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Where In Massachusetts Are Tiny Houses Legal?

Where Can You Put A Tiny House in Massachusetts?

With your help, we’re compiling a list of every city and town in Massachusetts and its attitude toward tiny houses on wheels and on foundations.  This is part of a larger initiative by the American Tiny House Association to gather tiny house information for every state in the US.  (Katie at B&B Tiny Houses is also ATHA’s northeast regional director.)

As you’ll see in the chart, most cities and towns don’t already have a policy on tiny houses, whether on foundations or on wheels, so their stance on tiny houses is currently unknown.  Municipalities probably won’t consider whether to allow tiny houses unless someone brings it up with them!  As we’ve seen in Nantucket and Auburn, all it takes is one person to ask.

Please add to the list:

If you have spoken with your municipality’s government (zoning board, building inspector, or someone else) about tiny houses we would love to add your info to the list.  There’s even a column for rumors, if you’ve heard a town might or might not be amenable to tiny house living but haven’t spoken with them directly yourself. 

How to find out if your city or town allows tiny houses:

Zoning codes for many municipalities can be found on your town’s website or on ecode360.com. 

If you haven’t spoken with anyone in your city or town government yet but would like to know whether a tiny house on wheels or on a foundation would be legal, send a quick email to your town’s zoning board (you can find their contact info on your town’s website).  

Be sure to include the following information:

  • What kind of tiny house you’re inquiring about (on a foundation or on wheels?)
  • What code the house would be built to (if it’s on a foundation, does it comply with Massachusetts residential building code? If it’s a tiny house on wheels, is it certified by the RVIA or another third-party inspector?)
  • A description of where you’d like to put it (in a backyard, on its own lot, or in a community) and the address so your zone can be confirmed.  If you don’t have an address in the town but would like to move there, let them know that as well.

They’ll be able to tell you right away whether tiny houses are legal.  If they’re not currently in the zoning, they’ll be able to advise you whether it’s worth pursuing a change in the zoning bylaws.  

If you have info on a specific municipality, please email [email protected] and we’ll get your info added to the list.

Here are some tips to use the spreadsheet effectively:

  • The spreadsheet retains its formatting if you’re on a computer rather than on a mobile . If you’re on a mobile you won’t be able to sort columns.
  • To sort a column, right-click the letter at the top of the column and select “Sort A-Z”. For example, if you want to see all the towns in Hampden County, right-click “B” at the top of the second column (or click the small triangle next to “B”) and select “Sort A-Z”. Then scroll down to where the Hampden County section starts. If you only want to see towns with information added about tiny houses on foundations, you may select that column, which is “D”, and sort. Scroll to where the info starts.
  • To see all the information in a cell, click the cell.  The full text will show up in the bar above the sheet.

 

How Dominique Kerins of Auburn, MA Convinced Her Town’s Zoning & Building Inspector To Approve Tiny Houses

Dominique Kerins and her husband wanted to put an accessible tiny house in the yard of their regular-sized home in Auburn, MA for her aging grandmother, so she inquired whether that would be possible at her Town Hall.

Fast forward a couple months, and Auburn’s Annual Town Meeting was last night.  Tiny Houses were the last item on the warrant to discussed, and it passed!

So how did she do it?  Dominique was gracious enough to get a sitter for her kids in order to grant us an interview.

Auburn’s Town Meeting Warrant can be read here.  The tiny house articles are #33 and #34; you’ll read more about the distinction between the two articles in the interview.  The approval process isn’t over yet: next, it’ll be sent to the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (who visited the B&B Tiny Houses workshop last year) to be signed into law for the town of Auburn.

We are so grateful to Dominique for pitching the idea of tiny houses to her town, and in doing so, paving the way for others to do the same in their own municipalities.


First, what’s the background story?  What originally led you to ask your town for permission to put a tiny house in your yard?

