Tiny Homes

Tiny house in yard Portlandweb

Mobile tiny homes provide an interesting case study for municipalities. In principle, the move toward small footprint homes resonates strongly with local governments who strive to support the values of sustainable living, affordable housing through a variety of different types of housing stock, and flexible and creative approaches to land use.

However, in practice the landscape is complex as local governments must also consider zoning, building codes, flood construction levels, environment protection and life safety and sanitary considerations, among other things.

The District of Squamish has been exploring the feasibility of allowing mobile tiny homes to be parked on residential lots, with the goal of supporting and increasing the availability of diverse and affordable housing options. Our bylaws currently allow for laneway housing, and in early 2016, Council removed the minimum dwelling unit size and development cost charges for secondary suites in order to support smaller infill housing in Squamish. These are steps that very few other local governments have taken or are just beginning to explore, as the Tiny House movement grows.

At this time, however, mobile tiny homes are not currently legal in the District of Squamish for a variety of reasons outlined below.

As we explore this topic further to look at how we may be able to accommodate mobile tiny homes as a legal, safe and affordable building type, we welcome input, questions and development/project ideas from the community.

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Current Situation

  • What is the definition of a tiny home?

    Small or Tiny Homes: Small housing in British Columbia is typically defined as a dwelling of any form (apartment, detached dwelling, etc.) that is sized to meet its occupants’ needs with little excess space. Small Homes are typically between 400 – 1400 sq.ft. Tiny Homes are typically between 100 - 400 square feet. Tiny Homes typically struggle to meet the area and space requirements under the BC Building Code and therefore present occupancy permit challenges to local governments.

    Mobile Tiny Homes: A tiny home on wheels is typically between 80 -180 sq.ft with special width, length and height restrictions to comply with highway transportation regulations. Mobile homes do not fall under the BC Building Code and therefore present numerous challenges to regulate them within local government.

  • Are mobile tiny homes legal in Squamish?

    No: There are currently no zones that allow for mobile tiny homes in Squamish.

  • What is zoning and why is it relevant to tiny homes?

    Zoning allows for a community to specifically regulate the use and density of land, siting, size and dimensions of buildings and structures allowed in a specific area. Zoning ensures that heavy industry cannot open up in a residential neighbourhood for example; and it helps to ensure that a downtown or industrial area can thrive by clustering similar types of operations, helping to preserve the form and character of various neighbourhoods.

  • What about modular home parks - how are they zoned in Squamish?

    Certain zones in Squamish do allow for mobile (on wheels) or modular homes (on a foundation) intended to accommodate mobile or modular home park development. The District of Squamish Zoning Bylaw allows for mobile homes in the Residential Mobile Home Park (RMH-1) zone and modular homes in the Residential Modular Home (RMH-2) zone. Modular and mobile homes are defined as factory built and require CSA certification before occupancy is approved by our building inspectors. The RMH-1 and RMH-2 zones that you see today in Squamish were established before provincial flood plain legislation was adopted. These homes are therefore considered legally non-conforming dwellings in our current zoning bylaw. 

  • What if my neighbour has a mobile tiny home in their backyard?

    They are not legal: The District of Squamish operates on a complaint basis and any illegal mobile tiny home could be subject to eviction of the premise and fines, should complaints arise.  

Current Challenges

  • Why are mobile tiny homes not currently allowed in Squamish?

    Zoning does not exist for Mobile Tiny Homes because it is a new type of housing stock that has only recently been introduced and/or requested.

    The District of Squamish participated in a workshop hosted by BC Housing and Small Housing BC in 2017 to explore how to make Mobile Tiny Homes legal in Squamish. As the District works towards understanding how our Zoning might be adjusted to accommodate Mobile Tiny Homes, below are some other important legal regulations and code that restrict Mobile Tiny Homes in Squamish.

  • Could a mobile tiny home be located in a flood hazard area?

    No. Most development in Squamish faces the challenge of land that is either within the Cheekeye Fan Debris Flow Hazard Area or within a Flood Hazard Area (see blue area in map below). To mitigate destruction and increase safety, homes today must be raised above sea level to the highest Flood Construction Level (FCL), calculated and signed by a qualified professional.

    Provincial legislation clearly states that local governments cannot exempt FCL level standards for mobile homes (see Flood Hazard Area Land Use Management Guidelines). This means that no Mobile Tiny Home can be legally parked and lived in within the Flood Hazard Area. This is also true of the debris area of the Cheekeye Fan.

