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5 Essential Rules for Building Your Tiny Home in Oregon

Tiny homes aren't just a passing fad. Follow these rules to make your Oregon tiny house a rewarding and legal experience.

Opting to exchange a big, expensive home for a tiny house is an exciting time in your life. The trend to go "tiny" is growing in popularity throughout the U.S., but the law often sees tiny homes as occupying a grey space somewhere between camper vans or mobile homes and more traditional family residences. 

It can be challenging to understand what's legal and what's not, and sometimes your dream of going small can mean you need to be flexible about where you end up settling down. 

If you would like to know more about tiny house living in Oregon, then here are five rules to keep in mind that should see you well on your way to achieving your dreams. All of this info and more comes from the Design Your Dream Tiny House DesignClass.

1. Know Your Standards

Fortunately, Oregon is one of the more progressive states regarding tiny house rules and regulations, but codes still vary between cities. The State of Oregon has laid out preliminary regulations around tiny houses in the state. Currently, they separate tiny houses into three categories:

  • Permanent - Attached to an approved foundation. Prioritizes occupant safety and energy efficiency. 
  • Temporary - Built on a chassis or frame and may have wheels. Prioritizes mobility. 
  • Transitional - Living facilities for persons who lack shelter. Prioritizes flexibility to meet local needs. 

The state  recognizes different types of tiny houses that can be utilized within the 3 categories.

  • Recreational Vehicle - An RV tiny home is a vehicle with or without motive power to be used temporarily for recreational, seasonal, or emergency purposes. Tiny homes with a pitched roof, bay windows are exempt from state RV regulations. 
  • Park Trailer - a park model tiny home that does not exceed 400 square feet and is certified by the manufacturer to comply with the nationally recognized standard for RV construction. They are built on a chassis and designed as temporary living quarters. Oregon State does not regulate the construction of park trailer tiny homes. 
  • Permanent tiny homes offer the easiest route to legal sitting and occupation. Oregon tiny homes can be sited as single-family residences or accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

When built to the Oregon Residential Specialty Code (ORSC), tiny homes are possible in any residential or commercial zone that allows single-family residences. 

2. Know the Size Requirements

Oregon does not stipulate a minimum size for tiny houses, but they have an upper limit. 

The State Building Codes Division (BCD) and International Residential Code (IRC) Appendix Q defines an area of 400 square feet (37 square meters) or less as tiny. This figure does not include lofts used as sleeping areas. 

We highly recommend familiarizing yourself with Appendix Q, as it lays out everything you can do with your tiny house. 

You should also be aware that the IRC 2018 only provides the framework for getting a tiny house approved as a dwelling. It does not regulate the transportation of your tiny home. You will need to work with the DMV to arrange relocation. 

3. Know your Local Zoning Regulations

One of the most challenging aspects of transitioning to a tiny home is knowing where you can build or park it. 

Tiny house communities are popping up all over Oregon, where small lots are sold to individuals seeking the tiny home lifestyle. A few Oregon cities and towns are well known for embracing the tiny house lifestyle, including: 

  • Monroe
  • Lakevi
  • Eugene 
  • Portland

In Portland, for example, land with a residential property can host one tiny house or RV, creating options for those looking to house elderly relatives. You do need to comply with all the local building codes applicable to permanent structures. 

Who Controls Zoning?

If you aren't sure about what is possible in your chosen area, meeting with an official at your local zoning or city planning office is the best way to get off to a good start. An easy way to get started is to google your city name and and "planning office."

What Do I Need to Know? 

It goes without saying but never start a construction project in Oregon until you are positive that it falls within regulations. You should also never hand over cash for land that you have been told can host a tiny home until you have checked with the zoning department. 

Zoning maps will show you everything you need to know about the development standards, including minimum size requirements. 

What Are My Options?

The best advice we can give you is to understand the zoning maps for your area so you can know for sure whether your plans for a tiny home are possible. Unfortunately, zoning laws are different for every city, which is why we recommend you stay flexible about where you will live when choosing to go tiny. 

