If you’re a tiny house enthusiast and live in the New England part of the United States, you’ve probably asked the question, “Are tiny houses legal in Massachusetts?”
The answer isn’t as black and white as we want it to be. It’s impossible to answer yes or no when there are hundreds of variables to consider.
So I created a scoring system for tiny house friendliness. If you’d like to learn more about the details of this scoring system, I laid out all of the criteria for you to view here.
This article breaks down tiny house legality from building codes to zoning regulations and the overall acceptance from the state.
First, we’ll take a look at the overview of the state. Second, we’ll break down individual counties. And third, if there are city-specific zoning rules, I will include them inside the county.
To understand the legality of tiny houses, we need to dive into the deepest, most confusing paperwork of the municipalities. Most of them can be found online, but it feels like a translator is required to truly understand what it’s saying.
Understand the Terms
If you aren’t familiar with zoning terms, Zoning-Info.com explains the terms commonly used in zoning regulations. It’s very helpful if you are new to the tiny house world or trying to understand your local zoning codes to see if tiny houses are allowed.
As for building codes, many states are adopting IRC’s Appendix Q on tiny houses. If you’re unfamiliar with Appendix Q, let me give you a brief overview. It defines tiny houses as a primary dwelling that is less than 400 square feet. It also gives the minimum requirements for building every aspect of a tiny house. These building codes are designed for tiny houses on foundations only.
Tiny House Communities in Massachusetts
Currently we aren’t aware of any tiny house communities in Massachusetts. If you know of one please send us an email so we can add it!
Is Massachusetts Tiny House Friendly?
As of January 2020, tiny houses (on foundations) have become legal in Massachusetts. Below are some of the findings that support this information. It seems like the state is embracing the sustainability of small living.
If you’d like to view Massachusetts city and town ordinances and bylaws, check out the state’s website at Mass.gov.
Tiny Score & Notes
Tiny Houses On Foundations9
Tiny Houses On Wheels1
- State adopted Appendix Q (effective Jan 2020)
- Excellent for foundation tiny houses
- Many municipalities have their information available online
- Not great for tiny houses on wheels (THOWs)
- Some cities classify THOWs as "mobile homes"
- Mobile homes unwelcome in most of the state
[March 16, 2020] (Source)
“SECTION 3. Section 1A of chapter 40, as appearing in the 2016 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following definition:-
“Tiny house”, a detached structure containing a dwelling unit with no more than 600 square feet, excluding the area of any floor level located above the main floor, intended for year round occupancy that meets the requirements of chapter 143, and may include single-room structures, and which is built on either a permanent foundation or on a chassis that is suitable for registration for transport on public highways of the state.”
[January 18, 2019] (Source)
“SECTION 1. Section 94 of Chapter 143 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2016 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding at the end thereof the following paragraph:-
(s) To incorporate the International Code Council’s Appendix Q into the code of Massachusetts regulations, 780 CMR, for purposes of defining “tiny homes” and establishing requirements and standards for the construction of tiny homes, and to develop and promulgate rules and regulations necessary to administering and enforcing regulation of tiny homes. Any Appendix Q provisions incorporated into the code of Massachusetts regulations shall be updated within 1 year of any revision to the International Residential Code for one and two family dwellings.”
As of December 2019, Somerville allows tiny houses on foundations in accordance with the new residential zoning law they recently passed.
They call tiny houses “cottages” and categorize them into two separate scenarios: as a principal build or a backyard accessory dwelling. In simple terms, it can be your main house or a structure in someone’s backyard. It must be on a foundation, however.
A tiny house can be the main building on your lot:
“A small floor plate, detached, principal building type with one (1) dwelling unit. The cottage is the smallest type of detached principal building in Somerville. Two variants exist, one with a half-story under pitched roof and another with a full height second story and a shallow pitched roof or a flat roof.” (Source)
A tiny house can be build in the backyard (great for those that are looking to rent a tiny house):
“A small floor plate, detached, accessory building type typically providing space for one (1) small dwelling unit, a home occupation, a playhouse for children, or vehicular parking on the same lot as a principal building type.” (Source)
Find out more about building a tiny house in Somerville, MA by visiting their zoning website and downloading the latest PDF articles.
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