If there is one thing we have been saying about tiny houses since we started writing about them, it's this: finding a legal place to put them is hard. A few cities allow back lane housing, including a very progressive Vancouver, British Columbia, which has led to an explosion in the number of small units. They also have a bylaw that was developed over a period of time that ensures that there is a minimum area of 280 square feet and even has special permissions where the planning department “may allow a reduction to not less than 205 sq. ft. if the Director of Planning first considers the design of the laneway house and all applicable Council policies and guidelines.” I am not sure that there is a more progressive city anywhere.
But Ches Lam didn't follow the rules, he went ahead and just did it a couple of years ago, a beautiful conversion of an existing garage/ workshop. A neighbour complained, and the City has told him to move it out. He tells the National Post:
It’s a very solid structure — it should last another 100 years. A lot of people are interested in it, but there are logistics that have to be dealt with, and municipal regulations. It’s kind of small, but the space is quite well used. It’s just not totally legal in Vancouver.
He describes it on Craiglist:
The interior design has been very well thought out and it is arguably the most comfortable tiny house you can find, there is no sacrifice in any way. The interior space is approximately 250 sq ft. Everything is custom. The loft bed fits a double mattress, under the bed has massive storage, a full slide out closet and the stairs pull out as your dresser. The kitchen feels larger than a full size kitchen and has a Miele cooktop and GE dishwasher. All contents of the house are included: fridge,46" TV, Blomberg washer and dryer, etc.
Commenters universally condemn the city. "I'm surprised the looney left of the West coast wouldn't endorse such small carbon footprint dwellings as the way of their uber green future." or "This shows what bureaucracy and idiots can do to fellow citizen." or "Really one can not expect anything else from the Clowns running City Hall!"
The problem is, this is Vancouver, with some of the most liberal bylaws anywhere that actually promote tiny house and back lane development, rules that people in other cities would love to have. The guidelines and bylaws are carefully designed to ensure neighbors' privacy, to have proper setbacks, massing guidelines and proper access. Vancouver is setting an example for cities everywhere of how to design terrific tiny houses on back lanes.
Not only that, the mayor is a big supporter of laneway housing; I even met him at a party celebrating the completion of one, there he is on the left.
Over the years I have seen endless fights over illegal additions, substandard and unsafe cutting up of houses for smaller units. And for a few years I was in the tiny house biz, fighting over the fact that there was nowhere to put them. Many of them exist "under the radar". This is a problem that has to be solved in all kinds of cities; it should be straightforward. The crazy laws that keep tiny houses out of our communities are limiting housing options and opportunities, and keeping tiny houses from being a big thing. Bylaws should be changed to accommodate tiny houses, but they should be consistent and for everyone.
I do not know the full story of what has happened here; (UPDATE: See comments) I am trying to find out and will update the post accordingly. But really, if someone added a 250 square foot 12' x 24' addition on the top of their homes without a permit people everywhere would be upset. People who do work without checking the bylaws or who think that nobody will notice if they break them usually deserve what they get. The fact that it is a very cute tiny house doesn't change anything.