Are Tiny Houses Legal in Portland Now? Not Exactly, But They’re “Allowed”

Are tiny houses legal in Portland? Not quite, but they're currently allowed

Whoa Nelly you guys! Are tiny houses legal in Portand? Not quite, but they will be “allowed” through a creative workaround: the laws about “camping” in tiny houses and RVs on private property will no longer be enforced! Rachel Monahan from Willamette Week has the scoop:

“In a sweeping change to Portland housing policy, City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly announced Sunday that the city will allow overnight RV camping and tiny homes on wheels, as long as they’re parked on private property.

Eudaly oversees the Bureau of Development Services, which enforces code compliance. She announced plans to direct the bureau to suspend enforcement of the relevant codes against sleeping in a vehicle while the city develops a more permanent policy.”

So Are Tiny Houses Legal in Portland Now?

As the article notes, Commissioner Eudaly can’t permanently change the codes that bar people from living in tiny houses and RVs, which are not legally considered as full time residences. But as the overseer of the Bureau of Development Services, she can direct that Bureau not to enforce the codes related to camping in tiny houses and RVs. So while living in a tiny house still isn’t legal in Portland, the people whose job it is to ask people to move their mobile houses have been asked not to do that part of their job.

This is great news, and means a lot of people will sleep easier in Portland tonight. Portland’s home and rent prices have been getting higher and higher over the last several years. The City even declared a “housing emergency” that’s allowed them some extra options about how to handle housing prices and provide aid to houseless Portlanders.

But this creative workaround to the often long and difficult process of actually changing code can provide instant relief to the many Portlanders who have already chosen or been forced to live in tiny houses or RVs. We’ve been saying for years that living in a tiny house comes with a certain amount of acceptance of change and instability, but now there’s a little less in this city. And boy, is that worth celebrating!

The Details

This update does include a list of rules for how tiny houses and RVs will be handled now. You can read the full list here in Commissioner Eudaly’s statement, but here are the basics:

  • Residential properties can host one tiny house or RV, and commercial, public or religious properties can host up to three.
  • The tiny house or RV must be parked on a “legal parking area on the property.” This part is a little tricky. Code appears to imply that a tiny house should be parked on a paved area, which is often not the case. Tiny homes have been hiding for so long that they’re typically in backyards more than in driveways, which might be more visible. Lina Menard from Niche Consulting has a great detailed piece about the codes that might apply here which I strongly suggest reading.
  • The statement ends with an important reference to the fact that tiny houses and RVs may still be asked to move if they pose a “nuisance or other threat to the public welfare.” Meaning it’s still very important to be a good neighbor. Maybe now more than ever, since it’s still possible that a couple noisy, rude or unsafe bad apples could give this change a bad reputation and get the whole thing rolled back.

That said – it’s worth mentioning that this announcement is a temporary step toward to remove the threat of instability for people already living in tiny houses and RVs. It is supposed to be a temporary step toward a more permanent solution, but, well, you never know. So while Portlanders should definitely sleep easier, it’s probably premature for tiny house folks from elsewhere to start heading here en masse.

How You Can Help!

If you feel like this is great news, whether you live in a tiny house or not, please, please join us in thanking Commissioner Eudaly for her bravery and creativity on this issue, and the Mayor’s Office for backing her up on it! A lot of the coverage we’ve seen about this has announced the news over pictures of unsafe zombie RVs and houseless folks sleeping on the street or in tents. These images are relevant to Portland’s housing crisis…but also give people the wrong impression about what’s about to change in their neighborhoods. The image below is from a TV piece Joan from PAD did about the news that Joan from PAD was interviewed for right after the story broke:

Some people are going to get the wrong idea about what kind of neighbor a tiny house is, and others just plain won’t like it. People will contact the City to complain about this change, and they need to hear from people who support the change as well! So please, tiny house residents and fans – contact Commissioner Eudaly’s office with a simple note like,

“Thank you for de-escalating the code enforcement of sleeping in tiny houses and RVs! All people want is affordable housing, and unless there is suddenly a lot more of it in Portland, tiny homes and RVs are valid and humane options.”

Her office has email, facebook, twitter and Instagram – please use whatever you feel comfortable with to show her support, because there will be many people who will loudly register their complaints.

Rather than ignoring the reality of how people in this city are living in the midst of skyrocking housing costs, Commissioner Eudaly accepted it, and then found a workable way to improve it. It’s refreshing to see that kind of leadership in the government! And we can’t wait to see what happens next.


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