AUGUSTA — Maine residents who have been dreaming of owning a tiny home do not have to wait much longer.

Last month, Gov. Janet Mills signed L.D. 1530 into law, defining what a tiny home is, and giving them the same status as traditional single-family dwellings. The law takes effect this fall, making it easier for people to live in tiny homes as a primary or accessory dwelling.

Under the bill’s definition, a “tiny home” must be no more than 400 square feet in size and counts as a dwelling if built on either a standard foundation or wheeled platform towable by a vehicle.  Semitrailers, camp trailers, recreational vehicles or manufactured housing do not qualify.

“Following the recently signed state law, we are allowing people to put a tiny home any place that a single-family dwelling is allowed,” said Jimmy Buzzell, land use planner for the city of Lewiston. “Any lot that you’re allowed to put a family home, you can put a tiny home on. You have to meet the standards of single-family homes and the requirements under Maine state law.”

Buzzell added he’s seen an increase in the number of inquiries about tiny homes in the last month.

Jonah Crowell, who is currently building a tiny home in Auburn, has seen a change in the way that people react to his dream to build such a residence, noting his inspiration was the HGTV series, “Tiny House, Big Living.”

“Before, whenever somebody asked what I’m building, I’d tell them and they kind of laughed at me,” Crowell said. “Like, ‘Oh, that’s a joke. That’s not a real home.’ But more recently, within the last month, I feel like it’s more like, “Oh, wow, you’re building one of those. That’s so cool!’ Now it’s more of a cool thing than something to make fun of.”

Crowell plans to build at least two more tiny homes in the next six years and agrees the recent legislation will make it easier for residents to build tiny homes.

Seth Goodwin, who teaches tiny house building at Edward Little High School in Auburn, sees many pluses to the new legislation.

“My take on this bill, especially on the local level where they are opening up to having smaller buildings on properties, is it means we’ll have an easier time,” Goodwin said. “It’s a plus for people on a smaller budget. I think if they’re built correctly, and they’re attractive and in the right location, it’s a plus.”

Jonah Cowell, 21, tacks up Tyvek house wrap on the outside of the tiny home he is building on a trailer at his parent’s home in Auburn. Crowell is looking for land in Auburn to relocate the tiny home once it is completed. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

As society moves away from the pandemic lifestyle, the appeal of a tiny house seems clear for one main reason: its affordability in comparison to larger homes.

“For a while, we have really needed some alternative for affordable housing, and this is a very easy solution for that,” said Corinne Watson, founder and CEO of Tiny Homes of Maine. “I think that having the last bill passed will help a lot of people and kind of speed it up. It may have taken some towns longer if they were responsible for doing it themselves. Other towns just took it upon themselves to work with people to allow tiny homes.”

Watson said that right now, many people cannot afford rent and mortgage because it is “so extremely high.” The tiny home legislation will not just help one demographic that is struggling with this issue, it will help a wide variety of people with different needs.

“In our experience working with clients, it’s not just that we have a pre-pandemic demographic and a post-pandemic demographic, you know. It’s completely different now. Before, it was older single women in their 50s and 60s looking to downsize. Now it’s everyone. It’s young couples. It’s older people. It’s people buying these (tiny homes) just for … Airbnbs for rental income. It’s small business owners. It’s massage therapists,” she said.

On a national level, the tiny home industry is growing in popularity across demographics, said Daniel Fitzpatrick, president of the Tiny Home Industry Association, who described it as “booming.”

The plans for the tiny house Jonah Crowell is building in his parent’s yard had to be customized to fit a larger trailer. Crowell also added dormers to the roof. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“All of our builders nationally are very busy building homes, and more and more states and communities are becoming tiny house friendly,” Fitzpatrick said. “Consumers are buying them and locating them in towns and hamlets all over the United States and doing very well.”

“Naturally, in a tiny industry world, what Maine did is big news and certainly is being celebrated on a national level,” he continued. “I think there is a lot happening in a number of different states.”

Alan Plummer, Maine representative to the American Tiny House Association, who stated he lives in a “tiny house in a tiny-friendly town” outside of the Lewiston-Auburn area, said that he is celebrating this legislation and believes that it will be much easier to own a tiny home once this law becomes legal in the fall.

“I’ve been an enthusiast for probably six or seven years,” Plummer said. “It’s a lifestyle change from being a ‘consumer’ all my life. It’s a way simpler way to live. I’m glad I did it because it’s an adjustment on how I think, thinking about what things I have and what things I need.”

Even with passage of L.D. 1530, Plummer believes Maine’s tiny house environment could still use some improvement. He said Maine needs a “more cohesive face of code enforcement,” since code officers have too much space to interpret rules to a large degree that tiny house living should not be allowed. They also may use existing building codes as a means to say no to prospective builders and owners, while other officers can be more lenient.

Overall, though, Plummer said he believes the legislation is a necessary step forward.


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