Monday, December 01, 2014

Microapartments that Stretch the Rules


In many jurisdictions, it is against code to build a residence smaller than a certain square footage, often in the neighborhood of 500 sq feet.  I think the original purpose of these regs was to prevent slum lords from cramming people into cramped tenement units.  

But in this era of the cool, hip, microapartment, these regs appear outdated.  They prevent some great innovation and often the residents want these small units so that they can live in expensive parts of cities or to reduce their carbon footprints.  They are also a great living laboratory to try out all kinds of innovations in environmental design and in user experience.

In a logical world, we would update the regulations to accommodate the new approach to small residences.  Reword them so that they prevent the unwanted tenements but allow microapartments.  But of course, our political system is way too broken for anything logical. So instead, we creatively use loopholes.

For example, I heard of one person who built a 100 square foot house in her friend’s backyard (nice friend!!).  To get around the reg, she put the house on wheels.  She has no intention of ever moving it.  But now, it is officially considered by the law as a trailer rather than a house.  There are no minimum size regs for trailers.  So it is kosher.

My Take

My question today is how far we can take this.  What if you are designing a full sized downtown apartment building and you want to have some microapartments in it.  You put some wheels on the bottom of the lowest basement, fixed in concrete so that it doesn’t degrade the structural integrity of the building. What do you think?  It’s no worse than everything else going on in politics.

I suspect that it depends on the regulators.  If they are bureaucratic nincompoops, they would have a problem with this just because you tried to get around a reg that is “their turf.”  If they are smarter, they would just ignore it.  But the problem with ignoring it is the longer term consequence that you build up a culture of ignoring rules.  As much as we sometimes make fun of the “slippery slope” buzzword, it is a reality in this case (for example, see here).  It is better to change the reg.  But until then, I would rather have them ignore the rule and allow the innovation. 

Your Turn

OK, so what do you think?  Do you like my idea about sinking wheels in concrete? Do you have a better solution?