When Amy Davis and her partner moved out of their house in South Florida and into a 399-square-foot cottage on wheels, they had no problem adjusting to the close quarters.
But finding a spot for their "tiny house" proved a challenge until they stumbled upon a like-minded community nestled on a hillside in Woodland Park.
Peak View Park is host to more than 40 of the units, each less than 400 square feet in size and mounted on trailers, that have been touted by HGTV shows and magazine articles as the gateway to an affordable, alternative lifestyle. But, as the new form of dwelling has made its way into housing markets, a problem has emerged: Governments aren't quite sure how tiny houses fit in with zoning regulations and land-use codes.
"The trouble is finding a place to put them," Davis, 50, said from her miniature living room.
The park's owners have worked with Teller County officials to legally allow the dwellings and were able to do so because the park predates a zoning rule that would have prevented them from being used as long-term residences.
In neighboring El Paso County, commissioners met with planning officials on Tuesday to discuss some of the questions that have arisen since tiny houses have become popular, including if builders should be certified, how the structures fit in with existing zoning requirements and who's in charge of enforcing the rules.
The regulatory gaps are especially pronounced in Colorado, where more than a dozen tiny home builders are based, said Darin Zaruba, founder of the Tiny House Jamboree, a national expo that attracted tens of thousands of people to Colorado Springs in 2015 and 2016.
"It's a hub of the movement and a hub of the industry," said Zaruba, who addressed commissioners. "But, the irony is, it's one of the hardest states to be dealing with where to place (the houses)."
Colorado Springs is home to manufacturers Sprout and Tumbleweed and, until earlier this year, Zaruba's company EcoCabins. He sold the jamboree to a major exhibition company when the event outgrew the Springs and moved his company's headquarters out of state, he said.
County planning and building officials have heard from residents interested in tiny living. In March, commissioners approved a zoning variance for a woman who had one of the units placed on her property, just east of Colorado Springs, in 2015 without knowing she was violating the land development code. Last month, the Colorado Springs Planning Commission OK'd another variance to allow a family to put two tiny homes on their 400-acre ranch near Colorado 83 and Shoup Road. It was a first for city planning officials, who have also expressed the desire to encourage the movement, seen by proponents as an option for those unable to afford rising housing costs.
Darryl Glenn, president of the county commissioners, echoed the sentiment on Tuesday.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to be industry and community leaders on this issue," he said.
Because most tiny houses are mounted on wheels, they are considered recreational vehicles by the land development code. One major stumbling block is that El Paso County and many other counties in Colorado have rules that prohibit recreational vehicles from being used as permanent housing. El Paso County's code also limits RVs to certain areas, such as specially designated parks and campgrounds.
Another issue at hand is building standards for tiny homes.
"Ninety percent of this market right now is do-it-your-selfers and contractors that are building out of a shed to no code," Zaruba told commissioners during the work session.
He estimated that roughly 10 manufacturers in the nation build to the standards used by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, which audits RV manufacturers to ensure compliance.
But certification is likely an issue for state or federal regulators to take up, said Craig Dossey, executive director of the county's Development Services Department. Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, which typically ensures that homes are constructed to meet certain standards, cannot issue building permits or certificates of occupancy if the units are considered recreational vehicles.
Commissioners also expressed support for creating legal avenues for the development of planned tiny house communities, similar to Peak View Park.
The park's owners, Matt Fredell and Pete LaBarre, are dealers for several out-of-state homebuilders, offering the miniature units for an average price of about $65,000. Homeowners living in the park pay a monthly rent of about $500 to $600 for their lots.
While the park is nearly full, Fredell and LaBarre are working with government officials on similar developments in Delta and Gunnison.
Park resident Courtney Cunard, 41, rented studio apartments in Colorado Springs for years before she moved into her tiny house.
"There's no other place I'd rather be," she said. "I was tired of paying everyone else's mortgage."