I've been holding onto this post for a while now. It has no pictures. Some may see it as kind of a downer. I choose to see it as a new possibility. In short, I'm going to move. Here's why:
So on Thursday, January 12th my parents left for Florida. We had decided that, while they were gone, I was going to stay in their house. For one, their house isn't in the middle of nowhere. Secondly, their neighbors on both sides also go South for the winter, and they didn't want a series of empty houses appearing like a target. My official mail also gets delivered to that address (since my property didn't have a mailbox on it when I bought it) so that would be more convenient. Most important for me, though, is the fact that my folks have a fenced-in back yard for Barney to run around in. I don't spend nearly as much time outside in the winter as I do during the other seasons, but Barney doesn't seem to care if it's below freezing just so long as he has trees to pee on and squirrels to chase.
The morning of the 12th I drove out to my folks' place to see them off. It was early in the morning and I had been up late the night before, so I decided to take a nap on the couch before driving back out to my tiny house to drain the water lines, take in the solar panels, and shut everything down for the winter. By the time I got out there it was almost noon. Turns out, I had just missed a visitor. There was a sticker on the window from the Code Authority declaring my tiny house unlawful.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
The Code Inspector had identified my house to the Code Authority as “a standard camper with fake wood siding and a new roof designed to hide it,” indicating that either he didn't look that closely at it or he's a piss-poor inspector. That was a little offensive, but hardly worth a narrative as I can easily demonstrate that it is NOT what he says it is. The real problem, though, is the size ordinance.
The ordinance in this township (and in every township in Southeast Michigan, as well as most of the rest of the state) is that any dwelling must be at least 960 square feet to be habitable. It doesn't matter if it's your own land. It doesn't matter if it's permanent or not – if you are living in it, it must be over 960 square feet. There are exceptions for trailer parks and apartments, and I'm sure the concept of “living” is undefined and can be argued, but the point of the ordinance is pretty clear.
The Code Authority turned the issue over to the Zoning Authority, and I spoke to a guy from there about the details. He was very polite, but also very firm. He let me know that he had no idea why the ordinance said what it said, but that he fully intended to enforce it and would pursue legal action should I choose not to comply. I hold no ill will against him personally – he is, after all, just doing the job for which he was hired, and is not entrusted to make judgments outside of those issues delineated in his paperwork.
This is not a surprise to me; I knew this going in. I had already confronted the Code Authority in a neighboring township earlier in the year, and they informed me of that requirement (actually, that township had a minimum requirement of 1,400 square feet. There's another nearby that has a minimum of over 2,000 square feet. How on earth they can claim a dwelling under 2,000 square feet to be uninhabitable is beyond me, given that I've never lived in a house that size in my life. And don't even get me started on how that might even remotely be sustainable.) I bought my land knowing that I would be in violation of the ordinance to live in my house there. Unfortunately, in this state, there is no other option – There is no township or city within 100 miles that will allow my house. It may even be further than that, but I felt there was no reason to check.
I chose to take the risk I did because I wanted to have my own land. I chose a place on a dirt road, over 10 miles away from the nearest grocery store and 3 miles from the nearest gas station. It's on 4 wooded acres, easy enough to hide in, with enough space so as not to bother my neighbors. I knew that, eventually, the issue of the ordinance would catch up to me. However, I figured that if I was at least there for two years, the cost of my land would be cheaper than the price of getting an apartment – and I would have something to resell afterwords. Being able to live off the grid, harvesting my own rainwater, managing my own compost, running only on solar power – I've wanted to do that for so long that I had to give it a try. Unfortunately, I didn't get the two years I had financially planned on. Instead, I got 5 months.
WHAT I THINK CAUSED IT
I'm fairly certain that this is the result of the actions of my neighbor. The very first day I was over there after buying the property he came over, introduced himself to me, then distinctly informed me that he had wanted my property. He should have bought it first, I figured to myself, and just kinda let that one go. There is no fence between our properties, and rest of that day his 5 year-old son was constantly playing on my land. He was, in fact, going into my barn, riding his bike up and down my driveway, and constantly getting in my way. The neighbor made no attempts to stop him, in spite of the fact that he himself was outside doing yard work, too. At the time, I just let it go – I figured the kid was just being overactive, as 5 year-olds are wont to do.
