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 affordable housing. Our bylaws currently allow for laneway housing, and in early 2016, Council removed the minimum 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.
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 don’t meet the design of areas and spaces section 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.
No: There are currently no zones that allow for mobile tiny homes in Squamish.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No. Most development in Squamish faces the challenge of land that is either within the Cheekeye Fan 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 tiny 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.
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.
Tiny homes: The national building code has several dwelling unit minimum dimensions and minimum ceiling heights that make meeting the building code “challenging” with some 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 apply for mobile tiny homes or even small/tiny homes that do not meet these standard sizes.
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.
Yes. Secondary suites are legal in Squamish and are permitted in all zones that allow a single unit dwelling (learn more about secondary suites). Secondary suites 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.
Yes. Concrete pads that meet Flood Construction Level (FCL) and can be used as storage or a garage may be supported as permanent or rental pads for small or tiny home use. 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 secondary suites built to FCL (i.e. carriage houses) throughout Squamish.
Any home with wheels is considered “mobile” and therefore falls under CSA approval and must meet Canadian Transportation laws, which require mobile homes to be less than 8.5 feet wide and 13.5 feet high.
Over 40 builders across Canada currently build mobile tiny homes, 19 of which are based in BC.
Preliminary research suggests that some builders build CSA-certified homes, but not all. Preliminary research also suggests that there is a movement towards developing a licensing process to become a certified manufacture of tiny homes. Note: Building your own mobile tiny home would likely mean that it is not CSA-certified. Researching CSA standards before building or purchasing a mobile tiny home would be a wise step. Below is a link to CSA Mobile Home general requirements. 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. This means that under the current codes and regulations the District has no process to make a tiny home that is not CSA-certified, a legal dwelling.
Note: CSA certification can be costly; around $75,000 for a 10 x 22 square foot home.
Definitions and general requirements for mobile homes including transportation, utilities, design and servicing requirements: https://www.scc.ca/en/standardsdb/standards/5395 (CAN/CSA-Z240.0.1-92)
There are two common types of servicing options for mobile tiny homes:
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. 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!
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 within 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.
The District is supporting Secondary Suites 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 secondary suite exemption.
Yes. Utility fees similar to secondary suite 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.
Theoretically, tiny homes should comply with secondary suite 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.
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.
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 tiny mobile 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! 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.