When I moved to Maui in 2009, I had no idea affordable housing was in such short supply. There are plenty of empty apartments and houses, but purchasing a home or renting in Hawaii is not a matter of supply and demand, it’s based entirely on what the market will bear. And apparently the bears here have a lot more money than I do.
So ever since then I have been looking to find alternative ways to affordably enjoy paradise. I’ve considered container homes, tree houses and yurts, but when I stumbled upon Tiny Houses I was hooked! Tiny Houses are just what the name implies–they’re smaller than average and have a lot less of everything that a regular sized home has, except more character and less impact on the environment. One striking feature of most Tiny Houses is that they are built on wheeled trailers. This makes most Tiny Houses fit an area of about 8 to 9 feet wide by 16 to 24 feet long (128 to 216 square feet). I wrote an informative article about Tiny Houses not long ago: The Tiny House Movement.
Over the last few months I have been on a journey to determine if Tiny Houses are allowed in Hawaii. It’s been challenging trudging through the red tape. The first obstacle I discovered was that Tiny Houses are not defined in the State of Hawaii as “Tiny Houses”. Initially the building inspector for the County of Maui, Department of Public Works, said that any “dwelling” must be a minimum of 220 square feet which meant that according to the International Building Code (IBC) a Tiny House would probably be defined as an “Efficiency Dwelling” (see details: Efficiency Dwelling vs Tiny Houses). A typical Tiny House is less than 220 square feet so I was bit discouraged and had visions of living in the jungle in a camouflaged, non-compliant Tiny House hidden away from civilization. But I’m not one to give up that easily.
I think Maui County Council member Don Couch would describe me over the next few weeks as “persistent” to get his attention. I presented him with details about the benefits of tiny houses and why I think they are good for the community and he agreed to look into the matter. He and his staff made some phone calls and got some interesting responses. What they initially found out was that the County doesn’t have a definitive answer that is black and white about tiny houses.
Don introduced me to a “research assistant”, code named “Sam”, when we realized we needed help with the research. Over the next month or so Sam uncovered some very interesting facts that could change the course of the Tiny House movement in Hawaii.
Finding a new definition for Tiny Houses in Hawaii
Sam made numerous calls to other state agencies and different municipal departments around the country (anonymously) and here’s what he said:
So far, it sounds like most tiny homes around the country are working around building codes by putting the homes on wheels and registering them with the DMV. According to the Maui DMV Operations Supervisor, a custom built travel trailer would be classified as a “trailer.”
Looking further Sam discovered the actual vehicle code section for “house trailer” which is Hawaii Statewide Traffic Code §291C.
House Trailer: 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.
It’s called a House Trailer!
The Public Works and the Plans Examiner Department said, specifically in reference to recreational vehicles; both 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. The Building Permits Department said they would only become involved if an RV was no longer registered as a vehicle and was then classified as a home (RV was used instead of “house trailer” to save time explaining what that is). So officially, in Hawaii, it’s not a Tiny House or an RV, it’s a “House Trailer”. And it’s perfectly legal!
How to comply with the House Trailer laws in Hawaii*
- Have a place to build and/or park your Tiny House on private property
- The trailer it is build upon needs to be legal and must be registered by the DMV
- You need to have insurance for the trailer you are going to register
- The trailer has to go through an inspection (lights, breakaway brakes, etc.)
- The trailer needs to be weighed (the more it weighs the more it costs to register)
- It must pass a safety inspection
What it means to Hawaii residents is that we have the green light to build or park a Tiny House on private property. These laws can be changed or removed if we don’t police ourselves and be good neighbors and community members. be sure to do any and all electrical to code. Use common sense and be considerate where and how you park your Tiny Home.
What the government will do now:
Revenue generation is a popular topic with government mainly because the coffers are low everywhere and public services are tight. Property taxes usually pay for a lot of local government like Police and Fire, so whenever a good idea comes around that might reduce the flow into those coffers, local municipalities might want to throw in a few monkey wrenches (red tape and fees). However, with this solution, and it is a solution to the economic woes for many people across the country, there are already built in regulations and indirect fees.
