This post is a compilation of excerpts from my weekly letters during the time between December 2, 2012 and January 27, 2013. I’ve been quiet on the blog lately, because the past six weeks have been scary and hard. I am sharing publicly now, because we’ve made it through and everything is okay. Thanks to my weekly letter subscribers, I had a safe place to share these feelings while they were raw.
I’m not one to keep you hanging in worry, so I’ll spoil the story now: We were found in violation of the Universal Statewide Building Code because we didn’t get a building permit to build our tiny house. The code in Virginia puts any dwelling into the jurisdiction of the local building inspector. So even though we built on wheels (constructing mostly in Florida) and have a license plate, we still needed to have a building permit and inspections.
We now have an official Certificate of Occupancy from our building department which makes our tiny house legal. What a relief to have this story end this way. I share these letter excerpts because they hold the emotion I felt as one of my worst fears was unfolding.
This story isn’t meant to bring up any ill-will or derogatory comments toward building officials or regulations. If we don’t like the law, we can work to change it. It’s nice to know that our home is officially safe, and so are the ones around me. We never set out to live illegally. We did what we thought we needed to do, but there was more to it. We learned a lot. I appreciate our building inspector; he does his job well and was very respectful and reasonable to us during this process. We hope our experience will help others to build and live an official, legal and worry-free tiny life.
Also, please note, that building codes vary by state and even by county, so what worked for us might not work in other areas. This is part of the challenge facing the tiny house community. The discussion on legal issues in the tiny house community is an ongoing one. A quick Google search will bring up several posts.
“Home is a place we all must find, child. Home is knowing your mind, your heart, and your courage. When we know ourselves, we are always home, anywhere.” – Glenda, the good witch, Wizard of Oz
December 2, 2012
We passed our first building inspection for the big house on November 26, 2012 which really is something to celebrate, but I, of course, heard the building inspector say, “What’s that?” repeatedly. That’s what he asked Karl when he looked at the tiny house. Karl had a great answer, “A homemade travel trailer.”
“Has it been inspected by a third-party?”
“Well, I can’t let you live there.”
We’ve done our work to get a license plate and build following International Building Code as closely as we could, but having a government official question our home and imply anything other than, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” made me fret. It reminded me of losing our house in Florida. My mind raced to scary scenarios of being told we couldn’t live here. I want to put my arms around the tiny house and tell everyone to go away. If I were a giant Great Pyrenees like our dog, Sunna, I most certainly would bark circles around this hillside keeping all officials away. But then, I’ve shared so publicly that I can’t really do that.
Karl was talking, I knew it, but I didn’t know what he was saying. I saw his mouth moving; it surely was important, but all I could hear was the building inspector saying “What’s that?”
Walking around feels surreal, like my feet aren’t touching the ground, like all of this is a dream, like I’m living in one of my kids’ games of pretend. I want to be present, but I know I’ve checked out. Fear has me in its clutches. I feel like I am fighting for air. I don’t want to lose what we’ve worked for. I feel like a little kid. This is mine. Mine! MINE! I am cracked open and tired. This living game isn’t easy. I haven’t written for a few days. I’m over doing it on social media, so I force myself into the garden to plant garlic and move blueberry bushes. I tell myself that this dirt is real, this land is real, this love is real, this pain is real. My phone rings.
It’s my only brother. He listens well as I share the building inspector’s words. “…then he said ‘What’s that?’” my brother interrupts to answer, “My heart.”
That’s it! This house is my heart. I’ve put it on display and someone with ‘authority’ questioned it. Immediately, tears stream down my face. This is my heart. This is my family’s heart. This is the story of how we lost it all and built it back up. This is how we love. This is how we share our love with the world. This is how we say, “It’s really, really gonna be okay. We have this sun, these trees, this dirt, this water, this air, those birds, and this life.” Gratitude pours out of my eyes. I love my brother, his words, and his deep knowing of me. “I think some laws are gonna change, Hari,” he says, playfully nudging me. He knows my heart and reminds me of who I’ve always been. I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself here. I’ve always pushed things a little bit.
But only within the law. So, you can imagine my freak-out storm when we got the letter of violation from the building department on December 22, 2012. Merry Christmas!