Local

Steilacoom tells ‘tiny house family’ they have 30 days to move out

Peter and Shannon Johnson and their toddler Hart at a tiny house of their own construction Aug. 11. They built it on a trailer and have installed it on their property in Steilacoom. The town sent a letter to the couple Tuesday telling them the home violates town code and they have 30 days to move out.
Peter and Shannon Johnson and their toddler Hart at a tiny house of their own construction Aug. 11. They built it on a trailer and have installed it on their property in Steilacoom. The town sent a letter to the couple Tuesday telling them the home violates town code and they have 30 days to move out. phaley@thenewstribune.com

The town of Steilacoom has given a family of three living in a 200-square-foot home 30 days to move out or face daily fines up to $1,000.

In a five-page letter mailed Tuesday, Town Administrator Paul Loveless outlined the town’s position that Peter and Shannon Johnson are in violation of town code by living in the house Peter Johnson built on a trailer with wheels.

The town classifies the home as a recreational vehicle because of the wheels. Town code does not allow people to live permanently in an RV within the town’s 2-square-mile area, Loveless said.

The town also takes issue with how the Johnsons handle sewage from the tiny home. Peter Johnson built the home with a holding tank, similar to an RV, and pumps it directly into the town’s sewer system from his property where the tiny house sits.

That is a violation of town code, Loveless said.

The Johnsons were out of town and had not seen the letter when a reporter called Friday. After reading a provided copy, the Johnsons emailed a statement saying they were disappointed with the town’s decision and the 30-day notice to move out.

“This seems especially malicious considering that tiny house zoning conversations are scheduled for the planning commission’s docket,” Peter Johnson wrote.

 

Peter and Shannon Johnson built a tiny house and installed it on their property in Steilacoom. The city is, like many municipalities elsewhere, grappling with how to classify such homes.

Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com

After learning of the Johnsons’ home and hearing from the public at a recent planning commission meeting, commissioners agreed more analysis was needed about tiny homes and how they should be regulated.

The town uses the International Building Code to regulate development. Minimum size requirements outlined in that code don’t allow homes smaller than 300 square feet.

Peter Johnson designed and built his family’s home in Lake Stevens and had it towed to Steilacoom to the property where the couple own a two-bedroom house. He consulted with building professionals to ensure the home was safe, but did not use the International Building Code.

The Johnsons’ situation exemplifies how current building practices adopted by local municipalities don’t measure up to emerging housing trends like the tiny house movement, in which people choose to live in homes 500 square feet or smaller.

Many of these homes are like the Johnsons,’ built on trailers, which means building officials view them as RVs.

We are truly sad because this means our days in Steilacoom are numbered.”

Peter Johnson, tiny house owner

The Johnsons said Friday they were deciding their next steps.

The couple and 14-month-old son Hart could move from their tiny home into the two-bedroom house they own to avoid the fines levied by the town, but that is not a long-term solution, Shannon Johnson said by phone Friday.

“We have other family involved,” she said referring to her sister-in-law who is renting the home from the couple. “(She) can’t leave this place in a month.”

The Johnsons have lived in Steilacoom for more than five years. Now they’re not sure whether they can stay.

“We are truly sad because this means our days in Steilacoom are numbered,” Peter Johnson said.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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