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Minnesota considers 'tiny house' option for disabled family members

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers are considering legislation to allow small houses for disabled family members to be temporarily placed next to existing homes.

Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville, wants allow a temporary dwelling for a family member near a property owner’s primary home. Its use would be recommended after a doctor’s written certification of either mental illness or physical disability.

"Sometimes people have an elderly relative who is either injured or needs to be in temporary hospice that wants to come home, but there is either not enough room or the house isn’t accessible anymore," Peterson said. "This provides an option to take care of those loved ones at home."

Only one temporary dwelling would be permitted per property, under the guidance of a caregiver older than 18 who is either a relative, legal guardian or health care agent. A permit would allow the dwelling to be established for a six-month period and could be extended for up to a year.

Approved by the House Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee, the bill now moves to the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee.

North Carolina, Virginia and New York have similar laws.

Temporary dwellings visually resemble a recreational vehicle or large trailer home. However, the qualifications in which they are built are like a home.

No larger than 300 square feet, each dwelling has its own electrical outlet and a self-enclosed septic tank accompanied by an insulated water intake that can be connected to the primary house on a property. They are constructed of exterior materials comparable in appearance and durability to materials used in residential construction. On the inside a full kitchen, bathroom and bedroom nook are designed to comply with American Disabilities Act requirements. Heating and air conditioning are available.

According to NextDoor Housing, which specializes in the creation of temporary dwellings, one can be rented for about $1,500 a month, or bought for around $55,000 depending on amenities. A nursing home can cost more than $62,000 per year on average in Minnesota.

"This is about creating opportunity and accessibility for those in need," said John Louiselle, founder of NextDoor Housing.

Anita Burke of Apple Valley says the appeal to temporary dwellings stems from the desire to still take care of loved ones, but being logistically unable to do so.

"My mother lives in assisted living with a rent of over $3,000 a month," she said. "Given her pension and Social Security benefits, she is quickly running out of funds. Over the last couple of years I have tried to find more affordable housing for her."

"“If I could move my mother into my home I would," Burke added. "I am willing and able. However, I do not have a handicap-accessible bathroom. We simply do not have room or enough money for an addition."

While committee discussion was favorable about the bill’s intent, concern was expressed over bill specifics that would need to be ironed out along its journey.

"Cities are specifically tasked with dealing with issues of public safety, health and welfare of our residents," said Craig Johnson, intergovernmental relations representative with League of Minnesota Cities. "Our task is to balance the needs, interests and rights with the various property owners in that jurisdiction."

One concern came over the power of local governments to control the use and location of temporary dwellings, including utility management and renewals.

Burke tried to petition the Apple Valley City Council to allow a temporary dwelling on her lot, but was told it would not be possible.

"This could really put a city council in a bind if, for whatever reason, they did not want to extend a renewal and are now in a position of evicting grandma,” Rep. Barb Yarusso, D-Shoreview, said.

As written, a city would be mandated to allow the temporary dwelling upon a doctor’s certification.

According to Peterson, an argument against the use of traditional city council channels is the need for an expedited timeline due to strenuous and often unforeseen circumstances.

"This is an opportunity to really streamline the process and make it easy for family members who are going through a very difficult time," Peterson said. "This is really lifting a barrier so that people can use their own property how they would like to."

Safety was another concern.

Since temporary dwellings are not secured to a permanent foundation, extreme weather such as a tornado could pose a safety threat.

Other concerns raised were potential neighbor complaints, property taxes and neighborhood aesthetics.

Session Daily (www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily) is produced by the nonpartisan House Public Information Services.