Since their inception, tiny houses on wheels have had an identity crisis. Are they homes, or are they RV’s? This is the question municipalities, home owners, RV park owners, HOA’s, zoning departments, and pretty much all other governing bodies ask when they encounter a tiny house on wheels. In the midst of all this uncertainty, there has been one guiding light: the RV Industry Association. When this trade organization opened its doors to some tiny house manufacturers, it provided them, their customers, and all concerned parties with an accountable safety standard and a label to agree upon (“it’s an RV”). Financing and insurance options also became more of a possibility with their certification. For all of these reasons, Wishbone Tiny Homes decided to apply for a manufacturing membership with RVIA. We would like to share that experience and offer some thoughts on what the future may hold for the tiny homes on wheels standard.
We started in October of 2013 with careful research. Was this something we could achieve? What were the real benefits for our customers? Could we afford it? We got a lot of encouraging feedback from RVIA. We were told that as long as we met the standard and passed the inspection, we should be good to go. We were confident that this would be a good move for the company and that it was within our reach, so we decided to apply. We learned NFPA 1192, purchased all of the required testing equipment, paid our dues and fees, and waited for our inspection.
We were informed that the inspection would be coming sooner than expected. RVIA wanted to coordinate our inspection with one of their quarterly board meetings in order to expedite our membership process. We were happy to accommodate this request as we were eager to receive our credentials. Our inspector was very professional. He passed us and let us know that all that remained was the board’s confirmation, which was all but a formality at that point. A week later we received a letter stating: “We have recently received notification from our Standards Department that you passed the inspection requirements for membership. Congratulations!” Although it mentions the board’s vote as the last step, the letter concludes: “Once again congratulations. We look forward to working with you as a new RVIA member.” This was promising.
Weeks pass without hearing anything further from RVIA. We called in and were informed very unceremoniously that our membership had been declined. After our shock began to wear off, we started asking questions. After much prodding, we were provided with an official response. Apparently, we were in violation of RV by-laws due to the fact that we were selling “tiny homes”. We had no reason to expect this would be an issue. It was never mentioned as a concern of theirs. On top of that, two other tiny home manufacturers were already on their membership roster, so a precedent had been set. We don’t know exactly what happened, but it would appear they used our case to demonstrate a new policy toward tiny home manufacturers. Regardless, we believe it opened the door to a new conversation regarding a standard for tiny homes on wheels.
Tiny House RV’s (THRV’s)
The “light at the end of the tunnel”, we were told, was that the growing tiny house segment would be an agenda item for RVIA’s annual meeting in March, 2015. Although this was not exactly reassuring news at the time, we started to see this as an opportunity. Perhaps the community of builders and experts could help RVIA create a new standard by providing input about best practices (call it “Tiny House RV’s”?). Another possibility is working with HUD. We believe they would be most effective in an advisory capacity. Having them involved early on in the process would provide RVIA with clear boundaries and would minimize possible jurisdiction disputes. It’s worth noting that a pilot certification has been developed by the Tiny House Business Association. This is a great start as it combines building standards (something lacking in RVIA’s standard) with the electrical and plumbing safety standards in NFPA 1192. However, it needs the infrastructure of an organization like RVIA to make it viable.
Our plan is to keep lines of communication open with RVIA and the TH community. We invite you to add your thoughts below, or via email. What aspects of a tiny home on wheels should be addressed in a standard? Is there another governing body that could be a better fit? Do we no need a standard at all?
Thank you for reading and taking an interest in this important and historic issue! We look forward to your feedback.