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Tiny homes, big problem

Couple Tori and Ken Pond (above), who own a tiny-house building company called Craft & Sprout, in their model home in their backyard.PHOTO: JANE BEILES FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Mr Bray, 28, has lived behind the U-shaped complex for more than two years now, although not without hassle. The city zoning enforcement officer once put him on notice that he was violating various codes.

“I do fear coming out of my tiny house and having the police see me there,” he said.

His situation highlights one of the biggest challenges of tiny-house living: finding a place to park.

Television shows such as Tiny House, Big Living, which have helped popularise the movement, often gloss over this not-so-tiny detail. But the many Facebook pages and websites devoted to tiny-house culture are dominated by requests, if not outright pleas, for tips on where to find tiny house-friendly sites.

Zoning regulations in most places do not allow full-time living in temporary structures such as recreational vehicles or movable tiny houses.

Most tiny homes are built on wheeled trailers that can be towed.

Residential building codes can also present a problem for tiny houses built on foundations.

As a result, “easily upwards of 90 per cent of tiny-house owners are living illegally when it comes to zoning”, said Mr Andrew Morrison, a professional builder and tiny-house advocate in Oregon.

“A very small minority live in recreational vehicle parks, though they usually have a limit on how long you can stay,” he said. “A friend or family’s backyard, or land in the country, is much more common.”

But with the tiny-living craze having lasted well past the fad stage, pressure is growing for municipalities to embrace tiny houses as legal residences. And more tiny-house building companies are popping up, anticipating just such a shift.

Advocates hope the movement will gain more ground in coming years now that the International Code Council has approved a model code for tiny houses.

For the time being, however, finding a place to live long-term in a tiny house requires networking.

For Ms Amy Garner and Mr John McCarthy, a conversation over coffee with an architect led them to the ideal location for their 340 sq ft house in New Haven: waterside, at a marina on the Quinnipiac River.

For about US$400 (S$540) a month, including utility links, they enjoy views of the river through the glass front of their high-end tiny home made by Escape Traveller. The spot is close to their business, a pilates studio.

Finding a site in rural towns is often easier because of the likelihood of looser zoning and enforcement.

The downside to remote sites, however, is the absence of readily available utility channels.

Mr Seth Porges, a journalist, found that out after he bought a 180 sq ft house last February.

He put the house on rented farmland in the Hudson Valley to use as an Airbnb rental and imagined it would be an off-the-grid experience.

The house had a solar energy system, but he quickly realised that the solar power supply was not nearly robust enough, especially when the air-conditioner was on.

“People think they’ll throw their house on a cheap piece of land and that’s the end of it,” said Mr Porges, who lives in a regular house nearby. “They don’t realise all the logistical challenges they’re going to face.”

Still, the foundation has been set for more tiny homes to stake their place in the American landscape.