Despite the best efforts of reality TV shows to make "going tiny" look easy, the challenge remains for living legally
While tiny house builders and buyer try to grasp the realities surrounding the expanding the potential to live in tiny houses on wheels (THOW), the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) makes its position clear in an article published on the page for Park Model RVs on RVIA.org
Are Park Model RVs 'Tiny Homes?'
There has been a lot of coverage of the 'tiny home movement' in the media lately. People often wonder, "Are Park Model RVs 'tiny homes?'"
The answer is that Park model RVs are not homes at all. So calling the tiny homes is a bit misleading. Park Model RVs ar designed and built for temporary seasonal or recreational use, never as permanent residence. Park Model RVs belong in campgrounds or by a lake or in the woods, not in housing communities.
That said, almost all so-called 'tiny homes' that the media describes are not really homes either. That's because federal, state, and local laws typically require that permanent residences be built to federal,l state or local building codes or standards. Few so-called 'tiny homes' meet those standards.
Park Model RVs, on the other hand, are built to rigorous RV standards. And every Park Model RV that bears the RVIA seal is certified by its manufacturer to meet those standards.
For a consumer looking for a permanent residence for full-time living, Park Model RVs are not the answer -- but for the consumer who wants to 'go tiny' for a vacation getaway place and wants to ensure they are compliant with federal, state and local laws, Park Model RVs are the perfect product.
First off, having corresponded with RVIA's Park Trailer Executive Director, Matt Wald, the article's use of our company's tag line caught our eye. Glad to have been of service for a catchy close. Go Tiny!
Now, notice how the RVIA warmly welcome the use of PMRVs for seasonal and recreational use while downplaying the suggestion that they could be used as dwellings. Before you think I'm being tough on the RVIA let me defend their position by saying that to officially open the door for use of park models as tiny houses crosses a threshold for greater government oversight as real "houses" are governed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Many in the tiny house movement eschew government involvement in their personal lives, so imagine what this could mean for an industry that -- MSRP sticker prices and profit statements aside -- operates on thin margins. Just a glance at the thick. two volume set for the IRC building codes illustrates why home building may remain relegated to more professional contractors than homeowner/builders.
Having Uncle Sam involved in implementation of excessive regulation and oversight could doom the RV industry. So let's give the RVIA rights to step around the same slick spots on our regulatory dance floor.
The few and the proud of our tiny house community may rightfully proclaim the RVIA certification seal when marketing their "tiny house" models. While the RVIA states that PMRVs have a line we should never cross along our path to tiny house freedom.
I've yet to see the bigger tiny house brands towing the same line with their trailer-based units: That "tiny homes" are strictly for recreational use and don't belong in a housing community. They remain marketed as "Tiny Houses" with all the amenities of a wee little humble home.
Earlier this year, the RVIA's Matt Wald explained to me that the association is no longer allowing tiny house companies to join their ranks of manufacturer members. Here too, and for the sake of their seal's integrity, their reasoning here remains sound: Most THOW companies don't produce enough models for their certification inspectors to see all aspects of production during their periodic site inspections.
Remember, builders using the ANSI 119.5 as the basis for sealing their Park Model RVs are "certified manufacturers" who uphold their agreement to "meet or exceed" the ANSI 119.5 standard for Park Model RV production. To be clear, certification apples to an approved builder, not an individual unit, so seeing one or two THOWs being built side-by-side won't cut it. To quote the man in charge of a local building inspection department,
"If I can't see it, I can't inspect it."
And therein lies the rub for some. Even if the RVIA allowed more tiny home manufacturers into their fold, individual "backyard builders" would be left out in the cold as its too costly to send a certification inspector out to every tiny house build. Further, even if you paid the local inspector to stamp permits throughout the process, the moment you pull your tiny house across the line to another municipality, your carefully prepped plans, properly secured permits, and coveted Certificate of Occupancy would be worthless.
Still, regardless of your ability (read: inability) to secure the coveted 50-state RVIA Certification Seal, tiny house builders should -- at a minimum -- use the ANSI code as the basis for building your tiny house.
And every other state in the Union! In the RVIA's joint press release with the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), RVIA commits to park trailer manufacturers that:
RVIA will continue efforts to have HUD accept the A119.5 as an exception to the Construction Code.
The stance in the archived press release is encouraging. Having HUD accept ANSI 119.5 would be a boon to tiny house builders. Having this code base in place, state and local municipalities would be empowered to use ANSI 119.5, or a derivative document, as the guidelines for legally permitting tiny houses.
But the more publicly maintained stand that PMRVs are used exclusively for "recreational purposes only (and) are not meant to be permanently affixed to the property" illustrates the understandably guarded position of the RVIA. Further that PMRVs "do not improve property values in any way, and they are neither designed nor intended by their manufacturers to be used as permanent residences" suggests they've left the field of battle, and are taking their big guns with 'em.
We live in an interesting time as "tiny house" companies are allowed to become manufacturer members of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association with rights to issues certification seals on the units they produce. The RVIA, however, dissuades folks from suggesting that PMRVs could make for legitimate little tiny houses on wheels.
So here too, let's "give 'em grace" for RVIA's upholding the standard that is currently allowed by law. That said, I hold out hope that the RVIA pursues the use of ANSI 119.5 as a kind of "short form" for park model construction. Maybe there's the need for a hybrid code, but -- like most regulatory modifications -- that kind of change could take forever.
One thing is certain, the RVIA is a professional membership association, and has already let many of the bigger tiny house brands into its membership. RVIA remains a strong voice that lobbies for the rights of its members. Let's hope the RVIA does their part to represent those who build and market tiny houses, tiny homes, mini-homes, or any other moniker of a little domicile proudly emblazoned with their shiny new certification seal.
The Tiny House Movement has gained massive media attention, and remains the not-so-shy little darling of a host of reality TV programs. Long before the tiny house trend started its steep climb, many RV parks and campgrounds allowed its tenants full-time access and month-to-month living.
While being a "full-time RVer" isn't for everyone, and not all jurisdictions allow for RVs to be treated as permanent residences, the signs remain strong in favor of tiny houses gaining legitimacy as legal full-time residences. One thing is for certain, there are more and more popping up... here, there, and everywhere around the world.
Be sure you're prepared to prove that your tiny house was built by -- at a minimum -- the ANSI 119.5 as outlined, or better. While some will say "PMRVs aren't tiny homes," others may argue "why not?" Many legally marketed, well manufactured, and properly purchased tiny houses are already designated as RVIA Certified Park Model RVs.
When making our case, we must stand strong beside our friends in the fight for our small spaces. Let us hope the RVIA publicly expresses its solidarity of membership and shows unwavering support of their tiny house constituents as well.
From the big DOT-ORG to the single mom with her new certified THOW, we're all in the tiny house world together.