House passes bill to put code into legislation, which lawmaker says is unusual; Senate consideration is next.

Oregon's debate over "tiny homes," with a floor area of 400 square feet or less, took one more step in the Oregon House.

House Bill 2737 moved to the Senate on a 43-16 vote Tuesday (May 2).

It requires the Department of Consumer and Business Services, parent of the state Building Codes Division, to adopt specified standards for such homes by Jan. 1, 2018. Among them are standards drawn from the International Residential Code for lofts and ladders.

The bill's standards would expire automatically in 2024, after the Building Codes Division conducts its next periodic review of codes for Oregon adoption.

Rep. Paul Holvey, a Democrat from Eugene, said the bill emerged from a decision by the division in January 2016 that it would no longer issue certificates for such structures as "recreational vehicles."

Holvey, who leads the House Business and Labor Committee, said manufacturers sought a way to resolve the issue short of waiting several years for the next state review of building code changes.

"Usually the codes are adopted on an international level and start a process," Holvey said in an interview after the House vote. "It's not common to put codes into legislation. But on this one piece, we did.

"With all the needs expressed out there, we thought it was prudent to go ahead down this road. We thought this was a good compromise — that tiny houses will meet all residential codes with one exception" for the lofts and ladders already specified in the bill.

As the demand grows for lower-cost housing — and manufacturers seek to sell a new product — Holvey said Oregon is not the only state wrestling with how to regulate such homes.

Prompted by a manufacturer in his district, Rich's Portable Cabins and Tiny Homes in North Powder, Rep. Greg Barreto said Oregon is missing an economic opportunity.

"These homes are more robust than travel trailers," the Republican from Cove said during the House debate, which lasted 40 minutes.

Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, said there is interest in them for a more pressing reason — affordable shelters during a housing shortage.

"We do not have two years to talk about issues that we can solve today," said Bynum, one of the bill's two chief sponsors.

Foes' concerns

But opponents were determined to make their case.

Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, was the lone dissenter on an 8-1 vote by Holvey's committee to advance the bill.

He recalled a childhood home built by his father that caught fire and almost killed his mother and sister because of inadequate materials and faulty wiring.

He named a long list of interests opposed to the bill.

Among them: Oregon Fire Chiefs Association, Oregon Building Officials Association, Oregon Home Builders Association, Associated General Contractors, Oregon Building and Construction Trades Council, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Electrical Contractors Association.

Melanie Adams, Hillsboro's building director, also filed a statement of opposition but said cities already have sufficient authority to regulate such structures.

"I hope that our preoccupation with affordable housing would not lead to legislation that will mainstream the creation of unsafe living spaces," said Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River.

Holvey, a carpenter and union representative when he became a legislator in 2004, said later than licensed contractors still would be required to do electrical and plumbing work on the houses.

Holvey said the list of opponents is long not because they are opposed to tiny homes, but they are involved in the building code review process "and they do a thorough job."

"They are not found of legislative intervention," he added.

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