The Tiny house Blog

Iowa's Tiny Home Rules & Regulations

Updated on:
August 25, 2023
Iowa's Tiny Home Rules & Regulations

While the tiny house movement is catching on in metro areas, it's essential to understand the rules and regulations may vary by city, town, or county.

Although tine homes contain less than 400 square feet of living space, unfortunately, not every U.S. state welcomes the idea of this sustainable lifestyle. One of the major obstacles is the local zoning ordinances that dictate minimum square footage or lot sizes.

For many counties and communities across Iowa, the minimum square footage requirements for residential buildings can stand in your way if you wish to buy a home in an area you desire. Iowa also has zoning and off-grid laws that make finding a tiny home difficult. 

We'll discuss the tiny home rules and regulations, whether tiny houses are legal in Iowa, which counties allow tiny houses, and more.

Are tiny houses legal in Iowa?

Tiny homes aren't a common sight in Iowa. The state isn't open to accepting them yet, and most counties and communities in Iowa forbid them completely, making tiny houses illegal in Iowa.  

That's because most towns and cities have specific building codes that make it next to impossible to have a tiny house.

Some cities, like Iowa Falls, are more progressive than others. But overall, Iowa still has a long way to go when it comes to accepting tiny homes.

What kind of tiny houses are permitted in Iowa?

While Iowa doesn't openly forbid tiny homes from being built, it certainly discourages them in specific ways. 

The permission to build tiny houses depends on the city or town you're looking at. For instance, some places may prohibit a tiny house from sitting even in rural areas purchased by parks.   

Since the rules and regulations vary for each area, you should check with the local housing authorities before making a decision. 

You may also like: Navigating the Real Estate Market: Tips for Investors 

Are tiny houses on wheels permitted in Iowa?

Tiny houses on wheels in Iowa
View the Express, a tiny house on wheels

A tiny house on wheels, commonly called a THOW, is mainly built on trailers. They have a minimum structure size, allowing you to get around places more easily.

The house is built on a trailer rather than a permanent foundation, so it falls outside the jurisdiction of local building codes. Iowa is not very friendly toward living in a mobile home due to its zoning laws that only allow it to be built in specific zones. 

Mostly, if a house is on wheels, it'll be considered a recreational vehicle, and you may face a lot of difficulties getting it approved as an actual residential home.

Under the Iowa Code, a mobile home, such as a tiny house on Wheels, is not defined as real estate. These homes are more like personal property not affixed to the land.

Motor homes or tiny houses on wheels are categorized into three major classes:

  • Class A motor home: This means a unique chassis or a truck chassis upon which compartments are built to provide temporary living quarters. It also means a passenger-carrying bus that has been registered five times as a motor truck and has not been converted, modified, or alerted to provide temporary living quarters.
  • Class B motor home: This is a completed van-type vehicle that has been modified, converted, altered, or constructed to provide temporary living quarters.
  • Class C motor home: This is an incomplete vehicle upon which a structure is permanently attached to provide temporary living facilities.

Are tiny houses on foundations permitted in Iowa? 

Tiny houses on a foundation may be permitted in Iowa if they meet the rules and regulations, such as minimum size requirements in the state. 

Iowa uses the  2021 International Residential Code (IRC), which has outlines and building codes that make it hard to live in a tiny house on a foundation in Iowa. 

The strict regulations are not welcoming to the tiny house movement. The IRC is responsible for residential codes that establish minimum regulations for one and two-family houses.

The building codes in the IRC are updated every three years.

So if you're thinking of building a tiny house on a foundation, it's best to check with Iowa's building codes and further regulations, which we will talk about in detail further.

What requirements must a tiny house meet to comply with Iowa's building codes?

The cities and counties in Iowa have been divided into different zoning areas. Each zone has its rulings on what is prohibited and what is not, making it challenging to build tiny houses.

Iowa has numerous building codes that apply to every building built within the state. 

These building codes make certain types of buildings, like tiny homes that do not meet the set requirements, illegal. 

The Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals & Licensing primarily approves amendments and upgrades to the state building code. It also deals with petitions for alternate construction methods, rulemaking, and appeals such as those of tiny homes. 

Therefore, anyone looking to build a tiny home has to meet the building codes as set out by the department.  

Rules for permanent structures

You must adhere to several building code rules and standards when constructing a permanent tiny house-friendly structure. While these may be different from city to city or county to county, some general rules include the following:

  • Providing uniform standards and requirements for construction, materials, and equipment.
  • The standards should comply with the state building code as outlined in section 103A.7. Permanent structures should also be subject to sustainable design, also known as green building standards
  • Limiting the application of thermal efficiency standards for energy conservation to the construction of heated or cooled buildings.
  • The minimum square footage depends on the county or city.

Rules for temporary tiny houses

Temporary tiny houses in Iowa are primarily vehicles on wheels, considered recreational vehicles (RVs). Temporary houses or structures should meet the standards outlined in Section 104E

Furthermore, it should be equipped with the necessary service connections and designed to be a dwelling unity without a permanent foundation. 

That means the home can be moved occasionally at the owner's convenience.

An example is Cedar County which has some specific rules on mobile homes and how they operate within the county.

  • The mobile home will have to get a tax clearance certificate from the county before moving to another county.
  • A tiny house on wheels will be taxed as real property if it sits out in the county or as a mobile home if it sits in a park.
  • You'll have to transfer titles for the mobile home within 30 days of purchase, just like a normal vehicle.

Rules for transitional structures

Transitional housing is a supportive housing program meant to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing. While there aren't any transitional housing programs that include tiny houses, there are other transitional housing programs that operate in Iowa. 

What Iowa counties allow tiny houses? 

Iowa counties tiny houses
View the draper, a unique tiny house on wheels 

Iowa is far from accepting tiny houses in its counties and cities. Every city or county has different rules and regulations on building requirements.

For instance, a proposed tiny house village in Iowa's largest city, Des Moines, was halted. The project was erecting 50 tiny homes on a 5-acre industrial site north of downtown Des Moines.

The local government in Iowa Falls adjusted the city's minimum size requirement for residential properties to 500 square feet. While this range only accommodates larger tiny homes, it lowered the minimum size requirement from 600 square feet.

In Stuart, a small town located an hour's drive from Des Moines, a minimum of 900 square feet of living space is required. 

Grimes is another city with no specific minimum square footage. Still, it has requirements that rule out most tiny house designs in terms of ceiling heights, loft heights, etc., making it difficult for tiny house enthusiasts to build a tiny house.

Can you permanently live in a tiny house in Iowa?

Tiny homes are a novel concept, but Iowa isn't catching up to specifics like minimum size requirements, amenities, and beyond like other states. You may live in a tiny house if it satisfies the rules and regulations the respective county or city sets.

Living permanently in a tiny house depends on many factors, like the zoning districts and adherence to rules and regulations set out by the county or city. Some zoning districts and their rules include:

  • Rural residential accommodates shallow and low-density residential environments
  • Single-family residential focuses on residential development
  • Urban family residential focuses on medium-density residential development

However, since Iowa doesn't have any tiny house regulations or rules that fit the definition of a tiny home, nor does it have any tiny house laws that outline how a tiny house is built, it makes it difficult to permanently live in one in any of the designated residential districts.

How tiny can a house be in Iowa?

Iowa does not provide specific local zoning regulations for tiny houses. With each county and city having its regulations, you’ll have to research and contact the local government before working on your tiny house dream. 

Iowa Falls is the most suitable example when considering building a tiny house in Iowa. It has a requirement of 500 square feet, making it the most minor minimum requirement for building a house within the state. 

Other counties and cities have minimum sizing requirements much larger than this. 

An example is Des Moines. The new zoning law doesn’t cater to houses less than 1,100 square feet. That means tiny houses aren’t a possibility in the city. 