The next few days, while I was over there, the neighbor started blaring his music. Now, I used to run a skating rink, so I'm familiar with loud music. As the manager, I had to be aware of the sound level, since anything over 90 decibels over a period of time can cause mild hearing damage. I got to be pretty good at determining when the music was too loud, and when to tell the DJ to adjust it. The neighbor had his speakers turned directly toward my property and pumped the volume up so that, even at a distance of over 550 feet, it was well into the high 80s. He was also playing Country music – BAD Country Music. Now, I recognize that some of you out there may be Country Music fans. If it helps you to follow the tone of the story better, imagine I had just said “Gangsta Rap” instead. To be honest, I don't care for either, but I really don't want to get into my musical tastes at the moment. Let's just say that, to me, the music he was playing was like having an ice pick driven into my ear drum even BEFORE the piercing quality of the volume level was taken into consideration.
That had gone on for several days, sometimes even when I had guests over. Every time, I found a reason to leave. It was around Labor Day weekend, after all, and I figured he was just celebrating the end of summer. After the holiday was over, though, it continued, so I eventually confronted him. I asked him if it was common for him to play loud music like that. He flatly said that yes, it was. I told him that the volume level was bothersome to me, and that I could understand maybe when he had guests or when it was a holiday or a weekend, but playing it every day was unacceptable. He very distinctly said “the reason I moved out to the country was so that I could do what I want, when I want.” I replied that I moved out there to get away and find some peace and quiet, but he had already made his point clear – he had no intentions of working with me.
Now, he did turn the music down – there are noise ordinances, after all, and I have no doubt that he is aware of them. And even later I went over and thanked him for doing so. I, after all, wanted to be a good neighbor. I told him I recognized he was just trying to live his life and I was asking him to make concessions, and in thanks I would buy him a case of beer. He refused, saying he didn't drink beer. I offered soda, water, and tea, but he refused all three, each with a lamer excuse. The point there was also clear – he was refusing my thanks and goodwill.
There were a number of other incidents – the constant screaming and cussing on the weekends, the 4 pit bulls (Pig, Runt, Baby, and Jo-Lee) that he would let run loose, even when I had Barney chained up outside, or the repeated revving of engines, be they of cars, trucks, 4-wheelers, or snowmobiles, that happened for hours nearly every day in spite of the fact that he rarely moved the vehicles. All sorts of things built up to make me feel unwelcome, and I have no doubt that it was he and his brother-in-law that called the Code Authority.
I paid my taxes. I wasn't hurting anyone. But technically, it is the law. Whatever.
WHY I'M NOT FIGHTING IT
When I tell my friends about this, their first instinct was to think of ways to fight this. After all, it IS my property, and I'm not hurting anyone, and most of them want to get revenge on the neighbor. I understand that instinct, but it isn't what I feel. See, the shock I got from seeing that notice on the door left me feeling incredibly “hollow” - that's the closest word I have to describe it. It was a profound emptiness, a lack of will, and an absence of motivation, desire, or even (for a while) basic cognition. I didn't feel sad, or angry, or frustration – I had lost the capacity for feeling. In a way, then, it was fortunate that a friend called me that evening to ask for a ride to the hospital. His appendix had burst, and getting to him and then to the hospital was more than an hour's drive.
Having someone you've known for years start dying in your car kinda puts things into perspective. (He's okay, by the way, but that's a whole other story.)
Why did this have to happen when it did? Why did the inspector have to come that morning? Why didn't I go straight back after seeing my folks off for Florida and shut the tiny house down then? Had I done that, the inspector would have come across a structure that was winterized and obviously uninhabited. It obviously would have been in storage, and there are no laws against that. Had he just been a day later, or had I gone out there a few hours sooner, I could have avoided it all.
But then I realized, this isn't something that's happening TO me, it's something that's happening FOR me, and I'm lucky that it happened when it did. I know I'm going to disappoint many people in the tiny house movement because of this, but I do not intend to fight this, mainly because even in victory, there is no triumph for me here.
Even if I win, I will still be next to a neighbor who hates me. Even if I win, I will be 10 miles away from the nearest grocery store. Even if I win, I will be both physically and socially isolated, far enough away from everyone nearby to where visiting me is inconvenient, but not far enough away to where I'll be compelled to seek out new things. I'll be in an area in which the population is politically and ideologically at odds with my own morals and values. I will, in essence, become a hermit here.
