Towards a better tinyhouse

Inventing to freedom?

Interesting essay

with one comment

Oh man, this essay. I’m posting it before I’m even done reading it. When I went to go read it I didn’t know tinyhouses might be involved, I just thought – you can say that again.

It’s by the guy who runs Polyface Farms, who starred in The omnivore’s dilemma (okayish) and I had also heard of elsewhere before. You’ll notice he specifically bashes bad zoning and the minimum square footage reqs.

However I do feel obligated to point out that I think it is very much an error to assign a specific, especially government issued, explanation for the state of the laws e.g. “humans are disease vectors”. That’s not really why the law is that way. That is a post-hoc explanation. There are innumerable forces that have resulted in the current messed up state of it, and the willingness for people to actually enforced something so absurd, and the difficulty of correcting something so obviously wrong, which has prevented it form being fixed, etc.

Secondly, it’s not just complication or obfuscation that is occurring here. If the bad rules put your only options entirely out of economic reach, that is an order of magnitude worse.

A common answer to this sort of complaint about bad regulation is “quit whining and just go for it. They won’t notice/enforce it/care/no one will report it/ you can “fight it” (note the absence of any realistic plan to do so).” This seems to be common in the tinyhouse community. I say:

– No, I do not accept that it is okay to be forced to act like a criminal just to live in a smaller house. First it’s very stressful and would probably outweigh the benefits. And it’s an infringement on people’s universal human rights to dignity, to live free of harassment and unjust persecution etc.
-I don’t think it’s actually that practical. If the government crazy train comes your way it’s fines, court proceedings, with the law fully and thoroughly against you etc. That’s not going to work out in the long run. It’s not sustainable. Edited to add: Some people may have sort of done the they won’t notice/ report it thing, but how can we verify what fraction of people this actually works for? And that solution most probably won’t work in many situations like in the city, although that does not detract from it’s value to the extent that it does work where it works, of course.

I know of one person who I won’t name for their general privacy that uses a trailer, in a rural area, presumably in an area where they are not allowed because his plan seems to be to pass it off as a “hunting cabin” if anyone comes to ask questions. But there are so many government regulations which usually exist, which I have read of and encountered, I am extremely doubtful that this would work – first of all prefab housing is also banned, which this would be. Secondly you probably aren’t allowed to inhabit a hunting cabin full time and/or have plumbing or electricity. Thirdly it almost always can’t be greater than 120 sq feet without a building permit.

It’s apparent, including from that essay that the government does not just ban x y and z, they ban *everything* except for what is approved i.e. they require certain things, in his case a full multimillion dollar slaughterhouse with all the bells and whistles if he wants to butcher pigs. And that’s not the only case of this, in fact this is explicitly how zoning works, instead of banning tinyhouses, there is a list of things for each zone that *is* allowed -a)detached single family dwelling b)multiunit family dwelling building etc – , and everything else is explicitly disallowed by default. It also seems clear that this is the general approach that the law ends up taking, even if it does not specifically say so – to prevent everything except the usual very crappy ways of doing things.

-How can you invest the sort of capital we are talking about when there is this sort of uncertainty? And plan your life around it?
-Makes it much harder or practically impossible to get financing, insurance, certain construction work, other practical things done.

Oh, and yes I’m Canadian, but it’s no better here. A bit worse, but not much really, which is kind of odd given the supposed freedom thing in the US.

BTW, the essay is the title of a book by him, too, sounds interesting.

edited to add:

During the VTHC last night, I was reminded of another of the things people say when confronted with the bad overregulation issue: ” Oh, there’s always a way around it. There is always a loophole”. I think this is clearly completely naive and silly.

First of all, if you are convinced there is, for example, a way to put a tinyhouse economically in a good place in Ottawa, why don’t you tell me how to find it. Because I have been looking high and low for many months, and have not found it. If it is there it is so hidden it might as well not exist for all practical purposes. Even if you consult a lawyer for $500 I’m sure they will not know. No one does it as far as I can tell, even though there are bound to be people who want to, so what does that tell you about the success others have had in looking for a loophole.

If you are still convinced, I repeat: put your money where your mouth is, then, and share with us all how to find these loopholes. If there is enough chance it would work that I can afford it, I’ll go try it and report back how well it works.

Secondly, even if you found one, the municipality would see you doing something you “that is not allowed” because “everyone knows” it’s just, well, it’s just not allowed. They can find loopholes in *your* plan too, and they have a lot more money and time than you do. They can prosecute and persecute you until you no longer have any money or time left to deal with them. They can fine you, preventing you from engaging in commerce by destroying your credit history, or even there could be jailtime with some trumped up excuse. Or they will fine you for not having grid electricity even though you could not have gotten it without a permit they refused to give you etc.

Thirdly, why don’t you go and tell the Polyface guy there is totes a way to do these thing that he wants to do if he looks at the law closely enough, and that he just hasn’t tried hard enough.

Fourthly one of the fundamental problems with the legal system today is that you can never actually get a reliable answer about anything. Even if you pay $1000 to a lawyer to find a supposedly good legal defense for what you are doing, they may very well be wrong/and the judge disagree that it is an adequate defense. And it will cost you another $2000-$3000 or whatever to even make the most basic effort to litigate it. With that kind of uncertainty, it is impractical to invest a lot of money in your project. Plus see the one about practical problems above, no building permit, no mortgage, etc etc.


Written by gregor

January 19, 2011 at 13:15

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. “There are innumerable forces that have resulted in the current messed up state of it”

    exquisite deduction Gregor,

    i don’t think this man is considering “all” the factors behind the regs….i think if anyone of peaceable reason does delve into the complexities they may find themselves uttering the single phrase “global human over population”….it’s a boon for some, and demoralizeingly oppressive for others…but the regs hang at the junction of our collective actions and perceived rights……

    being an advocate of civil, sustainable, human populous reduction rates, i find my personal goals to be unencumbered, and perhaps this should be somewhat a testament to the evolution of agency….if this man is intent on fueling growth, with the notion that through this he can amass the resources to contribute his own excesses to the burgeoning masses, perhaps these obstructions are of his own creation…

    i simply wish to live suspended in the canopy, immersed in a diverse and healthy ecosystem to which my existence is bound…childless yet, possibly to my death, but never more than one.



    January 19, 2011 at 14:25

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