Legal Update: Some Small Victories

Hi everyone. I wanted to write an update that covers what has happened so far to the best of my understanding. The long and the short of it is that we’re not kicked out of our tiny house, at least not yet (Small victory #1).

First, to recap the events leading up to tonight:

  1. We built a tiny house on wheels and moved it onto property that we bought in Steilacoom.
  2. We lived there peacefully for 17 months. Assimilated into the community. We never stole any utilities or illegally hooked into the grid, we paid for all utilities and paid the taxes for property that we are on.
  3. We got a letter from the Town Administrator which basically said the town was aware that we are living in a Tiny House, they thought we were breaking several municipal and utility codes by doing so, they wanted to give us a chance to offer input on our living situation before making a formal decision.
  4. Three or four days later we met with the town administrator. We assured him that we were playing by the rules as far as we knew. There was no ordinance preventing people from staying in an RV on theor property. We asked which codes were being violated, apropos the letter we recieved, and he had no answer for us. He told us it was a gray area and that he would be in touch after talking more with the town lawyer and town planner.
  5. A few days later we received an email from the same Town Administrator that told us about an upcoming Planning Commission meeting that would be voting on a new ordinance that deals with use of temporary uses and structures (specifically limiting the use of an RV in town to 14 days). In the email the Town Administrator suggested that this ordinance might “directly impact us” so we might want to go and provide input.

On our way to the meeting at the Town Hall we definitely weren’t sure what to expect. The ordinance proposed seemed to be targeted at us and our tiny house, especially when we considered the timing of everything. What are the odds that all of these things are happening right now? I’m sure people have been living in RVs for years but shortly after they discovered our tiny house, suddenly there are ordinances going into effect that might prevent it? In reality it might have just been coincidence that all these things are lining up, but it’s hard to tell.

At the Planning Commission meeting tonight we asked the commission to consider creating an exception for tiny houses, to not lump them in with RVs but to recognize them for what they are: houses (just really small ones). They do not serve the same purpose as RVs and are built to be long term livable places. They make more sense to be considered as ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units, AKA Mother-In-Law units, AKA backyard cottages) and essentially they serve the same purpose which is more affordable, smaller impact housing. Several other town members and friends also spoke on behalf of us and in favor of tiny houses.

Ultimately what the planning commission decided is that because a tiny house really isn’t an RV (small victory #2), the proposed code doesn’t affect tiny houses so the whole conversation about tiny houses isn’t really relevant to the new ordinance (which they then passed). They also admitted that tiny houses can’t be ignored, some of the members seemed to actually be very in favor of the idea (with caveats of course) and they decided to add the discussion around tiny houses as an upcoming agenda item (small victory #3). Creating a new agenda item to discuss tiny houses in a future Planning Commission meeting seems like a good step. Tiny houses will be talked about by actual people who create municipal code and the implications will have to be considered seriously. We of course plan to be at any of the upcoming meetings related to tiny houses to voice our opinion and hope that they will be open minded and progressive when it comes to this movement. It will still be a battle of course and definitely not everyone involved is open to the idea. It feels like there will be a mixture of yes, maybe, and no. So at this point we will have to wait and see what happens and we will do our best to remain a positive advocate for Tiny House dwellers in our city, state, and beyond.

Thanks to everyone for your support. As of now it appears that we can stay in our tiny house at least until more decisions get made. We will keep you updated as we learn more.

KOMO 4 News Coverage 8/8/2016 5pm broadcast and 6pm broadcast

KIRO 7 News Coverage 8/8/2016 11pm broadcast (link coming soon)

Shannon does an interview with Kiro 7 after the Planning Commission meeting.

Shannon does an interview with Kiro 7 after the Planning Commission meeting.

Posted in Living Tiny
9 comments on “Legal Update: Some Small Victories
  1. Tonie says:

    WAHOOO!! Praying for continued victories!

  2. T Ah says:

    I hope you’re going to be proactive on this issue rather than just waiting for the hammer to drop. If you haven’t yet, go to http://americantinyhouseassociation.org/tips-on-working-toward-tiny-house-acceptance/ and http://americantinyhouseassociation.org/model-zoning/ to see what is happening in other locations, and get ideas about how to deal with the authorities. Good luck.

  3. Shantel says:

    Please keep sharing your journey with the city. I just moved into my tiny house in the Bonney Lake area and I heard your story on the radio this morning. Praying everything works out and listening to hear how your community responds.

  4. If the wheels were removed and it were fastened to a ‘permanent’ foundation (like concrete piers) could you get a permit as an ADU?

  5. Lisa Adams says:

    This is very promising, pioneering the Tiny House movement isn’t for the faint hearted!

    • Peter Johnson says:

      Unfortunately it isn’t going as well as we previously thought. The town is taking action to force us out. We are trying to figure out how to fight it.

  6. mick mccrary says:

    You are being put thru the political ringer, but are playing the game as asked. Hope it turns out in your favor. But just in case, I remember an old attorney I once had that had a little statue of a man holding a law book under his arm sitting on his desk. Under the statue it said “sue the bastards”….his stock answer as to what to do if you feel you have been wronged. Hope it dont come to that. Good Luck
    PS….I worked for Pierce County Sheriff in the early 60’s after a stint in the USAF at McCord.

  7. Ruth Vallejos says:

    Good luck with this. An idea I had: in the zoning regulations for your lot, do they express minimum house size requirements? Most zoning laws are about maximums – for instance, 40% maximum lot coverage. And this is to enforce a certain density. I’ve not seen many rules that cover someone who wants to build less, or much less, than the law allows. If that’s the way the law is written, then it may come down to the fact your home is on wheels.

    Another idea: Have you offered to let the town council or ruling body tour your house? Seeing it on film is one thing, but actually touring it is another. They may have different feelings about it after walking in and seeing how solid it is.

  8. Pat Dunham says:

    Most cities and towns have something called being grandfathered in if you are already doing something that isn’t on the books. And the new law is for the new people effected by it, which doesn’t seem to be you. Check that out. You were already there before the new law they are trying to pass.

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