Annapolis woman pushes to make tiny houses legal in Anne Arundel County

Posted at 5:36 AM, Nov 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-30 23:46:47-05

Liza Roe has big dreams about living tiny. The Annapolis woman wants to ditch her things and buy a tiny home. She said a simpler life, with fewer possessions and a smaller environmental footprint is appealing.

"It's hard to see a future being a homeowner, and that's what I have as a goal, so it makes it more attainable to think of it in tiny terms," Roe said.

But it's not just ideas, Roe has done the research and knows what she wants. She's in the process of designing a modest abode for less than $70,000 and at least 300-square-feet. She also wants the petite dwelling to be on wheels.

"That just gives me the flexibility to move it anywhere that I want to," she said.

There's just one thing standing in her way, zoning codes haven't caught up with the tiny house craze.

Tracie Reynolds with the Department of Planning and Zoning said little homes are actually illegal in Anne Arundel County.

"Currently there's no definition for a tiny house on wheels in the zoning code," she said.

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The struggle to fit pint-sized properties within the limits of the law is not unique to Maryland. Building codes and zoning codes dictate how a house must be constructed and where they can be lived in.        

Because most tiny homes are less than 400-square feet, and many don't have foundations like traditional houses, they're not recognized by the law. But there are a few ways to get around that.

"It can either fall into the category of an RV because it's on wheels and it has to be RVIA certified,” Roe said.  “But in that case you can't live in it full time unless it's parked in an RV park or a campsite or something like that that allows RVs."

A small space on wheels can also be considered a mobile home. However, long term parking of the tiny house would only be allowed at a mobile home park.           

Turns out, it requires a change to the code to park on someone's private lot.

"So we would need to define what is a tiny house," said Reynolds.           

Roe has been lobbying local officials to loosen zoning restrictions.  Yet she says changing the law is no easy task.

"There's a lot of red tape to kinda go through or even wade through, it's a very slow process is what I’m starting to learn," she said.

Brand new legislation would need to be drafted, proposed and approved through the County Council.  So far, Anne Arundel planners said they recognize tiny houses will probably need to be integrated so folks can build and live in them.

"Right now we are in the very early, preliminary stages,” Reynolds said.  “But it's something we're looking into, we are trying to make county government more flexible to you know, include all citizens."          

Roe knows amending the laws could take a while, but she's not giving up on her aspirations.

"I've got a couple non-negotiables as I would call them,” said Roe.  “Those would be stairs to each loft and a full-sized kitchen because I love to cook."

There is also a push at the national level to make tiny houses legal. Advocates are working to include little living in the 2018 International Residential Code, which would become a model code for all tiny houses used as a primary residence across the country.           

The proposal focuses on how the tiny homes must be built and not where they are allowed. It also doesn't include tiny houses on wheels. If adopted, it will be the first time there is a standard model to make sure tiny homes are being built with oversight and safety.

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