is the best solution.
There is a recommendation submitted to our county by the Building Advisory Council (BAC) to create a definition for this type of improvement versus using the RV definition. The recommendation has not been adopted however, in December of 2016, the International Residential Code issued an Appendix to address codes for Tiny Homes. Having states and counties acknowledge that the Tiny Home is a housing source for our citizens will expedite the local efforts to provide regulations. These homes need to be safely built for occupancy, be able to be sold, resold, financed and insured. We need the guidelines as soon as possible.