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can I build a temporary house and later convert it into an auxiliary structure?  RSS feed

 
Alex Grish
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My wife and I will immigrate to Canada in a few months and we would love to buy a lakefront lot in Manitoba (on lake Winnipeg or lake Manitoba) and build a house.

We are newbies and know very little about Canadian building regulations. I spent quite a few hours surfing the Internet, trying to find an answer to what bothers me, but wasn't successful. Please, help me, if you can.

We want to do what I describe below, and I would want to ask your opinions on whether it is 100% legal and whether it will fly with building permit authorities.

We plan to get a building permit for a VERY BASIC 800 sqf house (or whatever the legal minimum in this particular RM), which would be just a little bit more than a shed (thin walls, one shower, one sink, no proper HVAC, etc). We will then build this house very cheaply and will live in this house for a few years. I understand we will need to heat it heavily during winters, but that's ok. In 2-4 years we will save enough money to build a proper house and then we will simultaneously apply for a permit to convert the existing basic house into an auxiliary structure (into a shed which per se it was from the very beginning) and for a permit to build a proper house. Is such an approach going to work? Let's assume that the lot will not be allowed to accomodate two living structures. It is important that I do not want to try to bend any rules and I want to be honest with with the authorities from the beginning. We will go ahead with the plan only if I am convinced that it is 100% clean from the authorities viewpoint.

Thanks a lot in advance!
 
Travis Johnson
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I am not really qualified to say regarding building codes and whatnot in Canada, but I am qualified in building a temporary home first.

You may be indeed different then me, but at the time I was 19 years old, getting married and needed a house. So I started with a 500 square foot garage (24 x 24) and intended to live out of that. Well we never did build our house. Our "garage" was so nice, we just realized if we added on, things would be better, so we did, again and again. We might not have ever built our official house, but this one is 3000 square feet now and is quite nice. Not our plans, but mortgage free and I like that.

So if I was you, and knowing human nature, I might plan a temporary house with a lot of thought going into possible additions.

Best wishes on your move.
 
Joel Bercardin
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Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Alex, here in British Columbia, I've seen quite a few people do what you're suggesting.  Build a fairly compact initial structure, insulate it well enough for occupants to get through the winter(s), and then design and start construction of the intended home itself. And take it at a reasonable and affordable rate.  Of course, Travis's conception and approach is also pretty common here in my area.

There are no national building-code-enforcement realities in Canada in terms of specifics.  So just because I'm living in a certain rural part of Canada doesn't mean you could readily do this in Manitoba, especially on lakefront property (which for all I know may be overseen pretty closely by local or regional gov't regulators).

Where I live, the practical hurdles presented by building codes don't have directly to do with the construction approach or method a londholder, but instead have to do with the interlacing of lending institutions and building-code authorities.  IOW, if you want to take out a loan (mortgage) for constructing any building with more than 100 sq ft floor area, you must take out a building permit and have inspections done during construction.  Because if the landholder defaults on repaying the loan and the lender must foreclose, the lender wants to avoid struggling to sell a "substandard" building.

Here, the ways people get around these constraints are either to build without the involvement of a bank or credit union or to tell the local building authorities that the proposed plan is for a "shop" or other utility building.  But for all I know this ploy may very well not work in certain other localities.

How populated is the area – and I mean the specific stretch – you're looking to buy property in?  It's my sense of things that, these days, you'd have to get quite far into the hinterlands to find places where the lending/regulation oversight isn't a reality.

I apologize if I'm just telling you what you already know.
 
Alex Grish
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Joel, thanks a lot. I know very little on the subject (we are coming from Russia) and every piece of info helps. The lending institutions complication is luckily not in the equation - we will buy land and build the initial structure without mortgage. I'm not sure how populated the area is - my wife and I spent only a few weeks in Manitoba more than a year ago. It seemed to me that the shores of both big lakes within drivable distance from Winnipeg are populated to some extent.

I do not expect difficulties with getting the first building permit for the initial structure. What I am at a complete loss about is what's going to happen when I come back to them 3 years later and say that what so far was the "principal dwelling" is now going to be a large shed for storage, and please, give me a permit for a new principal dwelling. It wouldn't be (hopefully) a problem if I wanted to expand the original structure, but I would prefer to avoid it. The original livable shed will be a very basic timber-frame, while I want the "real principal" house to be a scribe fit log house. They might not match nicely. Ideally I would want to build a shed in one location on the lot, call it a house and use it for a number of years in this capacity, and then build the log house separately in another location on the lot. Will I be able to re-classify my former "principal dwelling" into a shed?? (I assume that this will be the only option, as most likely I won't be allowed two separate living structures on a small 1/3 - 1/2 acre lot). What do you think?
 
Joel Bercardin
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Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Alex Grish wrote:Ideally I would want to build a shed in one location on the lot, call it a house and use it for a number of years in this capacity, and then build the log house separately in another location on the lot. Will I be able to re-classify my former "principal dwelling" into a shed?? (I assume that this will be the only option, as most likely I won't be allowed two separate living structures on a small 1/3 - 1/2 acre lot). What do you think?

You ask what I think, and I can only attempt to reason it from the few facts I have – so I'll give you some thoughts.  But I do hope that people who have some solid knowledge about Manitoba (and better yet, the sort of locality in Manitoba that you're talking about) will come into the discussion here.

Possibly, in Manitoba as in much or all of rural British Columbia, the regulators don't impose the building codes on an owner builder unless called into the situation by influence of a lending institution.

