- Brianna O’Brien, a recent college grad, moved into a tiny house on her parents’ property in New Hampshire. Six months later, she received an eviction notice.
- Determined to get her tiny house legally zoned, O’Brien presented her case to the local zoning board in August 2019. But it denied her request, and she was forced to move out.
- In most parts of the US, local governments consider tiny houses RVs. Many tiny-house owners have been evicted or have had trouble finding a place to park their homes legally.
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After graduating from college and moving into a tiny house on her parents’ property, Brianna O’Brien found a life-altering letter in the mail: an eviction notice.
Six months earlier, she had decided to move back to her hometown of Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, but she couldn’t afford an apartment in the area.
“All the pieces aligned for me to start looking into tiny houses,” she told Insider.
While perusing Facebook Marketplace in September 2018, she found the perfect tiny house made of salvaged wood for $29,000. She bought it using a low-payment loan.
At first, she said, she planned to work with the local zoning board to get the house properly zoned, but her research advised her otherwise.
“I did a lot of crowdsourcing for advice, and the majority of folks who live in tiny houses on wheels recommend keeping it as under the radar as possible because the red tape is so difficult,” she said.
O’Brien decided to park it on her parents’ property and didn’t foresee it being a problem. “It was so hidden in the bushes,” she said.
However, a neighbor spotted the house and brought it to the zoning board’s attention. O’Brien received a letter saying her tiny house did not adhere to the zoning codes in Hampton Falls.
O’Brien fought her case in front of the local zoning board
When O’Brien received the notice, she began a conversation with the local building inspector. She learned that her house broke several zoning ordinances: It had no formal plumbing, it had only one form of egress, and it was too close to the property line.
“There is no building code for tiny houses, so you have to get an occupancy permit to get it zoned,” O’Brien said. “It’s a cycle that feeds into itself. Without a building code, it automatically breaks any zoning ordinances.”
O’Brien decided to fight for an occupancy permit and get her house properly zoned. She put together a presentation explaining how she would fix the ordinances she broke and prove that her tiny house was a viable and safe place to live full time.
On August 22, 2019, O’Brien presented her case to the Hampton Falls Zoning Board of Adjustment. But the board denied her request, blocking her path to legalizing her tiny house.
The meeting notes said the board denied her request for a variance because it “would be contrary to the public interest because the structure is currently existing, therefore the modifications are not in compliance and should have been discussed prior to the particular building of the structure.”
Additionally, the board felt that the tiny house could diminish property values.
“They discounted my entire argument,” O’Brien said. “I was devastated, embarrassed, and humbled. I was really hoping this board would see this issue as a leverage point for something much bigger.”
O’Brien isn’t alone — tiny-house owners across the country face strict, sometimes confusing zoning laws
O’Brien’s story is just one example of a problem faced by people who want to downsize.
As Insider previously reported, tiny-house owners across the country have been forced out of their living situations or have struggled to find a place to park their tiny houses legally. In some cases, owners choose to live under the radar — a lifestyle that comes with considerable stress.
In the eyes of most local governments, tiny houses are considered recreational vehicles — and, legally, you are not allowed to live in an RV full time. Homeowners need to work with their local governments to get the rules changed, said Dan Fitzpatrick, the president of the Tiny Home Industry Association.
“Municipalities need to recognize that movable tiny houses are a totally different animal than a recreational vehicle,” Fitzpatrick told Insider. “The way you do that is you write in your local ordinance a definition for a movable tiny house to distinguish it from a typical RV.”
In the end, O’Brien had to move out of the tiny house and left it standing empty on her parents’ property. She also had to leave the hometown she fought so hard to live in.
“It was a bummer. It felt like they didn’t want me,” she said. “Not that I took it that personally, but there was this element that I was saddened by.”