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Proposed Montana Building Regulations Would Apply to Trailers

April 24, 2019

Tiny houses don't fit tax and regulatory policies designed for big homes.

A bill before the Montana legislature authorizing local governments to regulate and tax tiny houses used as permanent residences would also apply to travel trailers, as originally written.

“Montana wants to allow local communities to regulate and tax tiny homes as residences,” said Lennie Jarratt, a project manager at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

“They say they want to do this as a way to combat homelessness and home affordability,” Jarratt said.

 H.B, 494, introduced by State Rep. Zach Brown (D-Bozeman on February 12, 2019, authorizes local regulation and taxation of 200-to-300 square-foot “tiny” homes, which are currently subject to building codes and zoning regulations designed for regular-sized housing.

As written, the bill would allow local governments to tax tiny houses on wheels as residences, and require the structures to meet building codes for conventional homes if they are put on foundations.

Amendments to the bill are being drafted to address the concerns that have been raised.

“The bill is intended to provide a framework for local regulation and establish minimum standards for tiny homes used as permanent residences,” Brown told Budget & Tax News.

‘Some Unintended Consequences’

Stuart Doggett of the Montana Manufactured Housing & RV Dealers Association pointed out the problems with the bill at a hearing of the Montana House Local Government Committee on February 19.

“We oppose the bill as drafted because we think there are some unintended consequences,” Doggett told the committee.

Brown’s bill as introduced would allow local governments to apply the same taxes to tiny homes on wheels, in addition to ones built on foundations, as they impose on other properties.  Recreational vehicles currently are not subject to the property tax.

The definitions in the bill ‘would inadvertently capture most travel trailers or RVs,’ Doggett told the committee.

‘More Regulations ... Less Affordable’

Doggett says building codes are unclear on the requirements for tiny homes.

“There are no national standards under [the American National Standards Institute] that apply to tiny homes or tiny homes on wheels,” said Doggett. “There is now an annex, what I’ve been told, under the [Uniform Building Code] that addresses tiny homes used as a permanent housing source, and perhaps that could be considered as an alternative in the bill.”

“The more regulations put on the construction of tiny homes, the less affordable they will be,” said Jarratt.

Tiny-home builder Nicolas Cole says the state’s current law created problems when he built a cluster of eight one-room structures in East Missoula in 2018.

“Cole said he found that county regulations forced him to spend as much on building permit fees and parking space as he would if he were building large homes,” the Missoulian reported.

Joe Barnett (joepaulbarnett@att.net) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.

Official Connections:

Rep. Zach Brown (D-Bozeman):

https://leg.mt.gov/legislator-information/roster/individual/5122

Author
Joe Barnett is a research fellow and managing editor of Budget & Tax News, a publication of The Heartland Institute
jbarnett@heartland.org