Legalize

And We’re Legal! A Certificate of Occupancy for our Tiny House

Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in Legalize, Recent Posts | 21 comments

And We’re Legal! A Certificate of Occupancy for our Tiny House

This is the third and last post in my series about our interactions with our local building inspector and the steps we took to get a Certificate of Occupancy thereby making our tiny house a legal single-family dwelling. Read the first post here and the second post here. Andrew and Crystal Odom are seeking legal status in their North Carolina home. Good news over there, too! Finding an engineer was like a scavenger hunt. I like those. We started by asking for referrals from everyone we know who is remotely connected with building and design. We called folks who gave us more referrals. Since it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we left a lot of voice-mail messages. We decided to put the search on hold until January 2nd. I got up early on the 2nd and started calling. I finally reached a real, live structural engineer, and his soothing voice reminded me of my Uncle Leon’s. I explained our situation. He assured me that it was something he’d worked with before, that it would cost about 3-5 hours of time at $75/hr. We scheduled his visit. What a relief! The not knowing part was the hardest: Would we be able to find an engineer? Would he or she be willing to take on our project? Would it be crazy-expensive? *** 1/13/13 We sat with Mr. Engineer on the tiny house couch last Monday. When Karl explained the R-value of the insulation, and the structure of our house, Mr. Engineer looked over at me and said, “You can stop worrying now.” The light was streaming in from the window behind Karl’s head and looking across the room at him, I felt proud. He knows his stuff and knows how to figure out what he doesn’t know. He knows the questions to ask and understands the answers. I feel so much better knowing that the house passes code. I can’t wait to make it official with the engineer’s report in the building inspector’s hand. That should happen this week. *** The engineer sent his report a few days after visiting us. He cited code and said our home “meets or exceeds” said code. The bill was for $331. Woohoo! Karl took the letter straight to the building inspector’s office, and headed to work.   Hearing Karl’s building inspector impression on my voice-mail made me jump for joy. “Ma’am, your engineer’s report is just what I needed. We’ll need to pull a permit for a single-family dwelling ($120). I’ll come inspect the tie-downs, and we’ll be set.”   All of the what-if scenarios were a necessary trajectory—the awful reality of not being able to live here made me appreciate all the more how special this home is. The fact that I need the approval of the building inspector reminds me that I am always going to be that girl who’s afraid of getting in trouble, but who pushes it just a little. It also speaks to the core human need for shelter and more importantly, home. We all need shelter, but if we have home–a place where we feel accepted, safe, and loved–we can come home to ourselves. Feeling uprooted and insecure about home is one of the most scary and vulnerable experiences I have ever had. I wish everyone in the world had a place to which they could come home. *** The final inspection was quick and painless. The inspector looked at the tie-downs, told Karl that Mr. Engineer spoke highly of our little home and signed off on a tear-off tablet, “Active Certificate of Occupancy”. Karl walked in the house and handed it to me.   “Shouldn’t this be fancy with an embossed stamp? I think it goes up there with diplomas and birth certificates and stuff,” I said. But it’s just a tear-off from a pad that says Building Department at the top. I think I’ll frame it anyway. There’s got to be a place to hang it somewhere around here. Simply, Hari P.S. Enrollment for the Summer 2015 session of our eCourse, Creating Your Path to Mortgage-freedom...

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Our Path to a Legal Tiny House

Posted by on Feb 16, 2013 in Legalize, Recent Posts | 4 comments

Our Path to a Legal Tiny House

This the second post in my series about our interactions with our local building inspector and the steps we took to get a Certificate of Occupancy thereby making our tiny house a legal single-family dwelling. Read the first part of the story here. This post is a compilation of excerpts from my weekly letters on December 23, 2012 and December 30, 2012.   “It takes courage to put ourselves out on the page, but it is better to be in reality than in denial. Reality is a place to start something. Denial is a place where something is already going on that we do not want to see and be a part of even though we are.” – Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper   12/23/2012   When the certified letter arrived from the Building Department, I knew what it would say. My heart started pounding so hard that I was sure the mail woman could hear it. She was kind and charming and talked about how special Christmas was with her children. She wished me a happy Christmas; I smiled and wished her the same, but I’m sure I had an absent stare. Once she drove down the hill, I tore open the letter and all I could see was “violation”.   I don’t violate things.–That’s my story. If I hadn’t devoured Daring Greatly by Brene Brown today, I’d be feeling a major shame storm right now. But instead, I’m being kind to myself. I’m breathing deep and practicing gratitude. I’m feeling scared and sad, but I’m not trying to numb the feelings. I’m “leaning into the discomfort,” as Brene says the Wholehearted do. Dammit, I’m a Wholehearted person! I fill with joy even as tears well up in my eyes. I don’t know what will happen, but I know that we have acted in the best way we could through this whole process.   Karl will talk with the inspector on Monday. I’m incredibly lucky to have Karl—his courage and confidence hold me up when I’m crippled with fear. I pray that we can work around this challenge with grace and connection.   If nothing else, we can buy an old travel trailer and live in that until the “big” house gets built. How’s that for irony? Of course, we’ll be working some magic. Ah, life.   Try it. Next time you are faced with fear and vulnerability, take five minutes to write out a gratitude list.   ***   12/30/2012   I’ve been hammering together the big house with Karl. When I’m out there pounding nails, I feel good since we’re moving toward what we want. But then I come back into the tiny house and worry that someone is going to take it away from me. The thought of losing this sweet little life is heart-wrenching. Yuck. At Christmastime, no less. Many are struggling with a very dark time, and I feel the pain of the world. This makes me feel totally interconnected and humbled. There is unexpected joy in being present for life’s difficulties. I confess, I am in tears right now. Because I don’t know if we can keep living here. Maybe we can. I am hopeful, but maybe we can’t. Karl spoke with the building inspector who says we need a structural engineer licensed in the State of Virginia (a third party) to certify that our home is structurally sound. It is. We followed the International Building Code. Karl is the most fastidious guy I know. We lived through the sustained winds of hurricane Sandy’s outer bands, a derecho, and several ice/snow storms.   The house is solid, but our inspector doesn’t know that. I appreciate him, as he is being quite reasonable to work with us on this. He could have said a flat-out “No.” But he didn’t; he gave us an option.   Our search is on for our engineer.   ____ Read the final post in this series. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration you all give us. We are so grateful for this community. Another tiny house family starts the legal process.–Check...

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My Worst Tiny House Fear: Being Told I Can’t Legally Live Here

Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in Legalize, Recent Posts | 57 comments

My Worst Tiny House Fear: Being Told I Can’t Legally Live Here

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 Check out this inspiring and thought-provoking TEDx Talk on homelessness and the meaning of home.   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?”   “No.”   “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...

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