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Cities make sure 'tiny' homes properly built

Code enforcement a safety must even for a smaller house

By ALEXANDER SIMONE

Staff writer

Dakota Patterson has embraced the virtue of living small with a 12-by-32-foot “tiny” house he is furnishing in Florence.

While it might be easier to build than a full-size home, there are still safety measures to consider, said Trayce Warner, a Florence city councilmember.

“Just using it as a shed is one thing, but if he’s planning on living in it, there are other requirements to be met,” she said.

Patterson is furnishing the home in the back yard of a neighbor temporarily until he can move.

“Once I find a decent property for sale in Marion County or closer to Hillsboro, I’ll build a foundation for it,” he said.

There is a mobile home next to Patterson’s home, which raised some concern about his intent during Florence’s March 18 city council meeting.

“We need to investigate before we get too excited,” Florence city councilman Ken Hoffman said at the meeting. “Maybe he’s going to do some good. We just need to get our ducks in a row so we can set a standard.”

Patterson says the mobile home belongs to someone else.

If it were to stay in Florence, the housing code isn’t clear on whether it would qualify as a house or a mobile home, Warner said.

“I see no problem with tiny houses as long as they get the permits, hook them up to the proper utilities, and own the property,” she said. “I think the issue here is that we have zoning, and they’re trying to decide whether a tiny house is similar to a mobile home.”

If Patterson moves to Hillsboro, though, his decision to build a foundation will speed the relocation.

Hillsboro law recognizes the difference between a mobile home and tiny house depending on whether the home is on wheels or a foundation.

If it’s on wheels, then the home must be in a mobile home park, said Ben Steketee, Hillsboro’s code enforcement officer.

“There are lots of examples of small houses built correctly,” he said. “They’re on a foundation, a permanent location, and they’ve been inspected every step.”

One of the small homes Steketee said has been built correctly is that of Mindy Gehring and her husband, though the couple did not move in for several years after it was built.

At 650-square feet, Gehring’s house isn’t technically a “tiny home,” but she said she understands the desire for a small house.

“Our house is affordable and doesn’t ruin our lifestyle,” she said. “We’re paying less than you would for a rental in Hillsboro.”

Problems arise when owners try to forgo the inspection process, Steketee said.

“I understand conforming to the code is a pain in the butt,” he said. “I’m a pain in the butt because I make people do things a certain way. It’s more expensive than what they think it should be, but the intent is to make sure that things are safe and sanitary.”

One of the advantages for Gehring is that her husband, Matt, is an electrician, she said.

“He knows the importance of getting it done correctly,” she said. “A lot of people are not experts when they build their houses.”

Included in Hillsboro’s codes are stipulations for one room of at least 120 square feet, a separate kitchen of 70 square feet, and a bathroom.

While examples can be found online for how to build a tiny house, that is not the final word on the building codes of a city, Steketee said.

“If you’re getting plans from the Internet, they might not take into account all the safety features that make the place habitable,” he said.

Last modified April 4, 2019

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