Building codes can sometimes present a barrier to the “outside of the box” ways that clients wish to house themselves, or “inside the box” ways, for that matter, in the case of people living in very tiny dwellings.  The documentary film “Garbage Warrior,” 1 for example, documented the plight of New Mexico eco-architect Michael Reynolds in his attempts to build experimental housing (“earthships”) out of recycled materials.  He was repeatedly cited for building code violations until he, at last, successfully lobbied the New Mexico legislature to pass a bill creating limited circumstances under which people may construct and live in experimental buildings.

The clustering of tiny houses in combination with shared spaces may offer an affordable and sustainable housing option, yet building codes may act as a barrier.  Owners of such units may encounter difficulty in getting legal clearance for the occupancy of such tiny homes, since many cities have adopted International Residential Code requirements that a dwelling unit include a minimum of one room that is at least 120 square feet in area, 2 and other minimum area and height requirements for rooms within a dwelling unit.

Fire codes sometimes apply more strict requirements in multi-unit buildings or other shared housing arrangements. For example, in Colorado, some cohousing communities have been required to include expensive fire protections in their common house kitchens, including a $10,000 exhaust system installed over the stove.

  2. See California Residential Code Section R304.1: “Minimum Room Areas,” providing that “Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room that shall have not less than 120 square feet (11 m2) of gross floor area.”