HUD Ruling on Tiny Houses

A new ruling that went into effect on January 15th, 2019 has further defined the Recreational Vehicle exemption from manufactured housing standards. The government agency (HUD) has also taken more ownership in the jurisdiction of the “tiny house movement” sweeping the country. This ruling makes clear that the use of the structure is baselined upon the manufacturer’s intent.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) expanded regulation that includes requiring the manufacturer to provide a “notice” to the consumer before completion of the sales transaction.  What does this mean for tiny houses “on wheels” and those that build them? These new definitions in the RV exemption will affect the future of DIYers. It means this; you can build yours, but to resell it you are required to provide the certification to the prospective buyer. The certification informs the buyer whether the tiny house is a manufactured home or a recreational vehicle.

RVIA Certified Tumbleweeds

“Prior to this rulemaking, the RV exemption was roundly criticized for not drawing a clear enough distinction between RVs, which are designed for temporary, recreational use, and manufactured housing, which is designed for permanent, year-round dwelling. This distinction has become increasingly relevant, because RV manufacturers have begun to produce larger products that include more features, such as porches built on the chassis, and that resemble manufactured homes. These additions have raised questions as to whether these features should be included when measuring according to Interpretive Bulletin A-1-88 for the purposes of exemption. This has increased the confusion over whether HUD should regulate certain RVs because they meet the statutory definition of a manufactured home or whether they should be exempted based on their intended design for temporary, recreational use.”

U.S. Department of Housing and DevelopmentB. The Need for a Broader Exemption, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Clearing Up the Confusion

Tiny house people are not confused about what a tiny house is. State and local governments, insurance companies, land developers, and lenders are confused. HUD’s ruling helps parse the language for us all.  Tiny houses can take different forms and fill the needs for several types of uses. The two distinct applications are recreational uses versus full-time dwelling. And as the tiny house movement expands this is where the confusion begins. Questions about insurance, parking, and financing take shape.

For a tiny house RV the debate has always been that it looks like a house, but can it be lived in full-time? The answer is yes, it seems like a house. And yes, technically – a person can willfully choose to live in it full time. The federal government, through HUD, does not regulate whether it is legal or illegal to live in an RV full time. It only acknowledges that the intent of a recreational vehicle is for recreational use, and because it’s a vehicle (on wheels), it falls under the jurisdiction of The Department of Transporation. State and local governments may or may not recognize RVs as acceptable for full-time dwellings.

The new HUD ruling doesn’t legalize full-time tiny house RV living, and it doesn’t make it more illegal. What it also doesn’t do, is make it illegal for you to self-build one. The only new thing the ruling does is makes it illegal to enter into a transaction with a buyer for the structure – if there is no “manufacturer’s notice” as to what the intent of the structure is.  Whether they are buying an RV or a manufactured house, is now a matter of law.

What’s The Point?

LOOK FOR THE CERTIFICATION BADGE. This ruling is an improvement to consumer protection in the country. Indirectly, HUD requires certification of the distinction of the structure. Consumers become protected when they know what they are buying because a “manufacturer’s notice” clearly states what it is. You might be asking yourself, why should I care about this new ruling if it doesn’t just cut to the chase and legalize RV full-time living?

“In § 3282.15(c), HUD makes several changes; to remove the term “Notice” and replace it with the term “Manufacturer’s Notice” for clarity; and to specify that in all cases where the exemption is based on the unit being certified to the ANSI A-119.5-15 standard, the Manufacturer’s Notice must be provided to the consumer prior to the completion of the sales transaction, as defined in this final rule. Finally, HUD adds a definition of “completion of sales transaction” in this final rule, because the cross-reference to § 3282.252(b), in the proposed rule, was inapplicable.”

An informed consumer can further the tiny house movement to greater successes. Purchase protections afforded by Federal government agencies should help legalization more attainable. If your county or city allows RVs in the back yard, but not park model RVs, you can more easily identify what you need to shop for and produce the manufacturer’s notice to the zoning office. There’s no longer the question or debate about what the structure is.

The point is this, look for the certification badge when you shop.  It will tell you exactly what you’re purchasing, whether it’s a tiny house RV, a park model RV, or a manufactured home. More importantly, there’s confidence built-in when you know the structure adheres to a nationally recognized code. And because it does,  you can resell it if you need to. Your ability to provide the next buyer a “manufacturer’s notice” means it’s a recognized legal transaction.

Investments In Quality

The last question consumers have is regarding the quality of the build. There have been suggestions made that certifying a tiny house as an RV will cause quality to suffer across the board. The fear is that manufacturers will use cheaper materials that are harmful to the environment. Will this happen?

That adage applies; you get what you pay for.

The idea that manufacturers will “cheap out” because they certify as an RV is a fallacy of inconsistency. “Quality” and “RV certifications” are mutually exclusive and entirely dependant on the manufacturer’s design and desire to deliver satisfaction to their customers. One builder may build it cheaply, but another builder may not.

That adage still applies; you get what you pay for.

A friend of Tumbleweed: Shawna Renée

Creative Services & Marketing professional
Loves tiny houses and the social impact they bring to the table.

**Opinions are my own

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