I started doing a bit of research about the second half of the mobile-dream-home equation -- parking the trailer home on an actual lot and tying it into the standard utilities. The idea is that after spending a number of years in trailer parks getting a sense for the general livability of the house and livability of the town, we'd buy an actual lot and put the trailer home there. The question is:
Do land-use restrictions make this illegal?
I called Golden Valley Real Estate in Lancaster and spoke with Brian Etzier. He was really friendly and very helpful. He says there are a number of RV's and fifth-wheel units on residential sites around town, but he doubts that they are allowed to remain there permanently. He is sure that one can live in a mobile-home temporarily, while building a permanent structure, for example. He says there are two counties at work in Lancaster. Everything north of Ave A is Kern County, and everything south is LA County. He gave me the phone numbers for the Building and Safety Dept of LA (661-723-4440), the Dept of Regional Planning for LA (213-974-6411), and the Kern County Dept of Planning (661-862-8650). Building and Safety told me I should ask the Planning Dept, so I left a message there. I also sent an email to the LA Dept of Regional Planning (after waiting on hold and then being disconnected three times). :) See the response below.
I spoke with Judy McCormack at Coldwell Banker and she was very supportive. She doesn't know immediately about the restrictions on having a 5th wheel unit on a residential lot but she says that certain areas of Palmdale are unincorporated and might be more flexible. She says that Kern County has fewer restrictions and lower taxes. East Lancaster is less expensive than west, and prices decrease the farther out you go. As an example, an 11.5 acre lot w/ utilities at the street on 92nd and Ave G (.6 mi from the train station!) is going for $150,000 right now. There are areas east of central Lancaster that are zoned "light agricultural" that might have fewer restrictions.
Answer from LA County Land Development Coordination Center:
Mobile homes are only allowed as residences during the construction of a permanent residence while there is a building permit for the construction of such residence is in full effect (Los Angeles County Code Section 22.20.090).
Double-wide mobile homes may qualify and be used as a single-family residence, subject to the definition of a residence in section 22.08.180 and meeting the required single-family residence development standards in section 22.214.171.124
-- Residence, Single-family. "Single-family residence" means a building containing one dwelling unit, or a mobilehome comprising one dwelling unit manufactured and certified under the National Mobilehome Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974 on a permanent foundation system approved by the county engineer.
22.20.105 Development standards for single-family residences.
A. Single-family residences shall be subject to the following development standards:
1. Every single-family residence shall have a roof constructed with wood-shake, shingle, asphalt composition, crushed rock, or other similar roofing material in compliance with Title 26 (Building Code) of this code, except that reflective, glossy, polished and/or roll-formed type metal roofing is prohibited; and
2. Every single-family residence shall have an exterior siding of brick, wood, stucco, metal, concrete or other similar material, except that reflective, glossy, polished and/or roll-formed type metal siding is prohibited; and
3. Except as specifically provided herein, every single-family residence shall be not less than 20 feet in width. A single-family residence need only be a minimum of 18 feet wide when it is to be located on a lot or parcel of land less than 26 feet in width. In order to allow for flexibility and creativity of design, a single-family residence may be less than 20 feet wide, but not less than 12 feet, if the floor area, exclusive of appurtenant structures, is at least 900 square feet and the side or sides oriented toward a public street, highway or parkway have a dimension of at least 20 feet. Additions to single-family residences are not restricted as to width; and
4. Every single-family residence shall have a floor area of not less than 800 square feet, exclusive of any appurtenant structures.
B. The standards listed in this section may be modified by the director pursuant to the procedures of Part 12 of Chapter 22.56 and the findings contained in Section 22.56.1755. (Ord. 82-0130 A7 2, 1982.)
If your Mobile home complied with these standards then you would need to file a site plan review with Regional Planning and obtain a building permit from Public Works.
Connection to public sewers and water may not be available if the property is in a predominantly rural area. You should check with the Department of Public Works and possibly your local water company on the availability of sewer and water.
Land Development Coordinating Center
So it sounds like these regulations would pretty clearly bar a 8.5'x28' house from being planted semi-permanently on a normal, residential site. I tracked down the National Mobile Home Construction and Safety Standards and It looks like they have a number of additional requirements that might conflict with the initial design concept (7' ceilings as a minimum, for example).
I see three main options:
1) Continue to try and find a design that works with the requirements of both RV's and permanent housing. The 800 sq feet requirement seems like a deal breaker but perhaps we could get a variance? I mean, do you really *have* to own a large home? Might something like this qualify?
Dual container concept
Based on design by Colin Reedy.
2) Give up on the requirements and live somewhere without building regulations. If it's important to us to live near LA, we live in trailer parks. When it's not, we move to Oregon or something. I spoke with my brother-in-law, Dan Noel, and in Starksboro Vermont, basically anything goes. I'm sure this is the case in many rural areas, possibly even in some areas of CA (desert regions?).
3) Build the trailer home to RV standards and when the time comes to buy land, incorporate the trailer home into a larger design. Might it be possible to use the trailer home as the core of a larger home? Or maybe just the furniture and fixtures (everything but the shell)? Eventually we'd probably like a bit more space, a recording/practice studio, and a workshop... Could we cobble these additions with the trailer home to make something that would qualify?