The Tiny House Movement has noticeably grown in popularity since the release of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and the rise of transcendentalism in the mid 1800’s. Tiny homes offer a living experience for those who enjoy simplicity, minimalism, and freedom to travel. Tiny living can also be more affordable and sustainable, which is why California has made great strides in reducing its legal barriers in both rural and urban areas. Despite the popularity and benefits of tiny living, it’s common for tiny homeowners to become overwhelmed by the difficulty in finding legal parking for their tiny home on wheels, which are often referred to as THOW’s.
The complications and confusion are a result of the inconsistent and ever changing laws around tiny home classification and requirements. Tiny homes generally do not have their own legal housing classification and lie in a gray area between a house/trailer/mobile home and a recreational vehicle. The most important factor in parking your tiny home is determining its legal classification in the specific area that you are planning to live. Tiny homes on wheels pose the biggest challenge for tiny dwellers because they usually fall under the legal classification of a recreational vehicle. In most California areas, it is illegal to live in a recreational vehicle full-time.
Thankfully, there are several areas that have begun to allow full-time recreational vehicle occupancy and many California cities and counties have expanded their laws on THOW classification and parking.
This is due to recent changes in California state accessory dwelling unit (ADU) laws in 2020, where the state recognized the need for additional housing and reduced the setbacks for accessory dwelling units in residential zones. Because the main difference between THOW’s and ADU’s are the wheels, a growing number of areas have started to apply the same ADU exceptions to mobile tiny homes.
To legally park your tiny home on wheels in the state of California, you will have to choose an area that allows for full-time THOW occupancy, and you will need to understand the registration requirements and standards your home will need to meet.
California Cities and Counties that Allow Tiny Homes on Wheels as Permanent Dwellings
Fresno is a highly populated city in the San Joaquin Valley. It’s in a centralized location where you can enjoy living in the city while being less than 100 miles from several national forests, lakes, and other outdoor recreational areas. It was the first major California city to allow tiny homes on wheels to be permitted as full-time dwelling units on residentially zoned property.
Under Fresno’s Code of Ordinances, tiny homes are classified as backyard cottages, and must reside on a lot with another primary dwelling. The tiny home must be between 100 and 440 square feet of habitable space, and only one tiny home is allowed on the lot in addition to the primary dwelling. In Fresno, and in many other cities that allow THOWs, you must ensure that the appearance of your tiny home is similar and “visually compatible” with the primary dwelling. You can view a Fresno checklist of requirements for tiny homes HERE.
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is a beautiful city off the central coast of California with a rich history and art culture. It was also one of the earlier California cities to make updated housing laws to accommodate tiny homes on wheels. San Luis Obispo city ordinance allows only one tiny home per property, and you must submit an application and have the home inspected every 3-5 years to renew the structure permit. Home size must be 100 – 400 square feet of habitable floor space (not including the loft areas).
Humboldt County is the perfect option if you are looking to park your tiny home in a more rural location away from the crowds. Humboldt County is situated on the North Coast of California, which is home to several forests and mountain ranges.Humboldt County’s ordinance for tiny homes on wheels requires that the home must have 120 – 400 square feet of interior living space (not counting loft areas). THOWs are allowed on inland areas within the county and must follow any additional local ordinances.
Other California Cities and Counties with Ordinances that Allow Full-Time Tiny Living on Residential Lots
Despite there only being a short list of California jurisdictions that allow full-time living in tiny homes on wheels, many other California jurisdictions are currently working to improve and expand their laws. The State of California recognizes the positive impacts that tiny living has on the environment and the current housing crisis, so laws across the state are changing each year.
Legal Tiny Home Communities in California
A great option for tiny dwellers is to share a tiny home community or live in recreational parks where THOWs are legal. Two legal parks in California that cater to tiny dwellers are Tiny House Block and Delta Bay Tiny House Resort.
Delta Bay Tiny House Resort
Delta Bay Tiny House Resort is a legal community in Isleton and is located on the waterfront of the San Joaquin River. They offer tiny home rentals as well as short and long-term tiny home parking rental spaces. Delta Bay only allows a two-person maximum occupancy per space with a maximum of two animals. Monthly rates for tiny home parking at Delta Bay average $1500 and are subject to change. Please visit their website for more information.
Tiny House Block
Tiny House Block is one of the only legal tiny home communities in Southern California. They are in Mount Laguna, which is surrounded by the Cleveland National Forest. Tiny House Block offers short and long-term rentals for your tiny home as well as existing tiny homes that can be rented out within the community. The cost of a parking space averages $800 - $900 per month plus utilities. Prices are subject to change, so please visit their website for more information.
Parking Your Tiny Home in California’s National Parks
One of the greatest advantages of having a tiny home on wheels is the freedom to travel while still being in the comfort of your own home. California is home to some of the most beautiful national forests and parks in The Pacific Coast. You can reserve parking up to six-months in advance, and parking duration is limited to 30-days per campsite in a calendar year. Keep in mind that reservation limits, rules, and regulations vary from site to site and are subject to change. You can view a list of recreational vehicle sites and maximum size regulations HERE.
Registrations, Permits, and Regulations for Tiny Homes on Wheels in California
Legally parking your THOW takes plenty of time and planning, so give yourself several months to ensure that you complete all necessary documents, registrations, and preparations before parking your home. Although some ordinances may place the same ADU regulations on THOWs, they are still subject to the same requirements as recreational vehicles in the state of California. This means that you must register your tiny home with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Your tiny home must be small enough to legally move on California highways and be built on a single chassis. To register your tiny home with the DMV, you must first submit a Miscellaneous Certification (REG 256A), which registers your tiny home as a vehicle for human habitation and determines the specific type of housecar that it will be registered as. You can find information for registering your tiny home with the California Department of Motor Vehicles HERE.
In addition to registering your THOW with the DMV, it must also meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requirements. ANSI requirements involve safety standards that are set by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). If you had your tiny home built for you, it may already be RVIA and ANSI compliant, but if you are unsure, it is best to have your home inspected for compliance before submitting your DMV forms.
In addition to state-wide registration requirements, you will have to register your THOW in accordance with the city or county requirements where you will be parking. This will include things like building permits, safety inspections, and design requirements set by the city, county, or HOA. Because California is at a greater risk for fires, many areas also require the home to comply with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards for Recreational Vehicles.
Conclusion on where to legally park your tiny home in California
While tiny homes offer a more peaceful, simplistic way of living for many people, searching for legal tiny home parking can be a complicated and daunting task. Parking for tiny homes on wheels can be difficult because THOWs often lack their own legal classification and many areas do not allow full-time occupancy of recreational vehicles. However, California has become one of the most popular areas for tiny dwellers because of the beautiful environment and quick advances to allow tiny living.
Short-term tiny home parking can be found across the state and its many national parks. Long-term parking poses more difficulty, but is becoming more widely available each day. It’s important to understand all registration and regulation guidelines before parking your tiny home. Close attention should be given to the regulations set by the state as well as the city or county that you plan to reside in. Tiny home consultants are a great resource to help navigate the various laws and regulations A great way to stay up to date with the ever changing laws around tiny homes is to talk with other tiny dwellers. TinyFest events are a great way to become more involved with the community, connect with others who are living tiny, and to get the most out of the tiny living experience. TinyFest events are held each year in California as well as other areas across the United States. You can attend an event, read the TinyFest blog, or join the email list to learn more about tiny living and the amazing community that comes with it.
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