    North Squamish flood map

    South Squamish flood map


  • Why not? In the case of a flood, can't a mobile tiny home be wheeled away?

    Floods can hit suddenly, and in the case of an emergency, vehicles are not always an efficient form of evacuation. Most tiny home owners are usually stationary, and have built decks or more permanent extensions. They are typically located in inconspicuous, not readily accessible backyard locations, are not typically kept “road worthy” and may even have a flat tire or two from being stationary. For these reasons and others it is unlikely that a tiny home could be quickly removed from a Flood Hazard Area in the event of an emergency. An added concern is that, if left in place, mobile tiny homes can become movable large objects, causing damage to neighbouring homes and the community during a flood. 

    mobile tiny homes flood potential

  • Could my mobile tiny home meet the BC Building Code requirements?

    Tiny homes: The national building code has several dwelling unit minimum dimensions and minimum ceiling heights that make meeting the building code “challenging” with tiny house designs. For example: the Code stipulates minimum kitchen size of approximately 40 sq.ft., a bedroom of 105 sq.ft., dining room of 75 sq.ft and space allocated for a toilet, shower and/or bathtub.

    Mobile Tiny Homes: The Building Code does not regulate for mobile tiny homes or even small/tiny homes that do not meet these standard sizes. This means they are non-compliant and could be subject to fines.

  • Could a mobile tiny home be considered a "Temporary Use" in the BC Building Code?

    As the building code states, temporary use is subject to a building inspectors approval as a temporary use. Building inspectors cannot allow a temporary use if the lot is not zoned for that particular use. As it stands, there are no current zones that allow for mobile tiny homes in Squamish. Therefore, at this time, building inspectors cannot issue “temporary use” to legally allow for a mobile tiny home structure. 

Current Options

  • Can I build a (non-mobile) small or tiny home as a secondary suite?

    Yes. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) are legal in Squamish and are permitted in all zones that allow a single unit dwelling  (learn more about secondary suites). Accessory Dwelling Units have a maximum gross floor area but do not have a minimum gross floor area. If you want to build a small home or a “larger” tiny home that meets the square footage requirement of the Building Code and meets all other requirements of the Zoning Bylaw then you can likely make that dream a reality.

  • Can I build a (non-mobile) small or tiny home in the flood hazard area?

    Yes. Permanent concrete pads can be used to meet Flood Construction Level (FCL). If the FCL is 3m or more (most areas of Squamish)the ground floor foundation of the building can be used for storage un-damageable by flood or as a garage. A Qualified Professional would be required to ensure that FCL is met and that small/tiny homes can be safely secured to the concrete platforms. Required Zoning and Building Inspection permits would be applicable. There are cases of “small home” Acessory Dwelling Units built to FCL throughout Squamish.


Future considerations

  • What standards would my mobile tiny home need to be built to?

    All homes must be built to standards and regulations set out by the Province of British Columbia under the BC Building Code. Unique homes, such as ones on wheels, fall under specific CSA standards allowed under the BC Building Code and must meet Canadian Transportation laws, which require mobile homes to be less than 8.5 feet wide and 13.5 feet high.

    CSA is a certification standard, not a building code. There are different types of CSA standards for different dwelling types:

    • CSA Z240 RV – Recreation Vehicles
    • CSA Z240 MH – Manufactured Homes
    • CSA Z241 – Park Model Trailers
    • CSA A277 – Modular Homes

    At this time, there is no CSA standard for mobile tiny homes. Although some Mobile Tiny Homes have been built to meet some of the CSA standard above, these standards do not support typical mobile tiny home design features such as, small lofts and ladders, limiting the design of your mobile tiny home and limiting the ability for a municipality to approve these designs through CSA standards.

    Organizations like Small Housing BC, BC Tiny House Collective and BC Housing are advocating the Province for specific CSA standards for mobile tiny homes and or regulation that allows for mobile tiny homes in the BC Building Code. Until then, it will remain challenging for building inspectors to approve these home and challenging for tiny home builders and designers. If you are interested in learning more or joining the advocacy for legalizing mobile tiny homes in BC, please visit the BC Tiny Home Collective webpage.
    Without a CSA standard for mobile tiny homes, it is difficult for a municipality to approve and certify these homes as legal and safe places to live. Even if a municipality, such as Squamish, would like to approve mobile tiny homes as an allowable home in their community, we would not be able to overrule Provincial Building Code Regulation.

