California’s homelessness crisis is well past its tipping point, with local governments unable to keep up with the buildup of homeless residents.

A lack of homeless shelters and social services exist to serve this growing population, necessary if these individuals are ever to get off the streets, restructure themselves, and return to rental housing. To that end, legislators are seeking to smooth the path for more shelters.

Beginning January 1, 2023 through January 1, 2027, local agencies are prohibited from requiring fire sprinklers in tiny home communities that house homeless individuals. These include sites with 50 or fewer temporary sleeping cabins, each consisting of 250 or fewer square feet, with no indoor plumbing. [Calif. Health and Safety Code §17922.4(a)]

However, in lieu of fire sprinklers, these tiny homes must have alternative fire safety devices, including:

  • smoke and carbon monoxide detectors;
  • at least one fire extinguisher per unit; and
  • entrances and exits that allow quick access to each unit. [H & S §17922.4(c)]

Further, the community will include fire prevention measures like:

  • emergency evacuation signage;
  • prohibitions against open flames and combustible materials;
  • prohibitions against smoking;
  • providing at least six feet of empty space between tiny homes; and
  • a 24-hour fire watch on-site. [H & S §17922.4(c)]

Tiny homes will be made of non-combustible materials. [H & S §17922.4(c)(9)]

Solutions to the homelessness crisis

At least 173,000 individuals are without shelter every night across California, according to the legislative analysis for the bill that enacts these new laws, AB 42.

Tiny home communities have become an increasingly common solution for local governments seeking to get more people off the streets, quickly. In fact, in March 2023, Governor Newsom announced a statewide effort to deliver 1,200 tiny homes to combat the homelessness crisis in San Jose, Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles Counties (a small dent in an enormous problem).

However, local governments currently possess the ability to require sprinklers in all emergency shelters. Since tiny homes are typically constructed without plumbing — thus, lowering costs — the requirement to add fire sprinklers was onerous to the point of making this solution impossible to fund.

This new exemption seeks to keep tiny home communities a feasible option, while maintaining some amount of fire safety.

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Related article:

California’s homelessness crisis: One step forward but no follow through