  • My husband and I were looking to make changes to the Auburn zoning bylaws so that our family could build a Tiny Home on our property for our aging Grandmother, who currently pays 9K/month for senior housing in Medfield. Our intention was to keep down costs for her, and for us, and to prioritize multigenerational living. We opted for a THOW [Tiny House On Wheels] in our side yard, not only because they’re awesome but because they offer many strengths in creating a solution specific to our unique situation. THOWs offer strengths like affordability, accessibility and adaptability. All other alternatives considered or tried (like senior housing, and building on to our current single-family home) are unaffordable, and are not ideal for the long-term!) THOWs on the other hand can be easily re-purposed, sold or simply relocated. It happens to be a BONUS that THOWs promote healthier living and green initiatives.

Did you originally intend to get permission solely for tiny houses meant for caregiving, or was that restriction suggested by the planning board or another entity?

  • We certainly wanted to keep as many options open to the public as humanly possible, maintaining that people should be able to do what they see fit on their own parcels of land. Unfortunately, after a lot of planning board meetings and emails, we were forced to accept the negotiated terms if we were to gain any traction with the town. Nevertheless, we came to realize that the narrowed (senior and disabled) audience had most to gain, especially given that Auburn has the HIGHEST population of elders in their 60’s and 70’s across the state. All other audiences (college students, for instance), or persons looking to save money, may have a bit more time than the elders for the bylaws to be altered and tweaked down the road!

What was the process?  How long has this process taken so far?  What are the next steps for Article 33 to come to fruition?

  • We went to the Town Hall, in February of this year, thinking that the Zoning Enforcement (Building Inspector) would have most insight on the feasibility of building tiny in Auburn. He did provide insight, and some healthy skepticism that led us to be more prepared for questions presented by the Planning Board, roughly 1 month later.
  • The Building Inspector directed us to speak with the Town Planner, who had more information about the collaborative efforts of the Planning Board and the creators of the town’s Master Plan (which I read prior, and understood to give priority to the seniors in Auburn).
  • The Town Planner encouraged us to do 2 things:
    • Create a citizen’s petition, requiring signatures from the town’s (voting-age) residents in support of our idea.
    • Solicit recommendation and support from the town’s Planning Board and Selectmen in order to compose more detailed language to present to the Town Hall.
  • The first item was easy. The second required attending many Planning Board meetings, and a bit of bickering and emailing.
  • Realizing that the Town backed their own detailed bylaw (and not our original language), we felt it best to work with them; I made phone calls to voters in our precinct to ask for their support, and mailed a letter to all voters to do the same, instructing them to support Article #33 at Town Hall.
  • At Town Hall, we sat as members of the audience, quietly, biting our fingernails, as we watched the Town Planner present the Bylaw proposal. After time (and confusion at the Town Meeting), the Bylaw was approved by a 2/3 vote.
  • Next, the bylaw gets sent to Atty. General for approval! In the meantime, I have written Representative Frost (who is an Auburn resident) to ask for his support in expediting the approval process.

I understand you and your husband are builders and plan to build your own tiny house.  Did the town of Auburn ask you to build it (or prove that it has been built) to a particular set of standards or code?

  • …We have done a lot of building in the past. My husband is a concrete mason and is gifted as a handy man.  We have completed a lot of renovation projects, mainly in basements, (in our particular home, the renovated basement wouldn’t suffice for our elderly grandmother, for obvious reasons). The town… asked that we ensure that it is built to the town’s standards as well as those specified by the state and the federal government (and HUD). IRC – the international residential building code, will inform the building standards. Thankfully, my husband is well versed in the language of building codes!
  • I should also shout out to the awesome Design & Build school, Yestermorrow, in Vermont, for having providing so much valuable insight on the ins and outs of Tiny Home construction!!!! The class was invaluable to preparing us for the questions presented by the Town.

Before now, have you ever been involved in a political or government process?  Did you reach out to others for help or guidance along the way?  Are there any other Auburn residents you know of who are interested in having their own tiny houses?

  • Besides my exposure to college-level or professional procedural hearings, I had not been involved in politics. Reaching out to neighbors was very helpful, as was the opportunity to read Katie Jackson’s updates [Ed. Note: hey, thanks for the shoutout!] and other bloggers on tiny living. Just knowing that others are going through similar situations has been extremely insightful and comforting.

What advice would you have for others looking to ask for permission to have a tiny house in their own municipality?

