Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Tiny Homes and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Two small items of some interest came across my desk in the last week or so. First, the International Code Council has voted to amend the International Residential Code (for one and two family dwellings) by adding Appendix Q which adds special provisions for so-called tiny homes. For the purposes of the amendment, a tiny home is less than 400 square feet, excluding lofts. Of course, the amendments to the IRC must be adopted by the local governments individually, and it may take several years before the new Appendix Q is adopted across the country. However, because neither the International Building Code nor the International Residential Code (in the absence of Appendix Q) directly address the issues presented by tiny homes, it is likely that most building code officials across the country will apply Appendix Q to tiny home construction, whether actually adopted by the locality or not.

Secondly, on a related note, the zoning case involving tiny homes on a religious property was argued in Davidson County Chancery Court yesterday. The issue is whether or not the Metro Board of Zoning Appeals appropriately granted an accommodation to the church allowing 22 tiny homes on property immediately adjacent to the church building itself. The accommodation was granted based primarily on the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Tenn. Code Ann. §4-1-407. I was one of the attorneys retained to represent the church, but setting aside the legal arguments for a moment, it will be very interesting to get a decision applying the statute. Most Tennessee land use lawyers have debated the applicability of the statute, especially since it is much more powerful than the federal statute. But to date, I don't know of any zoning cases which have been decided based on the terms of the statute. The court's opinion will help guide future applications of the statute in zoning and land use cases.

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