So we are officially legal! We are homeowners and legal land owners in the great state of Virginia. Did you ever think that you are just one person and too small to make a difference? Well, I used to think that… until I went tiny! So, want to know how? Here’s our tiny story …
We Built Our Home In Seven Days!
We built our home in seven days at a workshop with Incredible Tiny Homes! It is a complete and functional home. And while I always imagined living tiny as a lifestyle that would allow me freedom, and less to do…Once we got our home it clearly became something different. See, we live in the state of Virginia and after exhausting all parking options that were within the immediate vicinity of us, we ended up parking in a backyard with nowhere “legal” to go.
Our first few weeks were spent painting and staining…and calling all campgrounds and RV parks in case zoning or someone showed up and demanded that we leave. Exhausted, hearing no after no, we spoke often of what we would say if they did show up. It was stressful and sad, and not necessarily the way I envisioned tiny life being. But, this is not a sad story – this is the story of how we made it work!
After watching friend after friend get kicked off of land and chased around the state, we decided that we would not register our home with the DMV. We held the title to the trailer, but after talking to the DMV, we would in essence have to lie to register it.
Having to call it a trailer or a trailer with a weighted secured load was unacceptable, and for my friends that did this, the DMV chased them around because every time they changed their address, they were traceable, and again fined. So, we slipped under the radar and brought it back and parked it. Three different counties refused to register our tiny home as anything even close to what it was. Instead of being called a liar later, I figured when they show up, they can let me know what they want and we can work from there.
Because we use a professional mover, the tiny home is licensed on the road under them, so there was never a reason to have to lie to get it moved. We moved legally. We were also able to secure insurance, without any certifications on our home, and without having to lie about anything related to owning a tiny.
But, time went on, months and no one ever bothered us. We worked and lived and loved living on this property. It was beautiful and we loved our host. But, the looming fear kept winning out. So, we kept looking for a legal place to park.
Lived Under The Radar
After a year of flying under the radar, with lists of campgrounds and RV parks, we made calls again, and found two places that were now willing to let us come and park for a longer time frame. These were places that we had already called, but since time had passed, and things were starting to change, they too were changing what they accepted. The other thing we figured out was when talking to RV parks and campgrounds, the best way to figure out what they needed was to speak directly to the owners. Most of them did not even really know what we or home was. Once we could chat, I could explain what we owned, the conversation would change, and we would start talking about the rules, how they work, what they need etc.. and it was no longer a person calling to find out about living tiny, but a conversation that was passing on knowledge and looking for solutions.
We choose a park that was about a 45 minute commute to the city, and called our professional to have us moved again. Saddened to leave our little location, and our 20 minute commute, we left on a beautiful sunny day and rolled right into a campground.
This campground had only a few requirements to park. You must be able to roll out in a few hours, you must have insurance, hook to all the systems, and your dogs must have a rabies shot. See, all this certification talk and zoning talk had me so scared that I was not asking the right questions. I was an non certified tiny, mostly do it yourself, with no desire to be registered. Who would ever take us ? The people I approached for advice, told me get certified and carry registration, or to register as a trailer and tell them I owned an RV. In Facebook groups and many conversations ..it happened over and over again. All things that I really, just morally, felt were not the right things to do. We were in a tiny house on wheels…that is obvious and manipulating the truth was not working for us.
We Did Not Want Our Tiny Home Classified As An RV
But, park after park and zoning office after zoning office did not care about any of this. I spent hours calling and finding out what the road blocks were and why they did not want us there? I made friends that I still chat with today. Basically, they did want us. But, they have ordinances and codes that they have to abide by. Most of the counties here have certain requirements for square footage and no way to classify anything that is on wheels. They would say it was an RV and I cannot live in that full time, but then at the same time recognize that it was not an RV because of how it was built and understand that it did not have certification. RV certifications are placed for RV’s (in our state) and once those are attached to the home, it cannot be considered a full time home you can live in. Most places only allow you to live in an RV six months out of the year, and that was certainly not something that we wanted to do in our tiny house, so this was not even an option for us. So, again the answer was no.
Legally Parked In A Campground
Now legally parked in a campground, I headed up a group of people across the whole state of Virginia and we started looking for parking. Where can we really go, because if I can get in this RV park, then I know there must be more! Little by little we all made calls and the list got a bit longer and a bit longer. Most of the counties seemed to have a few places that people could call home. With very similar options to what I had found too. In our search for accurate information we vetted each of these places. We asked do they accept tiny houses on wheels, what are the rates, what certifications do you need to park, do you need insurance, how long can you stay, and what about pets, and what are the on grid off grid options? I have yet to find one place in my state that even knew what the certifications for tiny homes were, and most did not even care if you had insurance on your own home, although we do have that as well. Many were open to off grid options as well, which I found surprising.