To build and use one of these Tiny House in Hawaii, you must have a legally licensed trailer. Those annual fees (licensing and registration) can be fairly high due to the weight of the trailer. Additional moneys go toward government the traditional way such as property taxes. Because these House Trailers must be legally parked on private property, the owner of that property already pays taxes.
So expect that local municipalities and counties will attempt to charge fees, add regulation and generally find ways to make things more difficult without a really good, clearly thought out reason or purpose. Ultimately, when community leaders see the benefits of Tiny Houses, they will see that they reduce the draw on water supplies and the energy grid, lower the impact on the environment, reduce the demand for social services, and provide an alternative to the high cost of traditional housing.
Here are two good reasons why municipalities should PAY people to live in Tiny Houses:
- Money: Saving residents money so they have more to spend in the local economy, and reducing long-term debt.
- Environment: Reduces the environmental footprint (less Space, Water, Energy, Garbage, Waste).
If you’re ready to live in a Tiny House, or you’d like to support this movement, connect with me for upcoming meetings, events and more.
Hawaii Alternative Considerations:
The main reason for all my research here in Hawaii has been due to the IBC (International Building Code) minimum square footage requirements. Thus the need to build on trailers. Some solutions suggest that Hawaii should relax of the minimum square footage regulations so that people can create alternative, low carbon footprint dwellings.
I spoke with Michael Janzen of Tiny House Design (http://tinyhousedesign.com) and he mentioned that some other alternatives are already developing in Hawaii recently.
Big Island – http://youtu.be/wxGr9uloL9k (great video!)
Maui – http://www.mauiecobuilt.com/
Some other useful links:
Maui County Codes:
Maui County Building Code:
Maui County, Dept. of Public Works, Development Services Administration, Building Plan Review Section: Codes Enforced (County code amendments to the IBC and IRC)
2006 Int’l Residential Code (IRC) – Ord 3929 – New Maui County Code Chapter 16.08A, eff March 19, 2012
2006 Int’l Building Code (IBC) – Ord 3928 – New Maui County Code Chapter 16.26B, eff March 19, 2012
Hawaii Revised Statutes
2006 International Building Code (for Commercial and Residential Buildings):
(Per Plans Examiner Dept.: See Chapter 12 Interior Environment)
2006 International Residential Code (for 1 and 2 Family Dwellings):
(Per Plans Examiner Dept.: Reference “Efficiency Dwelling Unit”)
Statewide Traffic Code specifically addressing using vehicles for human habitation:
§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.
(d) The department of health shall promulgate rules and regulations, pursuant to chapter 91, necessary for the administration of this section. [L 1972, c 48, pt of §2]
I’d like to personally thank…
Special thanks to Sam, who spent tireless hours researching the laws and regulations for me. He did an amazing job wading through the legal codes, making calls and digging through red tape to find concrete answers to some important questions.
Much Mahalo to County Councilman Don Couch for his ongoing efforts to help find affordable housing alternatives for Maui residents, and all the time he has spent with me sorting out the details of this and several other issues.
Related Tiny House articles
How-To Live with Less for Tiny House Living:
Design Benefits of Tiny Houses in Hawaii:
Many of the excellent, high-quality Tiny House images shown here are courtesy Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.
Stay tuned for a Tiny House Intentional Community / EcoVillage coming soon to Maui…
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.
What does this all mean for Tiny Houses in Hawaii?
Operation Tiny House is a go (accept on the Big Island apparently)! Feel free to move about Hawaii (in a Tiny House on private property). If you’re interested in help with a Tiny House or you want to be a part of a Tiny Village on Maui, please contact me.
See update article here — http://www.mauigoodness.com/2014/04/08/hawaii-the-perfect-place-for-tiny-houses/
* Legal Mumbo-jumbo: I am not an attorney and anything I say in this article could be wrong or mistaken so you should consult your attorney before even remotely thinking this is legal advice. Who would do that? Don’t be that guy!