California Tiny House Laws

Tiny houses are legal in many California cities, but the regulations vary from city to city.
Written by R.E. Fulton
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Jun 10, 2022
From souped-up RVs and tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) to backyard cottages and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the world 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. 
California may be the third-largest state in the US, but it’s home to 15% of the country’s tiny houses. If you’re itching to downsize, California could be the ideal place—but you’ll need to plan your tiny move carefully to stay in compliance with city building and zoning codes. 
That’s a lot easier said than done. That’s why
car and home insurance
comparison and broker expert
has created a guide to tiny house laws in California. In this article, we’ll answer your big questions on tiny houses and point you in the direction of your first steps on the road to tiny! 
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There’s no statewide tiny house law in California, so the answer to this question varies from city to city. In some places, 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, as more and more cities permit the building and use of tiny houses. The major cities that allow tiny houses as of 2022 are: 
  • Los Angeles
  • Fresno
  • San Luis Obispo
  • San Diego 
  • Santa Cruz
  • San Jose
  • California City
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. Is a loosening of Bay Area tiny house regulations on the horizon? 

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 state
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)
If your tiny house (or the tiny home of your dreams) 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)

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 light, ventilation, plumbing, emergency exits, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
If you’re really set on owning the tiniest house possible, though, you may be able to go even smaller by building what the CBSB terms an Efficiency Dwelling Unit. For an EDU, your living room must have at least 220 square feet of floor space, with an additional 100 square feet 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 in California permit tiny houses on wheels (THOWs). 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 DMV
    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; 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 basic facilities for 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?

One of the biggest questions when it comes to tiny houses is where you can put them. In California, the answer to that question comes down to local zoning 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. 

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! 
  • 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. 

How to easily find home insurance

Whether you’re going tiny or just dreaming big, you'll want to make sure your home is protected with the right
home insurance
. But shopping for a new policy can be incredibly time-consuming and a major hassle—especially if you're already focused on building a new tiny house.
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