Hope Is On It’s Way
While my goal was to find legal parking in RV parks, there were many counties that did not have any, so it led to us looking a bit further into the zoning in the areas. I spent one afternoon calling four counties that I had never tried before. I had long discussions with the building inspectors about minimum square footage and Virginia construction codes,
Back The Truck Up – I Can Do What?
I got a hold of a zoning official in Buckingham county. I spoke with her about what I had and what I was looking to do. Which was essentially to buy land and have a legal place to park, but also stay on my wheels so that I can travel when I want to. And her answer came back…Yes, we can do that.
”Yes, I believe that we can do this”, she said. ”If you want to park in someone’s backyard, it will be considered a civil agreement and you have to be hooked up safe and proper and have a permit to be connected to the sewer.”
Ok, what if we wanted our own land?
”Yes, I think we can work with that too.” ” We can classify you as dwelling, ”( don’t you love the sound of the word- dwelling? ) and allow you to stay on the wheels, but you have to be hooked to the septic and be safe and proper with the permits.”
So, I pushed a bit farther, what about being off grid? What about a compost toilet? To which I was referred to the health department. But, again not told no!
Compost Toilet Allowed!
So, that was the next call I made, I got a hold of a fantastic gentleman at the health department who decided it would be good if we could meet in person and talk. I agreed and set up a day to drive out there and show him what I was doing in my little hybrid tiny house.
He checked out my water system and my compost toilet, and said he had no issue with us using a composting toilet, but the state required that we be hooked to septic for the gray water to be safe and proper. I thanked him for his time, and we chatted about the land we were looking at and I told him I would be in contact.
We Found Land!
LAND – We found land! We found one acre on a main road that had a well, septic, electric and great cell service and called and took a drive, and then decided to make an offer!
We set up a time to meet with the seller’s realtor the next day to sign an offer.
I could not sleep the whole night, bad dreams, fears of being kicked off the land, being told no after everything we had done. So, the next morning I got in the car and drive down to the zoning office. I asked to speak to the lady I had been talking to but she was out. Instead I was directed to speak to the building inspector. And, I can tell ya, I was sure he was going to walk out and say…”minimum square foot requirements.” But, he actually helped me gather all the permits that I would need, told me that there was not anything that said tiny house on wheels, so we need to check this box, and write in the section these words, and offered to help us however we could, and I left. But, even upon leaving, my heart was still racing. They were really OK with me doing this.
Our Tiny Home Is A Legal Dwelling-Meant As A Permanent Residence!
See, as much as I understand the need for certifications, building codes, and even square foot minimum requirements, we met all safety and fire requirements, including egress windows in our own tiny house per our builder (Incredible Tiny Homes) who guided us with the requirements. I also understand current rules and laws that are in place. These are the things I was working around. While there is nothing in their code or ordinances for this specific type of dwelling, there was also nothing that was stopping them from accepting this type of dwelling. We spent the next few months chatting about how to make this happen with what is already in place, different codes and ordinances that could be used to work for what I needed it to do.
Yes I Get To Keep The Wheels On!
We just closed on my land today…….the letter that is attached references that our tiny home will be considered a dwelling and taxed as a home/dwelling while still being able to reside on wheels, and not even forced to skirt the home unless we want to. They have only requested that we tie our dwelling down. We have the freedom to roll away when we want and come back when we want because of some wonderful people who were really willing to look at what we owned and make it happen. They do exist. You just have to find them.
Get with a local meetup group in your area and divvy up the counties in your state. Have everyone call as many people as they can about it. Give them a list of questions and have them send it back so it can be compiled in one place. Then ask them to work in areas that you don’t have information for. The more people calling, the more they take notice. The more accurate information that we present, the more they start listening to us when we call again with an update, or want to discuss a new bit of information that happened somewhere.
Get on the phone and start calling campgrounds/RV parks/ zoning officials (building inspectors, health departments, zoning offices) and talk to them about what you have. Talk to them about their codes, how to change them, when their meetings are being held, who will be presenting. Get to know that county and those people!
I basically behaved like a two year old during this process, and whenever I got a no or an answer that didn’t fit with what I was trying to do, I said …but why… Then it would open up for them to explain things further and have a dialogue. This helped me build relationships. I would ask for recommendations on what could be done to make changes, add variances to the rules that were on the books, or how could an ordinance be adopted so that rules in place could then be modified to accept tiny houses. This gave me the most information.
Then I took the information that was collected and shared it with everyone in the state that worked on it.
