California Tiny House Laws

Tiny houses are legal in most parts of California, but the regulations vary from city to city.
Written by R.E. Fulton
From souped-up RVs and tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) to backyard cottages and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the legality of California tiny houses is a complex web of local regulations and rapidly shifting city ordinances. To comply with California building and safety standards, you’ll need to become an expert in your local laws. 
  • Whether you can build your tiny home in California depends on the location and how it’s constructed
  • Tiny homes on wheels and tiny homes built on foundations will be subject to their own requirements
  • All tiny homes must satisfy requirements of the California Residential Code and the California Building Code.
In some areas in California, it’s illegal to use a tiny house as a permanent residence, but in others, tiny houses are legal as long as you follow the zoning and building codes of your city.
Tiny house regulations can differ dramatically in California: For instance, San Francisco’s zoning laws outlaw any house with rooms smaller than 70 square feet. But in Isleton, just an hour away, you can find
Park Delta Bay
, Northern California’s first legal tiny house community. 

California cities that allow tiny houses

Zoning laws and building codes are changing rapidly in California: More and more cities permit the building and use of tiny houses. In fact, the state of California is home to 15% of the country’s tiny houses. 
The major cities that allow tiny houses as of 2022 are: 
Major exceptions to California’s reputation as a tiny-house-friendly state are San Francisco and Sacramento. However, the San Francisco government announced plans in 2021 to build a
tiny home village
for some of the city’s homeless community. 

What kinds of tiny houses are permitted in California?

California doesn’t have a single official definition of what constitutes a tiny house. 
According to a bulletin issued by the California
Department of Housing and Community Development
in 2016, the following structures can be considered tiny homes in California: 
  • Manufactured homes (MHs) regulated by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development 
  • Factory-built housing
  • Recreational vehicles (RVs)
  • Park trailers (PTs)
  • Camping cabins (CCs)
Keep in mind: If your tiny house doesn’t fit into any of those categories and is built on a foundation, it must be built in compliance with the California Building Standards Code (CBSC)—just like any single-family dwelling.

What does a tiny house need to be up to California building code?

The CBSC includes both the California Residential Code and the California Building Code. 
To meet the standards set by the CBSC, a tiny home must have: 
  • A ceiling at least 7 feet 6 inches high
  • At least one room with a gross floor area of 120 square feet or more
  • A net floor area of at least 70 square feet for all other living spaces
You’ll also need to meet basic requirements for:
  • Lighting
  • Ventilation
  • Plumbing
  • Emergency exits
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
A step smaller: If you’re really set on owning the tiniest house possible, you may be able to go even smaller by building what the CBSB terms an Efficiency Dwelling Unit. 
Your home’s occupancy will affect how small your tiny home can actually be. For an EDU, your living room must have at least 220 square feet of floor space, with an additional 100 square feet of living space for every additional resident over two. You’ll also need: 
  • A kitchen sink 
  • Cooking appliances
  • Refrigeration appliances
  • A separate closet
All kitchen appliances need a “clear working space” of at least 30 inches—so don’t try to stack hot plates on top of your sink! 

What about tiny houses on wheels? 

Many jurisdictions statewide permit tiny houses on wheels (THOWs), especially in mobile home and RV parks. The rules for these are a little different from other tiny houses, so let’s break it down: 
  • Licensing: Your THOW must be registered with the
    California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV
    ) for use on public highways and must comply with
    American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
    119.2 or 119.5 safety requirements. 
  • Towing: Your THOW can’t move on its own power; it must be towable by a bumper hitch, frame-towing hitch, or fifth-wheel connection. 
  • Skirting: The wheels and undercarriage of the THOW must be skirted. 
  • Size: Your THOW must meet the
    California Vehicle Code’s
    standards for length and weight for highway operation. 
  • Interior space: You must have at least 100 square feet of first-floor living space. 
  • Living functions: You must have living areas for necessary tasks like cooking, personal hygiene, and sleeping. 
  • Design: Your THOW must look like a conventional home. 
Key Takeaway You can build a tiny house on wheels (THOW) or a tiny house on a foundation, but you’ll need to follow different regulations for each. 

Where can I park my tiny house in California?

In California, the answer to that question comes down to local zoning ordinances and safety codes, which vary from city to city. Your city’s zoning code will determine whether you can park or build your tiny house. 
In some cases, you may be able to park your tiny house in your backyard (or a friend’s). In order to do this, you’ll need to apply for a permit for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Both
Los Angeles
are among the cities that allow the use of tiny homes as ADUs on the property of a primary dwelling. 

How to build a tiny house in California

If you’re embarking on the tiny living journey in the Golden State, here’s the checklist you’ll want to follow to make sure you’re in compliance with the law: 
  • Decide on the type of tiny house you want. Are you dreaming of a THOW that can take you anywhere, or do you want to put down tiny roots in a backyard cottage?
  • Research your local zoning laws and building codes. Head to your local library for resources to help you pin down the legal requirements. 
  • Find a tiny house building company. Not only will companies like
    Sierra Tiny Houses
    California Tiny House
    build your dream, they’ll help you navigate those pesky regulations and work with your local government’s planning department. 
  • Settle on the right place for your tiny house. Finding a place for a tiny home can mean moving to a new city with friendlier zoning, or just locating a backyard of the right size. 
  • Compare home insurance rates. Once your tiny house is complete, don’t forget to purchase insurance! Although it’s not required by California law, homeowners insurance will protect the home you’ve poured so much time, work, and money into. 
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It depends on the type of tiny house. If you’re building a tiny house on a foundation, you’ll need building permits. For a tiny house on wheels, you’ll need to have the home inspected and registered with the California DMV.
The minimum permitted size of a tiny house in California varies from city to city. You’ll need to check your local ordinances for an exact figure, but in general, you can expect to build with a minimum interior square footage of about 100 square feet.
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