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'Tiny homes' in high demand; Here's how to get one in San Diego

Tiny Homes (1)
Posted at 1:31 PM, Apr 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-08 21:24:50-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — With the San Diego housing market at never before seen highs, San Diegans are turning to different types of housing.

Whether people are looking for a more affordable option, or they are homeowners on the hunt to purchase another property, going 'tiny' is in demand now more than ever.

“This is the biggest year yet for Tiny Homes in San Diego," said Ben Rawson, founder of Zen Tiny Homes.

The owner of the San Diego-based company has been creating small spaces on wheels for the past seven years. Rawson says that he started building to try and find a better, more cost-efficient solution to the rising costs of homes in the county. But 2022 has brought demand that has doubled from what they used to see.

“I get calls every day all the time," said Rawson with a laugh.

"I can’t even answer the phone anymore. Last year was the first year that the County of San Diego started allowing people to start pulling permits to put tiny houses in backyards. Up until then, we were only allowed to put them in RV parks and on private properties that are usually out on the agricultural land.”

So it all sounds pretty simple, right? Well, not quite. Rawson recommends that first, people who are interested need to make sure what they are getting is legally considered a tiny home.

A Tiny Home is not to be confused with RVs, campers, or traditional ADUs. These houses need to be less than 500 square feet, must be on wheels, must be RV certified, and pass all of the qualifications listed on San Diego County's Bulletin 403.

“It has to be 20 feet away from any existing structure," Rawson said as he read a document.

"You also need 5 feet off of any type of fencing and that’s for if the fire department needs to come to the house, get around the fencing, bring hoses in, that’s what that’s for so there’s a whole list of different requirements.”

If anyone thinks they may have land that is eligible for this home, the next step is to call a certified company like Zen Tiny Homes, to inspect the land. They will assess to make sure that landowners are even eligible before beginning the process for a Movable Tiny Home permit.

“So right now it’s typically taking people a year to get approved on the permitting just to be able to have one of these," said Rawson.

"And there usually has to be infrastructure done on any given property in order to be granted the permit. So there’s sub-permits that have to be applied throughout that process. So usually we are seeing septic, electric, grating, and then fire."

While it may take a while, if anyone gets the okay, then they can decide if they want to bring in an already made home onto the property, or create one from the ground up. The latter option typically takes 3 months and costs roughly $60,000.

“Typical costs for an ADU are about three times what a tiny home would be," said Rawson.

"When we see ADU’s built-in let’s say La Jolla, we are seeing them average between $200,000 to $300,000 to get one built. Whereas a tiny home is much cheaper to build and quicker to build.”

And while some individuals may look at the tight quarters with weary eyes, Rawson assures them that they are comfortable. He says that owners should build the house of the property to meet and complement the surrounding area and their needs. He also says that tiny homeowners also add additions like decks and awnings to make it their own.

“You have to be smart with your design," explains Rawson. "You have to make sure you can maximize your space, especially indoor/outdoor space.”

Rawson's crew is working on new projects every day and expects more walk-throughs from interested buyers come summer. But they ask if anyone wants to make the move to smaller living, make sure to read the fine print first.