The home — a cozy, custom-built, 272-square-foot space — was a dream Steve and Krissy Bryant nurtured for years. But on a recent sunny Friday, Steve Bryant was stuck moving everything his four-person family owns into the single bedroom they’ll now share.
The Bryants have lived for nearly four years in a tiny wooden home on a gooseneck trailer. They towed it from El Paso, Texas, to Bend in late 2015 after Steve Bryant got out of the Army and lived in an RV park for a year before buying property in 2017 that gave their young daughters space to play outside.
For the last 12 months, their set-up seemed perfect. The Bryants had their small home, a large yard and a four-bedroom house on the same property. They rented rooms to veterans at affordable rates for Bend.
Then, in mid-January, everything started to fall apart. The family received a letter from Bend’s code enforcement division giving them 10 days to move out of their tiny, 32-foot-long house, which is considered illegal under Bend code. If they didn’t get out in time, they could face fines of up to $750 every day they remained.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Steve Bryant said. “It’s currently an illegal house here that I’ve been living in for four years.”
Dreaming of a tiny home
Tiny houses, typically defined as homes less than 400 square feet, have grown in popularity over the last several years. They generally cost much less than larger, traditional homes, are less expensive to maintain and, if they’re built with wheels, can be moved.
For the Bryants, a tiny home was a way to save money and be ready to move wherever the Army sent Steve Bryant next. An architect friend worked with them to design the house, and they helped build it, moving in in 2015.
From the outside, the home looks like an upscale RV with wood siding. Inside, it’s an 8.5-feet-wide rustic cabin, with custom-built features including a bathtub and bunk bed for the two girls and tall kitchen counters that Krissy Bryant, who is 5-foot-9, can use comfortably.
“It was our dream,” she said.
The family and the house moved to Bend because Central Oregon Community College’s aviation program is one of the few in the country that accepts the GI bill.
In December 2017, they purchased a 2.3-acre lot with a four-bed, three-bath home just north of Cooley Road and next to U.S. Highway 97.
They just wanted the land for their tiny home, but rooms in the home could be rented out at $600 a month, bills included, to others in Bend looking for affordable housing.
One of those roommates moved out just before the Bryants received their letter from the city, so for now, Steve, Krissy and daughters Odyn, 3, and Keeley, 5, are living in the vacated bedroom.
While it’s about the same size as the tiny house they had to leave, Steve Bryant said it feels a lot more cramped.
Giving up the opportunity to rent out one of the rooms also hurts financially, he said. Both parents work part time, and, like many in Bend, they’re paying exorbitant sums for child care.
“It’s throwing us into jeopardy because it’s $600 more a month,” he said.
“It’s crazy. How does anybody work here and live here and be able to afford it?”
City says no to tiny homes
City code doesn’t allow most tiny homes. An exception is Bend’s cottage code, created in 2015, which allows homes with no minimum size but only in clusters.
The code requires at least four but no more than 12 homes in a cluster around shared open space.
Cottages wouldn’t be allowed on the Bryants’ property, which is zoned for low-density residential development.
Unless they’re in RV parks and intended for temporary stays, tiny houses in Bend are required to have foundations. That means homes like the Bryants’ that can be transported on wheels don’t fit the code.
James Goff, Bend’s code enforcement manager, said his department sees cases like the Bryants’ once every four to six months.
Wheeled tiny homes were a fad several years ago, Goff said, but they’ve been less common recently because people have learned most places in Oregon don’t allow them.
“Sometimes, people will build the tiny homes and keep them as an RV and not live in them,” he said. “Where it becomes an issue is when they live in them.”
Usually, the people living in the tiny homes don’t own the property they’re on, Goff said. He said his department tries to work with people who receive code enforcement letters, including by giving extra time to comply with city code.
People are allowed to park RVs on their property, but the city prohibits living in them. While sleeping overnight in RVs is technically prohibited, the code enforcement department won’t issue citations until it’s a regular occurrence, Goff said.
“We’re not getting excited about prosecuting if grandpa and grandma pull up in an RV and stay there for a couple nights,” Goff said. “It’s a violation of our development code, but we’re not being heavy-handed with it.”
Steve Bryant and his family moved out of their home in time to avoid enforcement, but he said he’s not giving up on getting back into the home. Changes to city development code that would allow tiny houses like his aren’t among the updates the city’s senior code planner is working on, but Bryant said he intends to press the city to make those changes.
“I will be bothering everyone I can who is administrative in nature on a daily basis until I can move back into my home,” he wrote in an email to city planners. “If it takes me driving to City Hall on Mondays with my 3- and 5-year-old daughters with a sign that says, ‘Homeless Veteran, thanks city of Bend,’ so I can look each of you in the eyes as you desperately search for something to preoccupy yourselves with to avoid eye contact on the way in to work, I will.”