If you look at the average house size in Iowa, it's 1,550 square feet, which is again not the ideal size for a tiny house. 

Where can I build a tiny house in Iowa? 

This question does not have a straightforward answer due to its complexity. Building a tiny house in a city or county in Iowa is challenging due to regulations that don’t support tiny houses. 

It also depends on various factors, such as how the tiny house is built, the size of the tiny house, and the local housing laws. 

Some towns and cities may prohibit a tiny house on chassis but allow tiny houses on a foundation on a property you own or private land. 

You must therefore consult relevant authorities before you start building your tiny home. 

Do I have to pay property taxes for my tiny house?

If the tiny house fulfills the county or city's requirements, it'll be taxed according to standard houses. Since tiny houses aren't a common concept in Iowa, it's already hard to build one that complies with the definition of a tiny house.

Thus, property taxes will vary from county to county and in different cities. But if you own a tiny house on wheels, it's considered a motor vehicle and will be subject to taxes related to motor vehicles. 

Can I build and put a tiny house in my backyard in Iowa?

The type of tiny home matters when building one and adhering to rules and regulations. Any additional structure in the backyard may be referred to as a carriage house and not a permanent place of living. 

Since RV tiny homes are on wheels, you won't have to deal with many zoning ordinances when placing a tiny house in your backyard. 

Also read: Can I Put a Boxabl in my Backyard? 

Where can I park a tiny house on wheels in Iowa?

Tiny house on wheels in Iowa
View the Payette tiny house on wheels 

If you have a bigger house in Iowa, you can easily park your tiny house in your backyard. The THOW will only be considered a part-time residency if used for recreational activities and is always on the move. There may also be designated RV parks for this kind. 

Thus, you'll still have to check with the local requirements and regulations of the county or city you use it in.

For instance, Cedar County in Iowa has the following regulations for temporary tiny houses:

  • Mobile homes have titles that need to be transferred just like a normal vehicle title within 30 days of purchase.
  • Tiny homes on wheels shouldn't exceed 8'6' x 45', and the frame/wheels are permanently affixed.
  • If a vehicle of this type is used as a place of habitation for more than 90 consecutive days, it'll be called a mobile home.

In Des Moines, the parking permissions are different.

  • You cannot stand or park a tiny house on wheels on a privately owned property without first obtaining the consent of the owner of the property.
  • When moving the tiny house on wheels, all equipment must come with adequate warning flares and lights.
  • The tiny house on wheels must comply with the state statutes of wheel loadings.
  • You cannot use tire chains on city roadways.

How much does it cost to build a tiny house in Iowa?

Tiny houses are mostly customized, so their prices depend on the location, size, design complexity, materials, finishes, and further costs like permits from the relevant county or city.

The cost per square foot for building a house in Iowa depends on the standard quality, the complexity, and more. The higher the quality and complexity, the higher the cost. The average cost per square foot is $200 to $350. 

Furthermore, it'll depend on whether or not the respective county or city allows you to build a tiny house there.

Are there tiny home communities in Iowa?

Iowa does not openly reject the idea of tiny homes, and neither does it openly accept them. The rules and regulations in different counties and cities make it challenging to build tiny homes, which is why you won’t find any tiny house community or a tiny house village in the state.  

Takeaway: Learn the key tiny house rules in Iowa before moving into one

Iowa has loads of rules and regulations, which are different in every county, every city, and every area within the state. For building a tiny home, you’ll have to check in with these rules and regulations to see whether or not you can build a tiny home. 

In most cases, finding a loophole that’ll allow you to build a tiny home is impossible. This is because of Iowa’s zoning laws and other building codes. 

Before starting on this project, you’ll have to check in with the local government to help you save time and avoid unnecessary problems due to the differing rules. 

TinyHouse.com is the best place to start and know more about what kind of tiny houses you can get in different states, including Iowa. We have detailed guides with actionable insights to guide you through owning your tiny house.

Learn how you can better prepare to build your tiny house: Budgeting and Financing Your Tiny House Construction Project

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