Tiny House Design: Not So Tiny in the Legal World

The Tiny House progress has taken another sharp turn into a brick wall.

I received the plans for the larger build back from the architect and he met the expectations of the expansion: The house is now 1120 sq ft. 500% Larger than the average tiny home and 50% larger than I had planned to pay for. So it should have been unsurprising to see $160k contract price for the plans from the builder (and that’s not including the lot), but alas, I lost my shit all the same.

I wasn’t angry with the builder – it’s his estimate on how much the house would cost to him and his company build, and I can understand that. I was just irritated that this felt like a trap due to the zoning requirements. However, due to this heavy-handed slap in my face, two very important pieces of information surfaced from subsequent conversations with my broker and my lender.

1) The variance, for which I had been whole-heartily pursuing, had faltered due to the pressure of the looming closing deadline and, up until that point, the lack of having a legal version of the house plans. When I spoke to my broker about this, he brought up the point that I would not be able to apply for the variance at all, as the lot was not in my ownership.


Wow, that just flipped this whole thing on its head. Here I was thinking that I needed the variance before closing in order to get the right plans used for the loan. But if I wasn’t going to be able to get the variance until I closed on the lot, then no matter what, contract had to be based on the larger build. This brought me to my next conversation with the lender.

2) Would I be able to sign a contract with the builder for the larger plans of the house, close on the Construction-to-Perm Loan and the lot, apply for the variance, and THEN back up to the (hopefully) approved smaller plans of the house – refunding the left over funds back to the bank? This was the million dollar question (or really, the 190k dollar question) and my lender gave me a solid, yet cautious answer:

Yes, this could be a possible solution for me to get my tiny house.

They would declare the larger build as the ‘worst-case scenario’ and would need the copy of the new zoning permit if the variance is approved before using it, of course – but there you have it. I would still need to close on a larger loan, but with respect to how much less we would be using for the smaller build, all that I would be really doing is putting down a larger down payment. This felt like I just cleared the last hurdle and all that was left was the finish line. The only thing that could trip me up now is the variance.

2 thoughts on “Tiny House Design: Not So Tiny in the Legal World

  1. Saw your plans page. 1120 sq ft! Nice SMALL house, getting real close to a medium house actually. But definitely not close to a “classic” TINY house (usually 400 sq ft or less). Usually over 400-450 is small and larger than your house size is medium for customary classifications (even with many realtors I’ve read). I’ve considered at times building a small house at 550-650 sq ft but feel that is a lot more than I need, but not enough for my wife. I am an advocate for tiny living in any sized house. Anyone can live the tiny life even in a 3000+ sq ft house. But there are some somewhat standard measures to make it a tiny house, small house, medium house or large house. Otherwise I could say my current house (which my wife is very much in love with and won’t leave for anything else… yet) could be considered a tiny house at 3200 sq ft I guess. And that would tend to dilute the meaning of the term and make it meaningless as a definition relating to house size.

    But as I said at the beginning, yours is a very nice house. Very inventive to make it angle around like you have. Makes for a very nice court yard. I like that.

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