Commentary

Is a remedy for tiny homes on the horizon?

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Last week, Maine’s Legislative Council admitted a bill into the second session that would make changes to the rules governing mobile tiny homes. The move comes after business owners complained over the summer that the new regulations enforced by the Secretary of State’s Office were unworkable and would force their businesses to close.

Two legislative requests promoting the same solution were put forward by Rep. Patrick Corey of Windham and Sen. Mike Carpenter of Aroostook. Rep. Corey’s bill was shot down 4-6 while the council approved Sen. Carpenter’s measure 10-0. Sen. Carpenter’s bill “defines what a tiny house is and allows for their titling as camp trailers or trailers,” according to materials distributed at last week’s meeting of the Legislative Council.

Tiny houses are a relatively new phenomenon and are becoming a modern lifestyle choice for individuals and families who enjoy simple living at an affordable price. However, state government put this lifestyle in jeopardy with unaccommodating regulations that threaten the success of tiny home small businesses in Maine.

According to a letter sent from the Maine Secretary of State to municipalities, town officials are no longer allowed to register, assign vehicle identification numbers, or title mobile tiny homes in Maine. Now, in order to move a tiny home, owners must obtain a one-time transit permit from the Secretary of State to transport it from point A to point B.

However, tiny homes on wheels are some businesses’ bread and butter. According to Corinne Watson, the founder of Tiny Homes of Maine LLC, her business has almost completely come to a stop due to the change. Her business exclusively builds tiny homes on wheels for individuals and families who want to live an affordable, contrarian lifestyle. Unfortunately, she is left to find a ways around the rule change until it is either removed or fixed.

According to the Secretary of State, this change was made in the name of “safety concerns,” an excuse that should sound familiar to those who have seen or experienced overregulation of industry by government. According to the Secretary of State’s office, tiny homes do not fit the definition of a manufactured home, camp trailer or regular trailer. Instead, they are now being classified as stick built homes pursuant to Maine’s Uniform Building and Energy Codes.

Because titles are not being issued, banks and lending companies are reluctant to finance tiny homes, making them unaffordable for individuals and families who cannot pay the full cost up front. Tiny Homes of Maine LLC sells their units for $56,000 to $76,000, which many individuals and families could not afford without a loan. In addition to the cost issue, the change affects people who spent or borrowed thousands of dollars for their tiny homes because they cannot move the unit freely without requesting a permit for each relocation. They will be unable to re-register the unit unless changes are made at the state level.

The demand for tiny homes is undoubtedly growing, especially among millennials — the same generation the State of Maine is currently trying to attract to mitigate the effects of our aging workforce. Under these circumstances, it is perplexing that the state would make it more difficult for millennials to move or buy a tiny home in Maine. Tiny homes are turning out to be a good investment for young people who have a high income-debt ratio or are still climbing the economic ladder.

Nevertheless, all Mainers should be able to move their tiny homes from place to place without having to obtain a government permission slip with every relocation. Clearly, government regulation cannot keep up with the rapid changes being made as it relates to where and how people want to live. The solution is not burdensome regulation under the guise of “safety.”

Maine must consider the effect of its regulation on the free market and employ rules that spur innovation without undermining health and safety. After titling these vehicles for some time, the new rule by the Secretary of State appears to be regulation for the sake of regulation.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at MHPC. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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