Tiny House Laws (Part 2)

Yesterday, I rose bright and early, had a chill morning with Edmond, and finally decided to check my email at around 9, just to verify that the promised Permit would be waiting in my inbox.

But it wasn’t there.

Instead, I had an email telling me that I needed approval from another guy with a higher rank and more official title.

So after several calls to his office, I finally got in touch with him. We had a rather heated discussion, and he was pretty straightforward in telling me that codes does not permit this small of a space (it does), and that they couldn’t make exceptions. He told me he would check with a few other people and get back to me later in the afternoon.

I then contacted a councilwoman, another tiny house owner in Nashville, and scoured the internet for resources.

Here’s the thing. As I was when we started this project, I’m 99.5% sure that we’re following both building codes and zoning ordinances. Jonathan and I did not jump into this. Nashville allows for “accessory dwelling units” in our neighborhood (no minimum size), and 2012 building codes (which take effect this week) allow for spaces as small as 138 square feet (ours is 216). Even using the 2006 building codes, I think there is a lot of grey area in which we should have been free and clear.

Dude called back later that afternoon and told me that they had decided to permit me. He presents this as a great favor, and then proceeds to tell me to make sure I get all my inspections or they’ll “have to bulldoze the house.” (Another man at one point suggested we “just tear it down and make a new one that was bigger.” !!!!!!!)

Here’s what is frustrating about all of this.

I want building codes in place to protect tenants from having crappy landlords supply them with inadequate or dangerous living space.  But as the 2015 International Building Codes clearly attest, there isn’t a minimum number of square feet in which that is possible. The international community and many other states are finding this to be true. But as someone told me, “Tiny Houses aren’t going to be legal in Davidson County anytime soon.” What does that even mean when you have zoning in place that protects them, and a 2012 building code that allows for them?!?!

It means that many are far more comfortable supporting waste/profit than ecology/economy. That, at least in Nashville, it is easier to get a demolition permit to destroy a perfectly habitable and nice dwelling, construct two (or three or four) massive condos in its place, each with a selling price for twice what the first house was worth, and then deny poor and middle-income families the rights to build smaller spaces or rent them out through airbnb in the name of affordable housing for the poor.


Rant ended. We have a permit. We’ll be building to code. This conflict is over for the foreseeable future.

And for what it’s worth, I’m really grateful and relieved that the Building Code department gave us this permit. I’m glad that even while it felt like they were killing all our dreams, they were at least smiling about it.


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