We continued to compile and share. We figured out which counties we could make headway in and then started working with them in more direct ways. Calling and discussing changes. Attending meetings as a group to voice opinions is the next step, and work on adding working to existing rules to allow for tiny houses on wheels. This is the step we are in now! So, you call follow me as we continue to make legal parking work for us right now in Virginia! And if you want to help, or want to do this in your state! You definitely can!
Always Keep Dreaming! Fulfillment Could Be Right Around The Corner
This was one of the first of our What’s Your Tiny Story? series, sharing the personal path of how an amazing Advocate like Melanie Copeland is forging a path to the benefit of others. Melanie has way more to the story that she would like to share, so be on the look out for more posts from Melanie.
Please contact Melanie on Facebook if you have questions.
Note: Please do your own personal due diligence in your own county or city to find a legal route to Make Tiny Possible!
The Virginia 2018 Code Development Cycle is currently underway. Sept 13th, 2019
All 2018 code cycle information is available on cdpVA
Sept 13th, 2019
Housing in Brief: HQ2 Real-Estate Boom in Northern Virginia Fueled By Speculators August 30th, 2019
Part of the problem is a lack of housing affordability. The other part, CBS said, is the growing wage gap between teachers and other professionals. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found last year that teachers earn 5 percent less than they did in 2009, when adjusted for inflation, and 11 percent less than other college-educated workers.
Virginia Is Set To Adopt IRC Appendix Q Tiny House With Zero Opposition August 23rd, 2019
Virginia must clear one more round of approvals, but is anticipated to sail through with no issues.
They would follow in California’s adoption footsteps: making the Appendix Q apart of state building code, and therefore mandatory throughout the state.
Virginia approved the proposed IRC 2021 Appendix Q Editions
The editions were developed in collaboration with Dan Fitzpatrick, Director of Government Relations for ATHA and THIA and advocates as a united effort with ATHA and THIA.
The 2021 Appendix Q editions seek to improve requirements for ceiling heights and landing platforms, both related to sleeping lofts. More to come on this!
” Our proposal for inclusion of Appendix Q for Tiny Homes moves forward with full support of DHCD and all in attendance at today’s meeting. This has been a 6 year effort that finally flew right across the finish line… WHEW ! ”
Just how eco-friendly are tiny homes? Very, according to new research August 6th, 2019
Tiny house proponents have long lauded the compact dwellings as an environmental savior. The smaller the home, the smaller the footprint, right? That argument has helped boost the popularity of tiny homes, but until now, there wasn’t much in the way of actual research on the topic.
Maria Saxton, a PhD Candidate in environmental planning and design at Virginia Tech, spent a year studying the environmental impact of people who moved into tiny homes, and she found that most tiny home dwellers reduced their energy consumption by 45 percent upon downsizing.
To glamp or not to glamp: County denies zoning changes July 18th, 2019
Essentially, he (or another applicant) would partner with a local landowner, business or agritourism operation and enter into a contract for a period of years where an upscale “tiny home” or other such recreational vehicle would be located on site. It would require water and septic connections, as well as power. While he didn’t have any specific sites or projects in the works, he first needed definitions in the ordinance to reflect what he is hoping to do. Any proposed camps, campgrounds and recreational vehicle parks still would require special-use permits.
Floyd Energy Fest: Featuring Thom Stanton and Dr. Maria Saxton July 13th, 2019
Join members of the area’s Floyd Tiny Home Innovators for tours of their hand-crafted creations, an open forum of tiny living seminars, and live Q&A discussions. Floyd’s notable tiny home designers, builders, and nationally recognized industry leaders. Thom Stanton is the President of THIA and Dr. Maria Stanton is a board member of THIA.
Three Deaf Business Owners Are Building A Tiny House Resort in West Virginia April 16th, 2019
While much of the resort is still in the works, the group has already secured 22 acres of forest next to Lost River State Park. Harrington has already constructed one tiny house, which is on-site and available for rental, and they’ve received zoning approval for another three.
“We want to make sure it’s run, built and owned by deaf people,” said co-founder Jane Jonas, through an interpreter. At the same time, “The whole point is we want to encourage hearing people to get a chance to come, (for) anyone to join our community and see what it’s like,” she said.
First tiny house in Virginia sits in Winchester April 9th, 2019
She says her tiny house, known as the Bird’s Nest for a small barn-swallow nest perched inside the first room, was the first in Virginia. And it’s not just the physical footprint of the house that’s small, it’s the ecological footprint as well.