  • Look at the town’s bylaws. Pay attention to the wording, formalities and procedural recommendations.
  • Network – not only at Town Hall (knowing your Selectmen, Town Planner, Zoning enforcement officials, Planning Board and Clerks) but also the Fire Chief, Police, and regular folk too!
  • Have details READY (blueprints, preexisting example images, placement plans, building plans etc.) The town asks A LOT OF QUESTIONS!!!
  • Consider taking a class (as above mentioned, Yestermorrow was really helpful for DIY building advice!)
  • Be prepared for lots of questioning, answering and follow-up, and try your best to stay positive

Finally, do you have images you’d like to share?  

  • This is our own mock-up, that I’ve created using a program, Home Designer Pro. The wheel wells are “hidden” by a “skirt” in the picture. SketchUp was also helpful in rendering templates with trailers. They have a 30 day free trial, which is nice.

Dominique’s Self-Designed Tiny House For Her Grandmother


Rendering: Dominique’s Self-Designed Tiny House Next To Her Home

 

 

Planning Board Meeting Recap: Backyard Cottages in Williamstown, MA?

Williamstown, MA had its planning board meeting last night, discussing whether to allow backyard cottages and second apartments to homes in certain zones of town. It was a full house, with others who couldn’t get seats standing in the hallway.

In the photo, Amy Jeschawitz, Chair of the Planning Board, sits under the town flag, depicting Williamstown’s beloved 1753 House. The 1753 House was originally called a “Regulation House” by the early European settlers, who, in order to be considered land owners, had to build a house that was at least 15’ x 18’ and 7’ tall. At 270 sq ft, this would certainly be considered a “tiny house” by today’s standards!

The size of the detached ADUs (backyard cottages) in the current proposed bylaw would be limited to between 900 and 1200 square feet, determined by the size of the existing home and its lot.

Also addressed was allowing a second unit to an existing single family home, either within or added on to the existing building. These two bylaws would mean that a single unit property within certain zones could ostensibly turn into a three-unit property.
The planning board voted 3-1 in favor of recommending the proposed bylaws, with the additional restriction of a five year wait between adding a second unit to a property and adding a third.

The bylaws will now be taken to Town Meeting.

Read more on the meeting from iBerkshires: https://www.iberkshires.com/story/59488/Williamstown-Planners-Recommend-Dwelling-Bylaw-Amendments.html

Appendix Q “Tiny House Appendix” Advances in Massachusetts, August 2018

Tiny House Appendix Advances in MA!

From the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) August 14, 2018 Regular Meeting Division of Professional Licensure (DPL):

Proposal Number 5-2-2018 – Consider adopting Appendix Q of the International Residential Code pertaining to Tiny Houses.

“On a MOTION by Rich Crowley seconded by Kevin Gallagher it was voted in the majority to advance Appendix Q forward as an amendment to the ninth edition of the code, independent of the tenth edition effort.

On discussion, Rob Anderson indicated that Board members should refrain from making changes to the ninth edition if the effort is to advance to a tenth edition based on the 2018 I-Codes. Jen Hoyt and Kerry Dietz agreed that it becomes awkward and confusing and, by their estimation, there still may be some issues to be resolved with other agencies relating to tiny houses and it makes more sense to review further as part of the tenth edition revision.

Following discussion, the motion was approved via a majority of Board members with Rob Anderson, Jen Hoyt, and Kerry Dietz voting in opposition.”

Next Steps:

According to Rich Crowley, board member of the MA BBRS, the next steps are for a public hearing in November and then a final vote.

“We’ve voted it in now it’s on to public hearing and final vote. After Tuesday’s vote I don’t anticipate any objection… In fact at one of our previous meetings there was one member, the architect, that voiced some opposition to micro units and this time she offered some positive feedback. The Proposal will return with a document that will more than likely get a unanimous approval as well. That should make it to the hearing and  to promulgation along with tiny houses.
…Once the hearing is over the following month we decide on all the items came in front of us at the hearing and vote up or down or move them somewhere but some form of action is taken at that following meeting. tiny houses are more than likely move forward. At that point it’s just two steps away from [promulgation].
Next it goes to Administration and finance. Once they sign off then it goes to the governor’s desk for signature. It takes maybe a day or two after that for the Secretary of State too publish it as a part of our first amendment to the 9th Edition of the mass building code. The date that gets published is the date of becomes Law so to speak.
I think we can get it all done by the first of the year pretty close. I have talked to lieutenant governor who’s very excited and wants to see it move forward. In fact when one of  governor Baker’s main themes is for affordable housing and that’s what this does. Give people a chance to get on that first rung of the ladder.”

