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Tiny Houses and Religious Land Use

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on May 25, 2017 Category: RLUIPA

Recently, the Detroit News and the Nashville Tennessean profiled the recent phenomenon of tiny houses that are being built for the homeless population by religious institutions in Detroit, Michigan and Nashville, Tennessee. Built at a fraction of the cost of a new home, and primarily funded by donations and grants, the tiny houses range in size from 290 square feet to 360 square feet. Each has a fully functional kitchen, bathroom and set up for a washer and dryer. Some have separate bedroom areas, and others have lofts.

The question for many churches who want to become involved in the tiny house movement is whether the homes can be placed on the same property as the Church. Similar to the “tent city” ministry that was popular a decade ago, many Churches have engaged in the tiny house movement to assist the homeless community.  Before starting down this road, the local Church should look at both zoning issues and building code requirements before building the homes.

With respect to zoning, the local Church must first determine if the property they place the homes on their own property. If property is zoned single family residential, for example, only one principal residence and one accessory use (a garage) is permitted.  Multiple tiny homes would not be automatically allowed. If the zoning approval is granted, the tiny homes still need to comply with the health, safety and welfare requirements.  That means, the homes need to have running water, sewer hook-up, gas lines, electric lines and cable lines that are installed in a safe manner.  Further, the homes need to be built using safe and fire proof materials so that the tiny home community does not become a health or fire hazard.

In Nashville, a local Church partnered with a homeless ministry to build a tiny house community on the Church property.  The neighbors objected to the use arguing zoning concerns.  The Church responded arguing that under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act that they could use their property for the homeless ministry. The Board of Zoning Appeals approved the use and the Church plans on moving forward with the use. A more detailed article concerning the issue is here.

In Detroit, the local Church built tiny homes in the area adjacent to the Church property for the homeless ministry.  The property is zoned residential multiple which allows multiple tiny homes on a single parcel of land. The homes have proven to be both popular and affordable for the local community.

If your ministry is currently thinking about a tiny home ministry, please contact the professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC to assist you in your analysis.

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Dalton & Tomich, PLC is the national leader in successfully helping churches, other religious institutions and their insurers defend their rights in land use and zoning matters under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. We have helped clients win cases against municipalities and other local government bodies from coast to coast, with expertise serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.