Look for residential areas that allow for accessory dwelling units, which means you can build a tiny home in the backyard of an existing property. 

When discussing your options with a city Planning Department official, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • I want to purchase/build a tiny house on a property I own/rent. Are there regulations covering dwellings under 400 square feet?
  • I am considering adding a tiny house as an accessory dwelling unit. What are the regulations, if any, for ADUs?

4. Consider Your Finances

The tiny house movement is still in its early stages, so there are many lenders out there who have yet to hear about this growing lifestyle trend. Lack of understanding on the lender's part can make it challenging to secure funds at a reasonable rate. Many people will turn to high-interest rate loans or borrow heavily on their credit cards. 

However, awareness is growing among lenders, and more forward-thinking companies are starting to come to the party. Here are a few of your options for financing your tiny house. 

Manufacturer's Financing

Tiny houses are a growing phenomenon, and manufacturers eager to secure more market share have started offering direct financing to their customers. Most often, the format of the loan is an integrated RV loan. 

Standard Mortgages

The bottom limit for a mortgage usually is $50,000, but even this low an investment won't work for a tiny house on wheels. In a traditional mortgage, the bank uses the home as collateral for the loan, and houses on wheels don't count. 

Some lenders are starting to pave the way with specific products geared towards tiny home financing. LightStream from SunTrust Bank is now offering loan terms between 24 and 84 months. However, it's important to know that the loan structure leans more towards a personal loan than a full-blown mortgage. 

RV Loans 

RV loans are structured much the same as personal loans, but with slightly lower interest rates. The other main difference is they come with the stipulation that the funds must be used to purchase a qualified Recreational Vehicle according to NFPA 1192 travel trailer code. 

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is finance that a group of individuals provides. The loans are facilitated by a platform that acts as a trustworthy middleman who gathers the investors and vets the borrowers. A great example of a P2P network is LendingClub. The finance does not come from a bank, but rather a group of individuals investing their own money. 

FHA Loans 

FHA loans are mortgages provided by an FHA-approved lender and insured by the Federal Housing Administration. They are designed to be accessible to low-to-moderate income borrowers and have lower minimum down payment and credit score requirements than more conventional loans.

Credit Cards

Credit cards have the advantage that they are easy to get. Plus, the money can be used for just about anything, making them a handy resource when there's a shortfall from other finance types. However, the high interest rates can make them an unattractive strategy for financing a tiny home. There are low spending limits can also present a barrier to covering the full cost of a tiny home. 

Personal Loans

Personal loans are another popular tiny home financing strategy. Applying for a personal loan is relatively straightforward, but, like credit cards, it may not be possible to secure enough to fund the entire purchase. Personal loans are also usually shorter-term loans with higher interest rates than the average mortgage. 

5. Prioritize What's Important to You

When designing your tiny house, prioritize what's most important to you. For example, if you love cooking up a storm in the kitchen, you won't be satisfied with a compact oven or a stove with just two burners. If you enjoy gaming or watching TV on a full-size couch after work, a compact lounge room will cramp your style. 

Likewise, many people don't like the idea of waking up and having to crawl out of their bedroom. If this is you, then a design that allows you to stand up in your bedroom will ensure your move to a tiny home is a satisfying and long-term one. Even though a tiny house is small, it can feel like a flexible and workable space if you prioritize what is important to you. Spend time jotting down ideas about what components are a must-have in your tiny house.

If you need some advice about how to really take your planning to the next level, check out Design Your Dream Tiny House with Lou Pereyra. Join this DesignClass and learn about sketching your ideas, interior design, exteriors, layouts, materials, financing, and everything you'll need to know about going tiny.

Craving the Tiny House Lifestyle in Oregon? 

The Tiny House builders Master Directory has been created to help you connect with the best tiny home builders in your area.

Not ready to build but want to learn more?

Learn more about going tiny in our Design Your Dream Tiny House DesignClass.

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