CORRECTING THE RECORD: You Can Park a Tiny Home Anywhere in Virginia Beach
A tiny house could be legally placed in any district that’s zoned for a single-family residence. Some areas in Virginia Beach allow for multiple single family homes to be built on one lot, like a duplex. However, even if a builder had the physical space for 50 homes on one lot, they can only place as many houses on the lot as the zoning rules allow.
The Tiny House World: State Of The Union Written By Thom Stanton January 2019
New Year Unity: The Tiny House Movement Is A Dedicated Industry
2018 was a great year for the expanding presence of tiny homes. With such momentum, renewed vigor, and a united purpose, the organic tiny house movement branches out as a bona fide industry in 2019.
Here’s a recap of why we are here, where we are headed, how we will get there and who can help ( which means: We need you! )
Why We’re Here:
Tiny Homes Meet Needs Why go tiny? Well… we remain in a housing crisis, energy costs are on the rise, career paths change, natural disasters are cranking up the heat, and myriad economic factors leave many house-less in the wake of family crisis and personal financial hardship.Aesthetic interests and economies of small spaces aside, tiny houses fill voids where critical needs meet permissible use in these areas:
Aesthetic interests and economies of small spaces aside, tiny houses fill voids where critical needs meet permissible use in these areas:
Tiny homes in Fauquier? It’s a little complicated July 18th, 2018
Fauquier ready for tiny homes
At his office in Warrenton, Building Official Jeff Morrow has written a special pamphlet just for those interested in tiny homes titled, “Building codes affecting the permitting of TINY HOUSES.”
Among other things, it instructs that tiny homes of just 88 square feet are legal according to the 2015 International Residential Code. That would include a living area/kitchen of at least 70 square feet and a bathroom of 18 square feet.
The rest of the document lists nine standards the build must meet. Minimum ceiling height, for example, must be 7 feet. And as long as there is 7 feet of standing room under a loft, one can sleep in the loft, although it must “comply with minimum opening dimensions” for emergency escape and rescue.
Two Harvard guys based their million-dollar business on a whole lot of nothing Nov 23rd, 2019
They built a back-to-nature “tiny house” business called Getaway that’s all about locking up the iPhone (literally), heading into the woods, communing with black bears and (if that does it for you) decompressing.
“It’s supposed to be about doing nothing,” Davis said.
There is no WiFi. And cell coverage is spotty at their hotel rooms in the woods.
Sounds kind of granola, I know. But Getaway is grossing more than $1 million a year, and the guys are cash-flow positive.
Last year, they persuaded a venture capital fund specializing in quality-of-life companies called L Catterton to plow $15 million into the Davis & Staff idea of how to tune out the noise and lower your blood pressure.
A Firm Foundation For Tiny House Building Codes 3/22/2016
Tomorrow I will attend the first of two meetings to make and review proposals to Virginia’s Statewide Uniform Building Code.
A Bit of Background
The state’s building code borrows heavily from the most recent edition of the IBC (IRC 2015), though code proposals from Virginia are often used as precedent for introduction of future editions of the IRC. Tomorrow’s meeting covers the first chapter, which doesn’t seem to have anything of import to legalization of tiny houses (Scope and Administration).
Supporting Tiny Houses Interests During Virginia’s Code Change Process 3/9/2016
VBCOA Committee Chairs:
Thank you in advance for your review, replies, and assistance in guiding us through the process of consideration of tiny houses in Virginia.
I have summarized my message below into four areas to outline our existing efforts, challenges we collectively face, to request guidance, and offer a connecting with knowledge leaders and subject matter experts who can aid in the process of evaluation of tiny houses in Virginia. Your help navigating the process is greatly appreciated.
As the Rollins campus expands, one course is teaching students how to downsize.
To learn more about minimalist living, students in “Applied Design Solutions: Tiny Art Houses” are building a tiny house near the shore of Lake Virginia. The structure is aptly named, with the house being about 8 feet by 12 feet, which is roughly the size of a study room in the Olin Library.
The 300-level rFLA course is taught by Joshua Almond, associate professor of art, as a part of a sustainability collaboration with other faculty members. He chose tiny houses as a way to show how sustainability can be applied in real life.
Thom Stanton Appointed as State Chapter Leader of the American Tiny House Association 3/25/15
Timber Trails’ CEO, Thom Stanton, is now State Chapter Leader (Virginia) for the American Tiny House Association. Thom will continue making inroads with local and state municipalities for making the accessibility of affordable housing more available by rethinking the requirements for and parameters surrounding small living structures. “Through a concerted effort, we hope to legalize the construction and habitation of smaller domiciles, including ADUs (accessory dwelling units), EDUs (efficiency dwelling units), and tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) currently deemed uninhabitable due to ever-increasing minimal code standards.