A finished ‘Coastal Escape’ tiny home, built in 2018 by Sunshine Tiny Homes in Gibsons, B.C., is shown in an undated handout photo. Tiny home builder Pamela Robertson said she couldn’t keep up with quote requests after the pandemic hit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Damon Berryman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

A finished ‘Coastal Escape’ tiny home, built in 2018 by Sunshine Tiny Homes in Gibsons, B.C., is shown in an undated handout photo. Tiny home builder Pamela Robertson said she couldn’t keep up with quote requests after the pandemic hit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Damon Berryman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Pandemic spurs tiny house interest, while builders say regulatory hurdles remain

VANCOUVER — The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many Canadians to re-evaluate their housing and workarrangements, spurring some to think not big, but tiny.

Pamela Robertson builds tiny homes in Gibsons on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast and said she couldn’t keep up with requests for quotes after the pandemic hit.

“Everybody wanted a tiny home that was built in stock and I build to order,” said Robertson, whose tiny homes on wheels are inspected to meet the Canadian Standards Association specifications for recreational vehicles.

While many people are dreaming of making the move, Robertson warns that building code requirements and regional rules can pose major hurdles.

“There are tiny houses on wheels out there and they’re all living under the fear that somebody is going to call them out.”

Like many jurisdictions, B.C. prohibits year-round living in RVs outside designated parks. Neither the provincial nor national building codes covers mobile homes and they present challenges related to lofts, ladders, small stairs and other features characteristic of tiny homes, she said.

Robertson said her company, Sunshine Tiny Homes, adheres as much as possible to the codes, as well as the international residential code that has specifications for tiny homes, in hopes Canada’s codes will one day differentiate tiny homes from RVs and other prefabricated houses.

She’s advocating for a pilot project that could see tiny homes on wheels temporarily permitted on property that’s already allowed a second dwelling, but the Sunshine Coast Regional District has yet to give the green light.

Robertson is also saving to build a tiny home of her own in the area that she said is hard-hit by low vacancy rates and high rental costs.

“It’s very dire here. It’s basically becoming unaffordable for people, for single people. So, tiny homes are definitely one of a multitude of solutions.”

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association joined calls for a friendlier regulatory landscape for tiny homes in 2017, requesting a number of changes to the national building code related to construction on a chassis or trailer, ceiling heights, stairs, escape windows and other features.

It can take years for code changes to be approved, if at all, said Bob Deeks, president ofRDC Fine Homes in Whistler, B.C. He’s been a committee member with the homebuilders association and with Codes Canada, which is responsible for developing the national building code.

There’s a diversity of perspectives at the table, he said, noting the health-care sector advocates for changes, such as minimum stair dimensions, that could prevent injuries, but those changes could curtail smaller homes.

“That person living on the street? They don’t care what those stairs look like,” said Deeks.

“We’re going to design the very best housing that the world has to offer, but nobody can afford,” he added.

Elsewhere in B.C., Jessika Houston is preparing to move into her new tiny home on wheels in early February after it’s finished.

Houston, 42, had been thinking about tiny living and initially planned to rent after selling her four-bedroom house in Surrey.

When the pandemic hit and her rental circumstances changed, she said it was time to make the moveto a more stable home that’s easier to maintain.

Houston said she went from working 60 hours a week and commuting two hours each day to starting her own business with more flexible hours andcommissioning a tiny home from a Vancouver-based builder.

“My whole intention behind all of it is to be able to live a lifestyle that I can go and experience life instead of being stuck in the rat race and working 9 to 5 and coming home and cleaning on the weekends,” she said.

Like Robertson’s homes, Houston’s farmhouse-style tiny house is built to CSA standards for RVs. A bedroom on the main floor will boast a king-sized bed, she said, while a loft is accessible by stairs with built-in storage.

Houston found someone to lease her a spot to park her tiny home in the Lower Mainland, but she said others aren’t so fortunate, given bylaws that restrict living in a tiny home on wheels throughout the region.

“When you’re in the city, you have to worry about the neighbours and somebody reporting it,” she said. “Right now, the way the landscape is set up, you have to go out into the country so that nobody can see it.”

Houston bought her home outright, but financing is another major hurdle for many tiny-house hopefuls.

The company that’s building Houston’s home, Mint Tiny Homes, lists the price for a 6.7-metre home at $92,500, while larger models with more features and customizations can top $130,000.

Banks are wary of lending money to people building homes without sufficient comparables, said Daniel Ott, president of True North Tiny Homes. The company builds and designs tiny and modular homes and garden and laneway suites across Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe.

“Pre-COVID, I was having some decent conversations with credit unions,” he said. “As soon as COVID hit, even they said, ‘Nope, don’t want to touch it.’

So, Ott looks for creative solutions for clients who can’t buy outright.

“I actually drive them to go talk to a Realtor and buy a piece of property. Even though it sounds like you’re spending more money, you’re actually able to finance it so you need less money down,” he said, noting banks are more likely to finance a home mortgaged in combination with the land.

Ott’s company was recently involved in the purchase of a mobile home park west of Toronto on the shores of Lake Huron.

The goal is to create a tiny home village of sorts, he said, where plots of land can be bought and sold like condo or strata title rather than leased.

While others push for building code changes, Ott said he’s most keen to see municipalities update their zoning and other bylaws to recognize growing interest in tiny homes as a solution to housing affordability woes.

Otherwise, said Robertson, “We’re restricting ourselves out of living.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Town of Ponoka and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) have ratified a new agreement, averting a strike. (File photo from Facebook)
Alberta gov’t ‘using pandemic as shield to lay off workers,’ says AUPE

The Government of Alberta’s “attacks on workers” is continuing with a new… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP, EMS, Search and Rescue, STARS air ambulance and Alstrom Helicopters worked together to rescue a fallen ice climber Friday. (Photo contributed by Rocky Mountain House RCMP)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP help rescue fallen ice climber

Rocky Mountain RCMP helped assist a fallen ice climber Friday afternoon. At… Continue reading

Students Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says she’s pleased the college is offering students a choice to attend class in-person or remotely. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Red Deer College winter term enrolment dips

Enrolment down about six per cent but mix of online and in-person instruction is going over well

Brett Salomons, of Salomons Commercial, and Mark Jones, CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, in the CACAC's new temporary home. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre’s One Day Challenge returns

Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre has announced its One Day Challenge is… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

A restaurant manager in Orlando used a sign to secretly ask an 11-year-old boy if he needs help from his family after they were spotted withholding food from him. (Photo courtesy Orlando Police Department)
WATCH: Restaurant manager uses secret note to ‘rescue’ child, says Orlando Police

The manager of an Orlando restaurant is receiving praise from police after… Continue reading

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will cripple struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

VICTORIA — A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. A young snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged mountain trail on Vancouver's north shore Thursday has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Snowshoer dies after overnight search on Vancouver-area mountain: RCMP

SQUAMISH, B.C. — A snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged… Continue reading

nunavut
‘It was joyous:’ Sun returns to some Nunavut communities for first time in weeks

IQALUIT — A sliver of orange rose over Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, earlier… Continue reading

People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh
Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

WASHINGTON — Some pomp. Very different circumstances. Inauguration day is supposed to… Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) defend against Jansen Harkins (12) during scrimmage at their NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Winnipeg Jets cancel practice due to possible COVID-19 exposure

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have cancelled their practice today due to… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $50 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $50 million jackpot… Continue reading

Most Read