Lawmaker has big plans for tiny home legislation in N.H.

  • Megan Zopf stands in the doorway of her tiny house she plans to live in once it is finished. The house on a trailer sits on her rental property in Chichester. GEOFF FORESTER

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    The "Wind River Bungalow" from Wind River Tiny Homes. Developer Joe Mendola said the homes he wants to bring to Warner for a "tiny home park" would be similar to Wind River's units, but he faces zoning and definition questions from the town's land use board. Courtesy

By Staff and wire reports
Published: 12/26/2018 6:00:47 PM

A New Hampshire legislator wants to make regulations more clear for those who want to build or live in their very own tiny home.

Republican state Rep. Dave Testerman plans to sponsor legislation to clarify municipal regulation of the structures. He says cities and towns don’t have much guidance under state law about how to regulate tiny houses.

Such homes are typically mobile and smaller than 1,000-square feet and in some cases can be as spartan as a 10-foot by 12-foot shed on wheels.

Testerman says tiny homes priced around $100,000 could attract a younger demographic to New Hampshire.

Real estate developer Joe Mendola says he wants more clear rules for tiny houses because he ran into confusion when he tried to build a tiny home park in Warner.

The town’s zoning board voted, 4-1 in May, to deny Mendola’s request for a site variance to bring a 13-unit “tiny home” park to Schoodac Road.

Mendola tried to argue that tiny homes are no different from manufactured housing under Warner’s zoning laws because they would be “transportable in one or more sections.” When erected, each home would have been about 320 square feet and built on a permanent chassis.

Mendola was seeking a variance to cluster the homes closer together than what is typically allowed by code.

Zoning board Vice Chairman Howard Kirchner, the lone vote in favor of the project, said at the time that the board had a problem with locate the tiny homes in “clusters” on a single lot.

Tiny homes have proved to be a challenge outside of Warner as well since there is little precedent for land use boards to work with. The American Tiny House Association notes that New Hampshire has standards for park model RVs and accessory dwelling units, but not for tiny homes, which are meant to be mobile and lived in year-round.

The problem doesn’t just stop with the planning board or zoning board either. Building inspectors and tax assessors can be stumped by the prospect of a tiny house too.

For local building inspectors, typical codes require dwelling units to have one habitable room not less than 120 square feet of gross floor area. That’s nearly the total size of some tiny houses.

Another is the prevalence of sleeping areas in lofts that are only accessible only by ladders, which can run afoul of fire safety codes.

Even the most basic questions, like how to classify a tiny house spurs disagreement. Some argue they should be considered manufactured homes because they are semi-permanent structures that are often built off-site, others say they should be classified as recreational vehicles because they are on wheels and can be moved from place to place.

Mendola says he hopes Testerman’s bill will make New Hampshire a national leader when it comes to tiny houses. Without it, the state stands to lose out on young residents and job seekers looking for cheaper housing options.

“The jobs are going begging,” Mendola told New Hampshire Public Radio. “And if we don’t those jobs with the millennials and they can’t find decent housing and have to pay exorbitant rents for apartments they’ll head south and the businesses will follow.”

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