You could put a tiny home on wheels in your backyard — if SLO approves new rules

Hope’s Village of SLO and its president Becky Jorgeson are working to build a village of tiny homes like these to provide permanent housing for homeless people. The city is discussing standards that would specify what types of tiny homes on wheels are allowed.
Hope’s Village of SLO and its president Becky Jorgeson are working to build a village of tiny homes like these to provide permanent housing for homeless people. The city is discussing standards that would specify what types of tiny homes on wheels are allowed. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Tiny homes on wheels appear to be allowed in San Luis Obispo, but the city still has to work out some details on what will be be permitted.

At its meeting Tuesday as part of its comprehensive zoning law update, the City Council expressed support for allowing one tiny home on wheels per lot in low-density residential zones, OK’ing them for backyards.

But the council recommended going back to the drawing board on formulating requirements around how large they can be and specifying the need for hookups to the city’s water and sewer system.

The city’s planning staff recommended that the new law, once established as expected over the next few months, require tiny homes on wheels to have a city building permit.

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And the city would require annual inspections of the exterior of the dwellings for health and safety, examining wastewater connections and disposals, electric and gas provisions, and potable water conditions.

Tiny homes on wheels are seen as temporary housing options, according to city planning staff. The city’s discussion didn’t include tiny homes on foundations; the minimum size for a home on a foundation in the city is 800 square feet.

The city’s definition of a tiny home on wheels is a recreational vehicle on a trailer that must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

While planning staff members recommended tiny homes on wheels of up to 220 square feet, the council is seeking to allow larger size limits, perhaps up to 300 square feet, not counting loft space.

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The city’s staff reported that they had considered tiny homes on wheels of up to 450 square feet, but recommended smaller dimensions.

The Planning Commission will discuss and draft the exact policy and size allowance and then the council will formally consider adopting the new rules.

“We really looked at cleaning up some of the language about hookups and clarifying the size and the (architectural) design standards,” said Councilwoman Andy Pease. “We’re looking for tiny homes on wheels that look like homes rather than an RV.”

According to the website www.tinyhousecommunity.com, the typical tiny house on wheels is no more than 8 and a half feet wide, 30 feet long, and 13 and a half feet high, and is of no more than 400 square feet.

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hope's vilalge
San Luis Obispo is working to establish standards for tiny homes on wheels. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Tiny homes on wheels would be considered for rentals in the backyards of local homes, not separate units available for purchase.

“What was proposed as part of our zoning update was really bare bones,” Christianson said. “We wanted to make sure we get the proper enforcement part down and make sure tiny homes on wheels are adequately permitted and inspected. We want to make sure tiny homes don’t bring blight.”

Multiple speakers in public comment recommended keeping a larger size for tiny homes, not dropping the size to 220 square feet.

“The average tiny home is about 350 square feet,” said Nick Andre. “Two hundred and 20 square feet would be much too small and not accommodate most tiny homes. I would advocate you leave it 450 square feet or compromise to 325 or 350 square feet.”

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San Luis Obispo resident Phil Hurst said tiny homes could mean the difference for some younger people to be able to afford to live in the city.

“Most people of my generation have no hope of owning a home in SLO,” Hurst said. “. ...Tiny houses could help people stay in SLO.”

San Luis Obispo resident Mila Vujovich-La Barre said that instead of allowing tiny homes in backyards, zoning for tiny home villages would be more appropriate, or the city could partner with Cal Poly on a tiny home village on campus.

But Christianson said those aren’t likely or viable options.

“Tiny home villages aren’t an efficient way to use land, and land is precious,” Christianson said.

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Nick Wilson: 805-781-7922, @NickWilsonTrib