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Tiny Homes in Santa Cruz County?

Tiny Homes are catching the attention of people all over the country (have you seen the HGTV show Tiny House, Big Living?). Here in Santa Cruz County, we’ve had quite a few clients ask if they can put a Tiny Home on a lot. The short answer is, “it depends”. Read the more comprehensive answer below.

What is a “Tiny Home”?

A tiny home is typically one that is under 400 square feet, though some may categorize tiny homes and small homes together, and include all homes under 1000 square feet.

These homes can either be pre-fabricated and put on a chassis with wheels or installed on a foundation like a more traditional house. You can also hire a team to build your time home right there on the lot, or if you’re handy, build it yourself.

How Much Do Tiny Homes Cost?

Tiny home costs can vary widely. Here are examples of tiny homes that you can buy today from Tiny Home manufacturers and builders, and prices vary from close to $40,000 to $140,000. As one would expect, the larger the tiny home and the fancier the features you put in it, the more expensive it will be.

Note: the tiny homes in the link above may not meet California Building Code requirements. More about what this means, and why it’s important below.

Using a Tiny Homes as a “Primary Residence” in Santa Cruz County

We’ve talked to planning and building departments across the county and the message is clear: it’s possible to put a tiny home on a lot and use it as a primary residence under certain conditions.

The Difference Between a Permanent Dwelling and Additional Dwelling Unit

This article is focused on using Tiny Homes as primary dwelling units rather than an additional dwelling unit (ADU). A permanent dwelling, or primary residence, is the main structure on the property. ADU, granny units, and additional dwelling units are all names for secondary units that are added to a residential parcel in addition to the primary house.

To make your Tiny Home your main house, you will have to follow all of the same rules as someone proposing to build a larger Single Family Residential home. Read more about these rules below.

The California Building Code And Your Tiny Home

All new homes (being used as primary residences) in Santa Cruz must meet the requirements specified in the California Building Codes. These rules may restrict the layout of, and how small you can make your tiny home. If you want to learn more about buying or building tiny homes that are up to code, we suggest you talk to tiny home manufacturers directly or work one on one with an architect.

It Must Be On A Foundation

You cannot call a tiny home your primary residence if it is on wheels. All tiny homes that are used as actual homes must be attached to a permanent foundation. Under California state housing law, anything that is permanently mounted to a chassis with wheels is a Recreational Vehicle (RV) approved only for occasional and seasonal use and cannot be used as a dwelling.

The Right Lot

If you purchase a lot with no structure on it, you’ll have to undergo a process to ensure that your lot is buildable.

For example, to live in a Tiny Home in Santa Cruz County, you will need to connect it to electricity or gas, water, and sewer systems. These utilities may be provided through public or private sources depending on where you are located in the county and the lot you choose. To access public utilities, you may have to work with your local water district, fire district, and public works departments to find out if your parcel can get “hooked up”.

Additionally, you’ll have to ensure that it is relatively flat: if too large a percentage of your lot is sloped, you’ll run into problems and may not be able to build or install a tiny home.

You may also have to undergo an environmental review if the land has protected flora or fauna on it.

As you may have guessed, determining the buildability of a lot can be a complex process. We suggest that you talk directly to the zoning and planning department(s) within the jurisdiction that your lot falls within. Not sure how to find the right office? Give us a call, we can help.

Another route to determine the usability of a lot would be to hire a land use planner, which, while can add cost to the process, may save you time and money down the road.

How to Get Start If You Want to Live in A Tiny Home In Santa Cruz County

The rules and regulations around building or installing Tiny Homes in Santa Cruz county vary from one part of the county to the next. We can definitively say that no part of the county, incorporated or unincorporated, has specific rules that restrict the use of tiny homes as permanent residences, but certain laws may make it more or less difficult in a given area such as a minimum lot size requirement to build a new home, your proximity to the ocean (i.e. the Coastal Zone), the availability of lots, or scarcity of certain utilities like water.

We suggest that, to start the process you:

  1. Find a builder or Tiny Home manufacturer who understands what it will take to make a tiny home that is “up to code”. When talking to potential suppliers, we suggest you ask questions like:
    1. Can you certify that my tiny home is built according to the California Building Code Standards?
    2. Have you ever built tiny homes to be used as permanent residences (not on wheels) in the state of California?
  1. Determine the amount of money that you have to buy or build your tiny home and parcel. Note that you may have access to the same financing options as a person building a more conventional home and may have to great creative in this part of the process.
  2. Contact our team and find out how much land costs around the County. Depending on the location you choose, a parcel of land can vary from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. We can help you find the right location and get a great deal!

Other Options

While living in a Tiny Home may be an exciting prospect for some, you’ll have to jump through a few hoops if you want to live in one permanently. If you are looking for other affordable housing options in the county of Santa Cruz, give us a call and we can help you discover all of your options.

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