WHAT I HAD ACCOMPLISHED
A number of my friends recognized the issues I outlined in that last paragraph before I had even moved, and they expressed their concerns to me about them. Honestly, I felt them myself, too. However, I went through with it because I knew there was something I needed to do. It was the same compulsion for why I built the tiny house in the first place. With the house, I wanted the experience of building it – of doing the plumbing, of running the wiring, of putting up the siding and installing the fireplace and making something from nothing.
The second compulsion was to live in it. I NEEDED to live off the grid, to experience life using solar panels, to collect my own rainwater and shower in it, knowing that it came from the sky with no chlorine. I needed to manage my own compost pile, and to see just how little waste and trash I could generate. I needed to live lightly, I needed to learn how, and I needed to do it on my own.
And I've done that.
It's only been for 5 months, but I've done that. And, strangely, that need feels “satisfied.” I've learned what I've set out to learn, and have experienced (however briefly) what I set out to experience. In short, there's nothing more for me here. I know that I can do this, I know that it works, and that I can live my life like this. But there's still more I need to do... and because of that, I'm moving west.
Ever since I was as young as I can remember, I've felt compelled to go to Oregon. I do not know why this attraction is there, but it's been with me my whole life. Oddly, I've ended up with a job that involves a lot of travel, but even with 39 states under my belt, I have never been close to Oregon. The word even “looks” different in my head, as though it's a different color or shape than other words. Old friends of mine can tell you that they've heard me mention my attraction to the state time and time again, even without really knowing anything about the place. And, to be honest, I really DON'T know much about Oregon.
The closest I can come to a “reason” is that I must have died on the Oregon Trail in a past life, or something, and the destination was never reached, but the yearning passed over into this life. Or maybe I played too much Oregon Trail on the Apple IIe in the school library as a kid. I don't know, but at this point it's been with me for so long that I don't feel like I NEED to know.
I built the tiny house because of an urge. I bought my land and lived in it because of an urge, and now it's time to satisfy this urge. I won't say it's as strong as the urge to build the house was, but it's definitely been with me for much longer. It's been there constantly in the back of my head; not a nagging voice, but more of a steady impression – never begging for attention, but also never letting me forget that it's there.
Some people may interpret this as me running away from the problem. They're certainly entitled to their opinions, but I don't feel that way. “Running away” is usually the easy solution, and this is anything but that. Truth be told, I'm flat-out terrified. It's a long distance to travel, I know nobody out there, and I have no logical reason to be there. Some people thrive on the unknown, but this is far beyond my comfort zone.
And that, perhaps, is one of the more compelling arguments for why I should go.
I'll need to find a job once I'm out there, but that's no different than where I am now. My current job has a busy month coming up for me, but after that there's unlikely to be anything for me for nearly a year. I also need to figure out if I'm going to move my tiny house and have it stored somewhere or keep it on the land it's on now. I can't take it with me quite yet – I really don't know what I'm getting into, and it's quite expensive to haul it across the country. I'm even debating whether I should take Barney with me initially or not.
But I have time to plan. I'm going to be working for the whole month of February, then I'll be back up here shortly after the first week of March. I'll spend that month getting my affairs in order, then plan to make my move in April. And who knows, this urge may be over in less than a year, too. It may be only a few months before I'm driving back. But at least by that point, I can say that I did it. I'll have satisfied another urge, I'll have another accomplishment under my belt, and another story to tell. Or maybe I'll be coming back for the tiny house to bring it into my new life out there. At this point, there's no way to tell what the outcome will be... but I DO know that it's the right move to make. In fact, it's the ONLY move to make.
So, yeah... if anyone has any suggestions, ideas, or leads as to what I should do out in Oregon, let me know. I'm kinda going out there blind.
EDIT: Overwhelming response! Thank you all for your support; it is HIGHLY encouraging! I'm on the road for work right now (a week in Mexico City, a week in DC, 2 weeks in North Carolina, a few days in Florida...) but I WILL be responding to everyone as I get the chance! Also, don't be alarmed if your post doesn't show up right away - LiveJournal flags anything with a link in it for review. As long as you're not linking to Discount Russian Escort Services (yes, this has been a problem,) then it'll show up as soon as I can unflag it.
EDIT 2: Okay, I'm not really all that interesting on there, but for those who want it: www.facebook.com/jonathan.bellows
- The Next Stage