The popular tiny-house movement may get a big boost in the District this fall when significantly looser restrictions regarding “accessory dwelling units” — the technical name for the trendy residences — go into effect.
Under provisions in the city’s new zoning code, from Sept. 6, homeowners will have an easier time getting the necessary approval to build and rent out tiny houses. Given the lack of affordable housing in the District, advocates say they think they’ll see a dramatic increase in the number of rentable tiny homes, micro-homes or two-story carriage houses popping up alongside gardens, tree houses and swing sets behind homes all over the city.
Previously, owners seeking to rent out the units were required to argue their cases before the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) to receive an exception. Under the new rule, the structures will be permitted in some neighborhoods as a matter of right: Once homeowners acquire building permits from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), they will be free to build and then rent out the units.
The changes are not applicable citywide: They are largely limited to R-1, R-2 and R-3 zones, which cover outer neighborhoods such as Brookland, Chevy Chase and American University Park, where there are larger single-family homes.
Other regulations restrict size and alley access: The tiny houses cannot be more than 35 percent of the gross floor area of the primary home, which must be at minimum 1,200 square feet in most zones and 2,000 square feet in R-1 zones.They must be adjacent to either a 24-foot-wide alley, or a 15-foot-wide alley and at most 300 feet from a main road for fire safety. And the principal dwelling must be owner-occupied.
Still, advocates say they think that the rules are not overly restrictive and that many homeowners will jump at the opportunity to create rental units.