Tiny houses -- killing the dream
The Editor, It’s amazing how much the subject of tiny houses is of interest to many. You have probably seen articles on the subject shared by your friends on Facebook or that you found in the media. The number of visits to websites that present tiny houses is huge. Why is there so much interest for that type of housing?
The cost of a dwelling in Canada and many other countries has become out of range for so many, it’s depressing. Out of 47 countries, Canada ranks 33rd on the current Wikipedia home ownership rate. The ratio of owneroccupied units to total residential units in the country was 67.6% in 2013 just a bit above that of the United Kingdom and the United States.
For most young people, owning a house is unimaginable. As they become earners, they think they will probably be renters forever and preferably not in a major city. They dream of an affordable tiny house.
Elders may own a house, but maintaining it and paying taxes take a bigger and bigger chunk out of their retirement money. They wish they had a smaller dwelling especially if it was on their current property.
Some are looking for a smaller, more efficient, energy-saving home and others want to avoid waste while adopting a minimalist way of life.
A tiny house could be a flat for granny or grandpa or both, or for older children who should be on their own, a rental unit for income, a small cottage out in the country, a good shelter for displaced persons or refugees.
There’s even an interest for tiny houses downtown to avoid urban sprawl and cardependent communities.
For all these reasons, you would think there would be a lot of builders on the bandwagon, offering their models of tiny houses. Well, there are many such builders; just Google “tiny houses” or check Kijiji. But buyers who have taken the plunge and ordered a tiny house soon find out there are major obstacles.
The first is what a municipality will allow you to build. The Canadian Building Code is most often used as a guideline, however, each community can amend these guidelines to fit its own vision of a community. Even though there are no size requirements in the code, the community will prefer a bigger house that generates a good revenue and less expenses (sewer installation, garbage disposal, etc.). Ironically, tiny house owners would probably have a composting toilet and less garbage.
You should be able to have a tiny house as long as it meets the building code. But some requirements of the code are not adapted to the tiny house concept; for example, ladders to a loft do not meet the current code. Trying to have the building code modified is such a timely exercise in back and forth negotiations, it will discourage anyone from trying. Yet, in the context of a housing shortage and predictable environmental disasters, the building code partners should fast track the adoption of alternative materials and construction techniques.
Some communities will allow you to have a tiny house which is movable (on wheels). But RV producing companies are actively opposing this competition and lobbying to have tiny houses on wheels banned.
The list of objections from municipalities can be long and varied. In the end, each building director of each municipality can dictate whether or not you can build a tiny house on land you own and how. Yet, they feel compelled to follow the regulations they know regardless of international, national, or provincial plans to reduce our environmental footprint. Most communities will not allow two families to live on the same lot.
So here we are with an urgent need for affordable homes and a possible solution but no leadership for it to happen, no national housing strategy. Who will take the lead in a housing revolution: the consumers, or the builders, or any governmental level, municipal, provincial, or federal? Right now, we are mostly killing the dream of owning a tiny house. Suzanne Blouin, Alexandria