No home for tiny homes: Living small hits roadblocks in Utah communities

Raven James works and lives in this 320 square foot tiny house in Bluffdale. While tiny houses may be cheaper than an apartment, Utah tiny house owners struggle to find parking. (Ladd Egan, KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY – It has four wheels, costs about the same as a nice car, and lets you call home anywhere.

Living in a tiny home is an attractive option for many as the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Utah has risen to $ 1,200 per month. But there’s one big problem that plagues tiny home enthusiasts in Utah’s hot housing market: where can they park?

Advantages of a smaller space

Raven James decided a little over a year ago that the little life was right for her.

“It made a lot more sense to be one, agile and not locked in an area so that I can move around when I have to for work,” she explained as we spoke in the kitchen of her tiny house. “Then, second, something I could afford every aspect of it and not paycheck to paycheck.”

Raven James works and lives in her 320 square foot tiny house.Raven James works and lives in her 320 square foot tiny house. (Photo: Ladd Egan, KSL-TV)

James had lived in an apartment. Traditional home ownership on their income with only one income seemed impossible. That’s when she decided to grow up. “It’s way cheaper than a mortgage,” she said.

James works, cooks, lives and sleeps in just 320 square feet for a fraction of the price of an apartment in Salt Lake Valley. She was able to find a private landowner in Bluffdale who allowed her to park on her land.

All of her bills, including her car payment, are now around $ 1,300 a month.

The same affordability attracted Devin Davis to living in a tiny home.

“Not only is it affordable,” he said, “it’s energy efficient and everything fits here.”

Davis moved into his tiny house with his two children about a year ago. “While this is a super small footprint of 255 square feet, my kids love being here,” he said.

Where to park

Davis had problems Raven didn’t have: finding parking space for his house. After his arrangement in Salt Lake County failed, Davis got to his feet.

“We probably made 60 to 70 phone calls over the course of a weekend to find something near the salt lake valley,” he complained. “We tried to find places in Parleys Canyon. We tried all the way to Ogden in the north. We tried a lot of different things and there was no room for a tiny house. ”The customer review has been automatically translated from German.

Eventually Davis found an RV park in Tooele for which he paid $ 350 a month in rent.

Devin Davis podcasts from his tiny home.Devin Davis podcasts from his tiny home. (Photo: Cindy St. Clair, KSL-TV)

He wanted to live closer to his job in Salt Lake City, but there was one major roadblock to making that dream come true.

“The zoning largely does not allow it,” he said of the city.

It’s not just Salt Lake City. Many towns and counties along the Wasatch Front don’t have a definition for tiny homes in their codes, making them non-compliant with land use and building codes.

“We’re working on it right now,” said Angela Price, who works in the city’s community and neighborhoods department. “Our planning department is certainly working on an ordinance that would target … tiny homes within a land use table.” Other Utah communities have also begun to include tiny homes in their code, as a real estate market on steroids forces them to look for less expensive and less expensive ones Look for smaller housing options.

KSL-TV found few options for tiny homes on wheels. Some RV sites we spoke to have allowed them. Many RV sites are experiencing a massive boom in demand and have waiting lists for long-term sites with a depth of more than 200 people.

Washington County told us they are allowing these units in rural recreation areas.

Eagle Mountain was the only community we could find that allowed tiny houses on wheels within residential neighborhoods.

Some small homeowners we spoke to said they live outside the law and park their homes on plots of willing landowners. They said they could stay until neighbors complain and city law enforcement throws them out.

A step towards tiny homes – additional residential units

Some cities have taken a different approach to smaller housing units by adding additional housing units or ADUs to their city codes.

Unlike Tiny Homes on Wheels, ADUs come with more restrictions. They must be built on a foundation and connected to sewer, water and power lines.

Price says there are additional restrictions like “off-street parking, size, setbacks from property lines”. She said the city wanted to “preserve the residential character of the district”.

Jason Coulam is a co-owner of Built By Design Construction, which has been building ADUs for a number of years.

“We saw it as a really nice way to combine the good parts of permanent structures with the efficient, sustainable, and really cool parts of tiny homes,” he said.

He built an ADU for a customer in the Liberty Park neighborhood that cost “between $ 220 and $ 270 per square foot,” he said.

This means the ADU, which is bigger than a tiny house at 640 square feet, costs around $ 140,000 to $ 175,000 to build.

Tiny homes can be built for anywhere from $ 18,000 to $ 100,000 and more, depending on size and customizations.

If you stand up for it, will they come?

Some of the cities that offer external ADUs have had mixed reactions to their new regulations.

Pleasant Grove said it has only issued an ADU permit since the code was changed a few years ago.

Washington County had seen more demand. Their chief planner told us that they removed the minimum square footage requirement from their books to accommodate any size home. They have issued between 20 and 30 permits in the past few years.

Salt Lake City is required to file an annual report on ADUs. The city issued 33 permits in 2019 and 34 permits in 2020. The average size was 551 square feet. According to the 2020 report, only nine ADUs were completed.

In its report, the city recommended several steps to increase ADU construction: removing or reducing zone restrictions, lowering fees, and considering offering financial aid for construction.

“We want to offer our residents a choice of housing,” said Price.

The final code for Tiny Homes in the capital will likely use the Other Side Academy’s proposed Tiny Home Village plans for unprotected people as a template. The development is currently being publicly commented on until September 30, the groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for March 2022.

Artistic representations of the proposed tiny home village of the Other Side Academy for the Unprotected.Artistic representations of the proposed tiny home village of the Other Side Academy for the Unprotected. (Photo: Salt Lake City)

“We envision tiny homes in Salt Lake City that will most likely be grouped with other tiny homes,” Price said, “so that a small community emerges.”

Parking a tiny house on your property may still not be allowed with code updates. People like Davis hope that even more changes will be made to the city codes that will give more control and flexibility over where he can live. “If people had some of their property that they could use for other purposes, they could install something like RV hookups and rent them out to people like me,” he said.


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