When you want to live in a Tiny House legally, you will need an environmental permit for building. Even when your house is built elsewhere and is moved to the place where you are going to live in it, the environmental permit is for “the construction of a building”. The 2012 Building Decree is a thick book of rules which often are not an easy fit for Tiny Houses. Our government has determined that Tiny Houses, like other fully-fledged housing types, fall within the current regulations and must therefore also comply with the Building Decree. Impossible? No, there is room for innovation in the Building Decree. You just have to know its limits well.
Why do we have a Building Decree?
The 2012 Building Decree is a testing instrument to guarantee a minimum level of safety, health, usability, energy efficiency and protection of the environment. This prevents people from living in unsafe or too small houses. For example, it prevents “slum landlords” from renting out houses the size of a broom closet. The Building Decree has a whole series of performance requirements that must be met. Such as, for example, the minimum number of square meters of living space, how wide the access must be and how steep the stairs may be.
Times change and so do the living requirements. Small, affordable and sustainable homes are increasing in popularity and people want to build smaller houses than the 2012 Building Decree allows in the strict sense. Fortunately, there is room for deviation, by making use of the so-called equivalence provision.
Article 1.3 of the 2012 Building Decree states that:
‘The requirement laid down in Chapters 2 to 7 need not be met if the structure or its use, other than by applying the relevant rule, has at least the same level of safety, health protection, usability, energy efficiency and protection of the environment as intended with the regulations laid down in those chapters.’
Que? Uhuh, that language is a bit of a thing, isn’t it ;) But what is meant here is that you can deviate from the performance requirements, if you can argue that you still meet the principles of the Building Decree (namely: safety, health, usability, energy efficiency and protection of the environment). In addition, you do not have to prove that you meet those principles, but you must make it plausible by writing a well-founded argument. So that the civil servant working on permits can approve your application.
The so-called miller’s staircase is an example of a deviation from such a performance requirement where the equivalence provision can be used. This staircase is steeper and sometimes narrower than a normal staircase and therefore very suitable for small houses. The Tiny-A by architect Daan Bakker has such a miller’s staircase, and it has been approved on the basis of equivalence arguments. The municipality of Almere has gained a lot of experience about licensing Tiny Houses from the BouwEXPO Tiny Housing.
In addition to the equivalence provision, the Building Decree has another tool that you can use to guide the design of your Tiny House through the assessment against the Building Decree. There is a separate category for buildings that are built by private commissioning. That means that you build the house yourself, or that you outsource the construction yourself. No project developer or housing association is involved. The idea is that if you are the contractor, you are responsible for the quality of your own house.
A number of so-called “departments” (sections, chapters) from the building decree do not apply at all to the private construction category, while other departments are subject to the rules for existing buildings. These are always smoother than the requirements for new construction, the category that must meet the highest performance requirements. For example: you need at least a residential area of 18 m2 of floor space for new construction and only 10 m2 for private construction. That makes quite a difference!
Permanent permissions THOWs
Permitting a THOW (Tiny House On Wheels) at a temporary location is possible, and that is already happening at several places in the Netherlands. These temporary residential locations are often seen as a pilot project, which means that the assessment against the Building Decree can be handled in a more flexible manner. If you want a permission for a THOW at a permanent location however, that’s a bigger challenge. Because of the width of the trailer, you are soon left with a too small living space – especially if you want to meet the insulation values. In Den Helder they are currently gaining experience with this. Housing association Den Helder is developing a permanent neighborhood where residents can build or install their own Tiny Houses. There is good cooperation with the municipality and currently THOWs are also being tested against the 2012 Building Decree for the environmental permit. I am keeping my finger on the pulse for you and I will come back to this in a separate blog later.
Apply for an environmental permit
Nowadays you can apply for an environmental permit online through your municipality’s online building counter. There, you can download a form that you must complete and submit via the online counter, together with a number of attachments. In any case, you will need suitable building plans. A personal sketch on graph paper usually does not suffice. You need a good (specification) drawing to scale and it may be that the municipality requires you to have the drawing made by a qualified structural engineer. This will cost money, but is perhaps also advisable: you then immediately know whether your design is structurally sound (safe) and feasible. You can find out which appendices have to be submitted on the application form. When you start living in a Tiny House project with several people and several Tiny Houses, there is usually an official available who can help the group get started. Don’t be put off by the paperwork. Such a form has been drawn up for all kinds of buildings and you probably do not have to fill in and submit everything. Just ask!
There is so much more to write about the Building Decree in relation to Tiny Houses. I am not an expert in the field of building or licensing, but I hope to be able to help you along with this information. The website of the BouwEXPO Tiny Housing in Almere is a good source of information as well; this will be expanded in the coming period with knowledge gained about the permit applications of the Tiny Houses. The website of Tiny House Nederland is also a good source. Select the category “regulations” on the blog page and you will find a lot of useful information. The website of Tiny House Netherlands is also undergoing a major update and I will mention in one of my blogs when the new site goes live. Have fun and good luck!