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New Bill Could Legitimize Tiny Houses Around Washington

There's a bill making its way through the Washington legislature that could bring tiny houses above-board in some municipalities. EHB 1123, introduced in the House by Brian Blake (D-19), would eliminate minimum gross floor space for single-family homes in cities with populations under 125,000 — potentially making permanent small dwellings an imminent reality everywhere in the state except Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, and Vancouver.

Currently, many tiny homes skirt regulations by operating as either attached dwelling units (e.g. backyard cottages) or as recreational vehicle trailers (You may have noticed some wheels on the tiniest of the tiny), but this legislation could pave the way for the tiniest of tiny homes to sit on their own land and have their own concrete foundations.

The bill passed the House on March 5 with overwhelming bipartisan support — 91 yeas, 7 nays — and had its first public hearing in the Senate Committee for Government and Operations last week.

"We need this bill so we can get these houses off of trailers," said Long Beach resident Jason Knott, in his testimony to the committee on March 16. Currently, with little houses not being regulated the same way as their larger, code-beholden counterparts, they're not mortgaged the same way — diminishing their value as a low-income housing option.

"It would open up a gap in the [housing market]," said Shelton resident Marilyn Vogler. "Specifically in affordable housing."

Surprisingly, the idea hasn't been met with the kind of animosity common in Seattle's own discussions around living small. John McCoy (D-38) was the only senator that spoke up against any aspect of the bill. He was concerned about — guess what? — parking availability in "metropolitan areas." (McCoy represents Marysville and parts of Everett, with populations of about 63,000 and 105,000, respectively.)

Washington's current building code nearly copies the International Residential Code (IRC), which requires that all homes have at least one "habitable room" of at least 120 square feet — 70 feet for any additional habitable rooms — with a minimum dimension of 7 feet.

The original text of the bill broke ties with the room area requirements of the residential code, but it has since been amended to apply to only gross area of a house — not individual room size — after concerns that eliminating minimum room size could keep local jurisdictions from cracking down on bad landlords.

Since Washington's building code doesn't have any gross area requirements, it's unclear whether the amendment takes all the oomph out of the entire bill. When reached for comment, Tim Nogler of the Washington State Building Code Council didn't seem to think the language change hurt the spirit of the bill: "My understanding of the current bill EHB1123 is it would prohibit the SBCC from adopting a minimum room size under the IRC," he clarified, as it applies to one- and two-unit detached dwellings and townhouses.

Even if the legislation doesn't pass through the Senate, Nogler says the IRC is catching up to the demand for littler dwellings. "The 2015 IRC currently under consideration by the SBCC reduces the minimum room size to 70 square feet," he says. (Washington's current code adopts the 2012 IRC.)

The bill has yet to be voted out of Government and Operations and isn't on the agenda for the committee's next meeting on Thursday.
· Seattle's Best Short-Term Tiny Rentals [CS]
· Micro Week 2015 [CS]
Written by Sarah Anne Lloyd.