But, on the other hand, let's suppose that in Manitoba the building codes are enforced even without the landholder being involved with a bank or credit union. There's still the possibility of flexibility of the regulatory system. It's a fact that Manitoba has a population of roughly one third that of BC, the province I live in.  One possibility is that its government may be eager to increase the population, which might mean that there is a lenience in the application and adaptability of building codes as a result.  And another possibility is based on another fact: 1/3 acre (14,520 sq ft) is much larger than the average city or suburban lot in Canadian cities.  And therefore, possibly two buildings that are of "dwelling" size and potential may not be a permanent issue – meaning reclassification of of your first building to a utility status may not be a problem, as the second building will then be the only one with "principal dwelling" classification.

But as I've said, I'm speculating – just trying to maintain an open-minded field for thinking about this.  Until someone with the real knowledge enters the thread with a reply.
 
R Scott
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It is not uncommon in the US, at least it was before zoning got stupid.

Usually it is a garage or shop. Or possibly a boat house in that kind of lot.

I lived in a barn for six months.  So did three of my neighbors, one for nearly five years. Our county is cracking down on this, limiting the time you can do that.
 
Alex Grish
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Thank you all again for the input. The picture is clearer now, at least I learned much more from you than from browsing the internet. It is very encouraging to hear that the regulators might be not interested if banks are not involved, which is my case.

My original line of thought was to build a small shed, which doesn't require permit (107 sq ft). It is awfully small, but my wife is of tough sort, we think we can manage a few years there. Then we apply for a permit and build a proper house. The reason why I thought it won't work is that Manitoba's recommendations to rural municipalities are as follows:

----------
Normally, an accessory structure would be constructed at the same time or after the
construction of the principal building or establishment of the principal use. In some
instances, a zoning bylaw might permit an accessory structure to be constructed prior
to the principal use (ex: construction of a garage required for storage of equipment and
materials during construction of a principal building). In such instances, it is advisable to
impose conditions on the use and a time frame on the construction of the principal
building.
----------

I thought, I won't be allowed to build any accessory structure (be it 107 sq ft without permit or a bigger structure with a permit) if I do not apply at the same time for a permit for the principal structure. May be I was wrong in that? May be I can just build a 107 sq ft shed without asking and nobody will ever ask questions? Or I apply for a permit for a 400 sq ft shed/garage/boat house, and they won't impose time restrictions on how long I can have it without building a proper house on the lot? And also won't tell me I can't live there because it is not intended for living?
 
Fred King
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I know nothing of codes in Canada, but in my experience as a log home builder l have found that if l explain to the inspector what l want to do and ask his advice on how to get it done within the code, most inspectors seem to become part of the project and try to see it succeed. But then there are a few assholes. Hope you don't meet one.
 
Chris Knite
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My recent experience:
This took place in Upstate NY, not Canada, but it might be relevant to your decision making. 
We bought land and subdivided with my brother-in-law.  Both of us built temporary buildings before the final building.  We were like you in not knowing how to avoid legal trouble.  Luckily, and I think this applies everywhere, a two minute discussion at the local town hall told us everything we needed to know.  This started a non-combative relationship with code enforcement.
Our local code required a permit and inspection for any structure over 100 sq ft.  My brother-in-law avoided that by keeping his shack under that size.  No permit, no inspection, no required footers, insulation, nada.  The county still came out to visually inspect (looking for a way to increase tax base I expect) but that's it.  He seems happy with that decision.  My viewpoint was that he made a questionable decision.  He is always crushed for space, has had to spend the money to make a couple other outbuildings, and is never really comfortable.
We went ahead and built a 20x24 building.  This required a permit ($25), a "during" inspection (made sure footers where deep enough- no cost), and final inspection (make sure it would not fall on our heads-no cost).  Our value of our property also got bumped up by $2,500 which added about $15 to our annual taxes. 
So very little extra cost for a much more comfortable space.  Plus the inspector gave us good advice along the way.  And when we built our final house, he already knew us and was on our side.  He let a few (non important but technically required) things slide and gave more good, money saving advice.  Actually, he helped me save thousands now that I think of it.  He knew some local sources for materials, and some techniques that saved me some additional work.
No regrets for either my brother-in-law or us actually.  But there's something to consider.  Our temporary building is now an combo outbuilding, canning shed, and art studio - and of course a hefty mess in the loft.
http://beechhousebuild.blogspot.com
 
Wendy O'Neill
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Location: Argyle, Manitoba, Canada Zone 3
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I live in the "Interlake Region" of Manitoba and am building multiple sheds under 108 sq. ft. with no permit required.  I have 80 acres and no lakefront property.  Once you are on lake front property, you are very restricted by both the Rural Municipality building bylaws, the regional building bylaws and the Federal building codes for building near a major lake.  Also a factor is whether or not you are in a Provincial Park, Provincial Forest Reserve or Federal Forest Reserve.  Also FYI, Lake Manitoba has been in a flood state for 2 or 3 years now with many homes destroyed (there is only one outlet to Lake Winnipeg from Lake Manitoba and Lake Manitoba has been artificially kept high as a water reservoir for Manitoba Hydro, our electric utility).  Lake Winnipeg has many areas that have severe ice damage during spring breakup and fall freeze-up.  As for heating, you will have to rethink it from the ground up.  -40 C for 4 weeks straight, plus a wind at 45 kph...as soon as you open the door to a tiny structure, you lose ALL heat immediately.  Also the 5 feet of snow that blows in and hard packs against your shed could cause all sorts of problems.

That all said, if you build a smaller temporary house, you can apply for a temporary occupancy permit, if allowed on the lakeshore or the Rural Municipality and then let it lapse once you build the permanent structure.  Talk with the building person at the RM office!  They are friendly and super helpful, able to answer all your questions.
 
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