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When Red Tape Gets In The Way

Posted by samwatkins on December 18, 2015
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While the Tiny House Movement continues to grow across Canada, some people are running up against red tape. So before you put your time and energy into Tiny Living, we suggest that you take a closer look at the following important practicalities.

hammer-620011_1280We don’t mean to be overly cautious, but we can’t stress enough how important it is to research your local municipal and zoning bylaws before purchasing or building a tiny house. Almost every website you visit will tell you that you can get away with living in a tiny house as long as your neighbours don’t complain.
But in reality, all it takes is forgetting to mow your lawn for one week in July, or waiting until you’ve finished your morning coffee to clean up the mess some raccoons made knocking over your garbage, and that one neighbour might soon be on the phone to the local bylaw officer. And those are just some of the examples, there are a lot of ways that things can get a bit tricky.

Ches Lam of Vancouver BC is all too familiar with this situation. He converted the workshop in his yard to create a guest suite but did so without a permit. Eventually a neighbour complained and now the city of Vancouver has told him to remove the Tiny House.

This is the current and common scenario. At 250 sq. ft Ches’ Tiny House doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for a dwelling unit through the Vancouver zoning bylaws. And according to the National Building Code, an accessory building must not i. be used as a dwelling unit; ii. contain shower, bath or toilet facilities; and iii. must not have more than one plumbing fixture that requires drainage unless its use as a dwelling unit is expressly permitted by the regulations under this bylaw that apply to the zone in which the accessory building is located.




And while this isn’t ideal, we think that over time and with more growth in the movement, regulations will open up and Tiny House building plans will also adjust to what is fair and reasonable. The good news is that instead of tearing down the tiny house, Mr. Lam is selling it. You can find more details in the listing featured here.

For $20,000 – and the cost to move it– you can own his tiny house which includes a custom loft bed with under bed storage, full closet, and dual purpose stairs that are also drawers. Note that this tiny house is on a foundation and will need to be raised and fit to a new foundation. Mr. Lam has offered to arrange everything to be done for the move and foundation and set-up at the new location.


Photo credit: Ches Lam

Photo credit: Ches Lam

A keen tiny house enthusiast might look into the possibility of turning the unit into a mobile tiny house; however some considerations would need to be made. For instance, the weight of the house and whether or not a trailer could hold it, as well as whether it can be legally driven on the road.

As long as you meet road requirements for your area, you can drive with a tiny house. In British Columbia, your trailer and house must not exceed 102” wide and 13′ 6″ high per Canadian transport laws, and you’ll need a permit for anything 12.5 meters in length or more. Your trailer must also have a license plate and working brake lights and turn signals. We recommend referring to the Digest of Motor Laws website for more details.

We are really frustrated about Mr. Lam’s situation and can only imagine how he must feel.  This is a good reminder to the rest of us about doing your research when building, converting, or purchasing a tiny house. We’ve put together a handy resource guide to help you get started. We are also hopeful that his story will encourage everyone who wants to see change in this movement to contact their local bylaw officer and/ or building inspector, and talk about the importance of learning about the benefits for individuals and communities:

– Provides a fair option for those who cannot afford a traditional home mortgage
– Helps the environment with eco-friendly, low blueprint options for living
– Can help to build communities of people where otherwise larger homes can keep people insulated from each other
– Easier on the planet regarding space and population growth
– Offers a more holistic alternative for seniors who want to be close to their families
– Helps solve many of the problems faced by Generation Squeeze




As we’re sure many people will agree, the red tape that surrounds the growth of the Tiny House movement is not fair in proportion to the problems that we are facing in society. Instead, the red tape reflects a lack of education and some fine tuning that needs to happen on the part of under-informed governments and homeowners who don’t know how or where to adequately advocate for themselves. We all need to make this happen and that requires a concerted effort that over time, eventually reaching the tipping point of new rules and regulations being adopted for the movement. We encourage you to join our forum or Facebook page, and learn about how to effectively create positive change.


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