Background Info:

What is The Tiny House Appendix?

Appendix Q addresses building code standards for small houses on foundations that have already been adopted into the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), including standards for lofts, stairs, egresses, and ceiling heights.  To be clear, the adoption of the Tiny House Appendix won’t completely legalize tiny houses in Massachusetts– that’s up to each city– but if it is adopted, it will provide a set of building standards for under 400 sq ft homes where they are legalized, and where they aren’t yet legalized, help legitimize tiny homes in the eyes of local building departments.  Appendix Q does not address tiny houses on wheels, as they are currently considered vehicles.

Read the Tiny House Appendix here.

Appendix Q in Massachusetts

Andrew and Gabriella Morrison have been instrumental in writing and getting the Tiny House Appendix adopted into the national 2018 IRC: now it’s up to each state, and then each city/town in each state, to adopt it into their specific building code.  Andrew presented at a Massachusetts BBRS meeting, introducing Appendix Q last fall.

Massachusetts BBRS Approves Tiny House Appendix: Here’s What’s Next

Good news for tiny houses on foundations in Massachusetts!

Appendix Q has been voted through by the BBRS.

This is not the end of the Tiny House Appendix’s journey to adoption, but it was an important step.

The Tiny House Appendix has been voted through by the Massachusetts Board of  Building Regulations and Standards!  It is now being reviewed by other state offices.  If adopted into the state building code, IRC 2018, it will provide safety standards for building tiny houses on foundations in Massachusetts.

Read the previous blog post on Appendix Q in Massachusetts here.

At this point, there’s not much action the public can take except wait until it is reviewed.  We haven’t been given a specific time frame for when the Appendix would be adopted. Assuming it will be adopted, it will then be up to each city and town to decide to call tiny houses on foundations legal, a decision which will be based off existing code which might exclude houses under a certain square footage, etc. While there is still a lot of work to be done on a local level if this does pass, for now, we’re waiting.

Robert Anderson of the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards says:

“Board members voted to advance adoption of the tiny house appendix, at least conceptually.

Among other things, Governor Baker’s Executive Order (EO) 562 requires agencies to review all regulations to ensure that they are not burdensome and\or cost prohibitive. Additionally, Building Code Coordinating Committee (BCCC) mandates regulatory review to ensure that regulations do not conflict and\or duplicate requirements so as to cause confusion to the user or enforcer. Accordingly, the measure will be advanced through each process over the next month or so. At the same time, Board members have requested a review of all 2018 I-Codes for which they have jurisdiction with the thought of advancing the entire code to the more current documents (rather than piecemeal adoption).

Board members will not meet again until August 14th where the conversation will continue. In the interim, we will explore the likelihood of advancing the entire code or just pieces (i.e. Appendix Q).

I hope this information is helpful.

Sincerely,

Robert Anderson
Division of Professional Licensure
Office of Public Safety and Inspections”

Background Info:

What is The Tiny House Appendix?

Appendix Q addresses building code standards for small houses on foundations that have already been adopted into the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), including standards for lofts, stairs, egresses, and ceiling heights.  To be clear, the adoption of the Tiny House Appendix won’t completely legalize tiny houses in Massachusetts– that’s up to each city– but if it is adopted, it will provide a set of building standards for under 400 sq ft homes where they are legalized, and where they aren’t yet legalized, help legitimize tiny homes in the eyes of local building departments.  Appendix Q does not address tiny houses on wheels, as they are currently considered vehicles.

Read the Tiny House Appendix here.

Appendix Q in Massachusetts

Andrew and Gabriella Morrison have been instrumental in writing and getting the Tiny House Appendix adopted into the national 2018 IRC: now it’s up to each state, and then each city/town in each state, to adopt it into their specific building code.  Andrew presented at a Massachusetts BBRS meeting, introducing Appendix Q last fall.

