Tiny homes are now legal in SLO. What the new rules say about building one

Tiny homes on wheels are now legal in San Luis Obispo, though applications won’t be allowed until Feb. 8, 2019, as the city puts into effect its new regulations.

The City Council unanimously approved its tiny home ordinance after several planning discussions in recent months on how best to implement the new rules and regulations.

Tiny homes have long been championed by Mayor Heidi Harmon and affordable housing advocates who say they could be a relatively inexpensive way to provide new housing in the community.

Under SLO’s new ordinance, however, putting one in your backyard will still come at a cost.

The city application and hookup fees needed to gain approval of a project are estimated to be around $1,800, according to SLO officials, though they could be less and may vary depending on the adequacy of a sewer connection and other factors that could also increase the cost.

Then building a tiny home from scratch will likely cost between $25,000 and $35,000, according to realtor.com.

Anne Wyatt, of Homeshare SLO, said that the infrastructure could cost $10,000 and that the total could be as much as $80,000 to build a tiny home, depending on its features. The “investment is significant,” she said, thus regulations should be designed to encourage new construction.

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This rendering shows the types of floor plans for potential tiny homes in SLO. Courtesy city of SLO.

Several members of the public spoke, saying they wanted to streamline the process and reduce costs to incentivize building of the new housing.

“Please make it easy and cheap for property owners to build tiny homes, or else SLO is just for the rich,” said Phil Hurst, a San Luis Obispo resident.

“This is a big move and you have the chance to be national leaders on this,” Wyatt said.

Based on public comment, the City Council responded by adjusting some of the requirements proposed by the Planning Commission and city staff.

Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson lobbied to keep costs down and encourage their construction by not requiring a staff proposal of annual inspections and permitting renewals.

“Tiny homes are great,” Christianson said. “Let’s not make things more expensive and discourage them from being built, because our goal is to encourage an affordable option for people.”

Harmon also successfully argued for the removal of two proposals, based on a Planning Commission recommendation, of wheel covering, called “skirting,” and 6-foot yard fencing to protect tiny homes from neighbors’ views, called screening.

“If I’m a resident in SLO living in a tiny home, why do I need to hide the wheels?” Harmon said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

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This photo provided by the city of San Luis Obispo shows an example of the hookup system for water, sewer and electrical for a tiny home on wheels. Courtesy City of SLO

The ordinance’s approval helps meet a major city goal for housing production, the city stated in a press release.

Other requirements in the ordinance include:

Homes must be between 120 and 400 square feet.

They must resemble the look of a traditional home in siding, roofing and general appearance.

They must be located in the back or side yard of a single-family home.

The owner of the property must live in either the main home or the tiny home.

Homes must be installed on a trailer that is currently registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Hope’s Village of SLO plans to build a village of tiny homes, like this one, to help homeless people get off the streets. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Tiny home permits are good for up to five years before renewal is required, said Michael Codron, the city’s community development director. Renewal will require a basic inspection to ensure that connections to water, sewer, and electricity remain safe.

“Tiny homes are meant to be a temporary, not a permanent living quarter,” Codron said. “We do have concerns about ensuring health and safety.”

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