Tiny Houses, and the Not-So-Tiny Questions They Raise

Zoning Practice — November 2015

By Donald Elliott, FAICP, Peter Sullivan


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Tiny houses are the latest vehicle/structures to join the small house movement, and are now trending due to television programs like Tiny House Nation. Many individuals and couples seem proud to say they live a small but sophisticated lifestyle in less than 500 square feet.

But for planners, tiny houses are tricky. Although tiny houses are not generally designed for permanent occupancy, some of them are being purchased by people who intend to use them that way. Most zoning ordinances don't resolve this tension, because they don't address where or how tiny houses can be used for long-term or permanent occupancy.

This issue of Zoning Practice reviews how tiny houses fit into the general U.S. system of land-use control through building codes, zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, and private restrictive covenants. And it addresses how zoning can enable small communities of tiny homes.


Page Count
Date Published
Nov. 1, 2015
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Donald Elliott, FAICP
Donald L. Elliott, FAICP, is a Senior Consultant with Clarion Associates, LLC, a national land use consulting firm. Don’s practice focuses on land development regulation, fair and affordable housing, and international land and urban development issues. Don has assisted over 70 U.S. communities to update plans and regulations related to housing, zoning, subdivision, fair housing, and land development. He is the author of A Better Way to Zone (Island Press 2008), co-author of The Rules that Shape Urban Form (APA 2012) and The Citizen’s Guide to Planning (APA 2009) and has served as the editor of Colorado Land Planning and Development Law for 30 years. Don teaches graduate level course on Land Use Regulation at the University of Colorado at Denver School of Architecture and Planning and is a former member of the Denver Planning Board. Don has a bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy Analysis from Yale University, a law degree from Harvard Law School, and a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Peter Sullivan