Tiny House Appendix Q Is Being Considered For Massachusetts’ State Building Code: Here’s How You Can Help

Meeting Addressing Tiny Houses in Massachusetts’ Building Code

Last week on May 8, 2018, the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS), at its regular monthly meeting, addressed Proposal Number 5-2-2018: “Consider adopting Appendix Q of the International Residential Code pertaining to Tiny Houses.”  The agenda is here; minutes (an official summary of the meeting) should be forthcoming soon.  Along with Appendix Q, micro-apartments were also addressed.

This meeting was one step in the process of Massachusetts’ adopting the Tiny House Appendix into its building code, following the example of other tiny house pioneering states Idaho, Georgia, and Maine.   The next step after this meeting will be an internal vote within the BBRS (not a public vote), which will take place next month.  Before voting, the BBRS is accepting public comment on Appendix Q: the address is at the bottom of this post.

What is The Tiny House Appendix?

Appendix Q addresses building code standards for small houses on foundations that have already been adopted into the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), including standards for lofts, stairs, egresses, and ceiling heights.  To be clear, the adoption of the Tiny House Appendix won’t completely legalize tiny houses in Massachusetts– that’s up to each city– but if it is adopted, it will provide a set of building standards for under 400 sq ft homes where they are legalized, and where they aren’t yet legalized, help legitimize tiny homes in the eyes of local building departments.  Appendix Q does not address tiny houses on wheels, as they are currently considered vehicles.

Read the Tiny House Appendix here.

Appendix Q in Massachusetts

Andrew and Gabriella Morrison have been instrumental in writing and getting the Tiny House Appendix adopted into the 2018 IRC: now it’s up to each state, and then each city/town in each state, to adopt it into their specific building code.  Andrew presented at a Massachusetts BBRS meeting, introducing Appendix Q last fall.  Before last week’s follow-up meeting, Andrew said, “The last time I was there, the main question was why should tiny houses get “special treatment”: their own code provisions? I responded that it’s about safety. People are building tiny houses all over the place and with NO oversight. The appendix allows code enforcement to make sure that the tiny houses are built well and to safety standards. It’s about providing healthy, safe housing to millions of people who need it and don’t otherwise have access to it.”

Comments About Tiny Houses from the May 8 Massachusetts BBRS Meeting

Of the tiny house portion of the meeting, Richard Crowley, Chair of the Mass BBRS, said: “There were quite a few people who came to the front to speak. One lady was very animated and she was so cool she made everyone laugh. Very enjoyable speech. I put my two cents in and away we go. I don’t think [there will] be any problem next month getting a positive vote.  FYI if anyone wants to comment they can do so to the attention of Rob Anderson at the BBRS.”

Raines Cohen, a cohousing coach who attended the meeting, said “All speaking in favor but one comment afterwards during the micro homes referenced tiny homes and brought up concerns around disability access standards… Some informed questions, coming from the fire-chiefs head.”

Next Steps To Adopting Appendix Q

Richard Crowley of the Massachusetts BBRS said “the …[board] will meet in June to review all comments and possibly vote on any or all of the proposed regulations.
From there the proposed regulations go to an in-house meeting call BCCC or Building Code Coordinating Council.
From there it comes back to our administrator who forwards it to the governor’s office of administration and finance. They will review it and once reviewed they will either recommended it to the governor for Signature or send it back to our administrator and board to amend whatever issues they find with the language.
So [we’re] looking at a process that can take anywhere from a month to 6 months or more.”
The next Massachusetts BBRS meeting is on June 5, 2018** at 50 Maple St., Milford, MA.

Please Ask Massachusetts to Adopt The Tiny House Appendix!

The BBRS is inviting public comment on the tiny house appendix until June 1, 2018***.  Please write to:

Robert Anderson, Chief of Inspections- Building Division, MA Department of Public Safety

Email: [email protected].

Letters: One Ashburton Place, Boston 02108

 

*The paragraph “Next Steps…” was added on 5/15/2018.

** The original date for the June meeting was June 12; now it is June 5.  

***As of 5/18/18, the comment deadline has changed to June 1.