    Squamish is optimistic that these regulation challenges can be resolved, as the US has recently amended Appendix Q (American Regulation) in July of 2019 to accommodate ladders and lofts. Visit the American Tiny Homes Association website to learn more.

    Note: If and when zoning for mobile tiny homes is supported in the District of Squamish, the only way our Building Department can issue an occupancy permit is if it is CSA-certified. Building your own mobile tiny home would likely mean that it will not be CSA-certifiable in the future. Researching CSA standards before building or purchasing a mobile tiny home would be a wise step if you would like to have a legal moble tiny home in the future.

    Note: CSA certification can be costly; around $75,000 for a 10 x 22 square foot home.

  • How could mobile tiny homes be serviced?

    There are two common types of servicing options for mobile tiny homes:

    • an off-grid sustainable system; or
    • service points that comply with CSA Code, similar to modular homes standards.

    Future mobile tiny homes in residential zones and or in a future tiny home zone would likely be required to have above ground service points that meet BC Building Code and or CSA standards. It would be recommended to not support off-grid mobile tiny homes in existing residential zones as this would remove the opportunity for regulation and therefore, decrease the life sanitary and safety of the tiny home residents and their surrounding neighbourhood and ecosystem. In short, this means no hoses!

  • Could residential land owners legally service someone's mobile tiny home on their property?

    Mobile tiny homes could potentially be serviced in the same way a secondary suite is serviced. Servicing for secondary suites commonly comes from the primary building/home. An extension and installation of an additional servicing hookup can be as little as a few thousand dollars, depending on the distance and whether or not any upgrades to the existing services are required.

    The District would then have to adopt a standard review procedure supported under the Building Code to inspect a mobile tiny home under a building permit. Currently the District has a procedure for mobile homes in our RMH-1 and RMH-2 zones and are likely to follow a similar procedure until the BC Building Code is updated to regulate otherwise.

  • Would Development Cost Charges apply?

    The District is supporting Accessory Dwelling Units by waiving Development Cost Charges (DCCs). If the District of Squamish were to legally allow mobile tiny homes in residential zones or as its own zone, DCC’s would likely follow the same Accessory Dwelling Unit exemption.

  • Would annual utility charges for water, sewer and curbside collection apply?

    Yes. Utility fees similar to Accessory Dwelling Unit fees would likely apply and be paid by the property owner who could choose to pass along these costs to the mobile tiny home or tiny home owner who is residing on their property.

  • What setbacks and height restrictions should be applied to privacy and parking?

    Theoretically, tiny homes would comply with Accessory Dwelling Unit Zoning Bylaw setback regulations and parking regulations (one off-street parking space). A mobile tiny home would require one off-street parking space. If the tiny home was non-mobile, a Class A bike storage locker may be considered in place of a parking stall.

  • What would be an ideal location for tiny homes to exist?

    Research states that tiny home owners are looking for neighbourhoods that are walkable and well served by transit. They are seeking communities where amenities like groceries, parks, community centres and office space are accessible by transit or active travel. On the other end of the spectrum, currently many mobile tiny homes are living in rural areas outside of municipal boundaries.

    Currently, in the District of Squamish any single family property or duplex property can have one separate Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) located on the property. These ADUs can be two storeys high (with a garage below) and can be up to 70m2 or 90m2 of habitable gross floor area depending on the property size. Tiny homes are typically less than half of this square footage and are typically only one storey high. Mobile tiny homes could be a diverse option for properties that want to preserve views, have challenging lots due to limited land or sensitive habitat, or have limited capital to fund a full ADU build. Given this rational, District staff are keen to explore allowing mobile tiny homes as an ADU option in Residential neighbourhoods. Given the challenges above, only limited residential neighbourhoods outside of the Flood Hazard Area could be viable, and the District will have to wait for CSA or Building Code updates to make this a reality. In the meantime, we encourage your feedback on the idea and would appreciate hearing from interested property owners or interested tiny home dwellers (see below for contact information).

Moving forward

  • So, what's next?

    The District is interested in hearing from residents and developers who have property outside of the Flood Hazard Area that may wish to explore the idea of a mobile tiny home community, and/or establishing and servicing a mobile tiny home on their property. Before reaching out to us to explore potential solutions to support rezoning for mobile tiny homes, please take a look through the "Future considerations" FAQ for other important considerations.

  • We want to hear from you!

    We want to hear from you! If you have any questions we haven't covered or updates to the information provided, please let us know! 

    Get in touch: call 604-892-5217 or send an email.


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