By: Erik Blair
Tiny Houses have grown in popularity due to the rising cost of living and the movement to smaller, more efficient and low-impact lifestyles. The financial benefits of living in a Tiny House are plentiful which makes them ideal for those looking to escape the rat race. And now Hawaii is ready to ride the wave as the best place to legally live in a Tiny House.
What is a Tiny House?
Simply put, a tiny house is a dwelling that is smaller than a traditional house. Typically a Tiny House has about 110 to 190 square feet of living space, often includes a sleeping loft and is regularly mounted on a wheeled trailer. Although Tiny Houses are built with the same quality and strength as standard houses, they generally do not meet the minimum square feet requirements of building codes in most states.
Are they legal in Hawaii?
Digging into the legality of Tiny Houses required speaking with several local government agencies including the Maui public works department who merely pointed to laws that require minimum floor plan dimensions that are much larger than the average Tiny House. But Tiny Houses are built on wheeled trailers, and are more like recreational vehicles. The building plans examiner said that they would have no jurisdiction over someone living in a recreational vehicle; that the DMV would have jurisdiction because it would be registered with them.
According to the Maui DMV Operations Supervisor a custom built travel trailer would be classified as a “trailer.” This was a welcome point of clarification mainly because a Tiny House does not meet the International Building Code (IBC) for traditional house construction, and Tiny Houses are built to a much higher standard then ordinary RV’s. So with the help of a legal researcher I was able to find Hawaii Statewide Traffic Code §291C.
This section defines Tiny Houses as “House Trailers” in Hawaii:
“House trailer” means:
(1) A trailer or semitrailer which is designed, constructed, and equipped as a dwelling place, living abode, or sleeping place (either permanently or temporarily) and is equipped for use as a conveyance on streets and highways
This section provides that House Trailers can be used as “dwellings” on private property:
§291C-112 Certain uses of parked vehicles prohibited between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; definition; exceptions. (a) No person shall use any vehicle for purposes of human habitation, whether or not the vehicle is designed or equipped for that purpose, while the vehicle is parked on any roadway, street, or highway or other public property between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. or while the vehicle is parked on private property without authorization of the owner or occupant authorizing both the parking of the vehicle there and its use for purposes of human habitation.
(b) As used in this section “purposes of human habitation” includes use as a dwelling place, living abode, or sleeping place.
(c) This section does not apply to the parking of vehicles and their use for purposes of human habitation in parks, camps, and other recreational areas in compliance with law and applicable rules and regulations, or under emergency conditions in the interest of vehicular safety.
In Hawaii, Tiny Houses are officially called, “House Trailers”
In summary, House Trailers are legal in Hawaii. It’s legal to live in them on private property without a permit. To meet the requirements of 291C-1 (definitions) and 291C-112 you must have a legal House Trailer that is registered and licensed by the Hawaii DMV, and you must park it on private property that you own or with permission of the land owner. It is as simple as that.
Hawaii has ideal weather for Tiny House living, small-scale farming and generally enjoying the great outdoors. Because Tiny Houses have a low-impact on the environment they are decidedly more appealing than more large-scale development here in Hawaii.
Some local municipalities around the country have been resisting Tiny Houses for fear of producing a low-cost alternative to buying real property or renting from landlords. In comes the Tiny House movement to save the day for thrifty folks who don’t mind smaller spaces. In the last 5 years Tiny Houses have grown in popularity everywhere on the mainland, and especially on social media. They’re popping up just about everywhere they are legally allowed.
Furthermore, zoning requirements of traditional houses do not apply. In Hawaii, you can start an EcoVillage, a Tiny House Village if you will, by clustering several Tiny Houses in close proximity to each other. You don’t even need to buy the land. Depending on your situation and ability to work out a deal, you can build a house and negotiate a place to put it for far less than buying or renting.
See Hawaii Statewide Traffic Code §291C:
July 11, 2014 UPDATE –
There always seems to be some obstacle to innovation in Hawaii. Here’s a good example that was sent in from a fan.
This update pertains ONLY to Hawaii County (Island of Hawaii Only):
Hawaii County Code Section 25-4-10. Mobile dwellings.
All mobile dwellings shall conform to the County building code (chapter 5 of this Code), and the Public Health Housing Code (chapter 2 of the State public health regulations), except:
(1) When parked in a licensed mobile home park; or
(2) When occupied for dwelling or sleeping purposes outside of a licensed mobile home park for less than thirty days in any one location.
(1996, Ord. No. 96-160, sec. 2; ratified April 6, 1999.)25-4-10
Possible solutions to consider:
1. Change that law.
2. How can the county prove that the dwelling was occupied for more than 30 days consecutively? Just stay in a hotel for 1 night every 29 days.
3. If you move the house 10 feet every 30 days, then you can live in it forever.
4. Get a Mobile Home Park permit for your property.
You can learn more about Tiny Houses by reading Erik’s article, The Tiny House Movement.