Housing and Building Codes, Zoning Laws, and Neighborhood Covenants are all intended to provide safe well-planned neighborhoods and communities that meet and maintain pre-defined aesthetic goals.
For those who have participated in their development, these laws serve a meaningful purpose. For those who come along later, such laws may seem oppressive and draconian.
In society, some laws are pushed upon us without seemingly any democratic input. However, many restrictions in our daily life are self-imposted – created either by local groups, organizations, neighborhood associations, or businesses.
Consider the increased surveillance present in many retail stores where even employees are subject to body searches and random drug testing. It’s not an oppressive government creating such conditions.
Neighborhood associations may choose 24-hour policing, surveillance cameras, and regulations dictating just about every detail of how each home is to be designed and maintained. Such circumstances can create an oppressive environment similar to a small-dictatorship where home owners are obligated by law to maintain their homes a certain way — at their own expense.
Minimum Size Standards
As with any regulations, housing and building codes can be slow to change. For example, minimum size standards are regulations that seek to ensure every dwelling has sufficient space to accommodate a universally safe, accessible, and healthy environment for a variety of residents including families. However, these laws are in conflict with the increase of demand for small and tiny homes. In the past, family sizes of 5 or more may have been typical. Today, the space needs for singles and couples are much less. The increased use of battery powered smart mobile devices and notebook computers makes it possible for people to keep their “stuff” in digital form in a much smaller place. In the past, hundreds of photos, audio CDs, movies, books, magazines, photo albums, postal mail, and other items required physical space. Today, all of these things can fit in a pocket-size or portable device. Minimum size standards need to adapt to these changes and offer provisions and accommodations for people who simply just don’t need a lot of space.
Industry Driven Laws
Unfortunately, sometimes it seems that housing laws can be industry driven. For example, certain features of a home that might have been optional in the past, could become a requirement. If the (fill in the blank) association of manufacturers were to lobby at the local, state, and national level to ensure their products are required for use by law. In such cases, it’s not for the purpose of safety, but for profits that such laws exist. If one person has a patent on a certain product that’s required by law, then they would become quite wealthy since the conditions would be created where there would be no competition and great demand.
Manufacturers’ Interests and Eliminating Competition
Larger manufacturers with deeper pockets, may embrace costly regulations and certifications in hopes that these will place a substantial burden on their competitors sufficient to drive them out of business. For this reason, some manufacturers might even lobby at the local, state, and national level to establish such laws.
Similar trends exist in farming or software development. Consider the cost of being certified Organic, or the cost to a software developer to being Windows 8 certified. Such certifications serve a purpose, but if the certification costs are too high it will make it difficult for smaller businesses to compete.
Crowd-Sourced and Open Source Regulations
When creating regulations for any industry, it would be best to use a crowd-sourced and open-source method of establishing those regulations. Perhaps there should be regulations that define how regulations are created. In this way, one could ensure that none of the potential pitfalls (mentioned above) hinder the effectiveness and useful purpose of the regulations created.
Below are links to additional reading and resources.
- American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) – Building Standards
- International Building Codes – Structural Issues
- International Building Codes – Non-Structural Issues
- National Association of Home Builders – Codes and Standards
- Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Standards and Education
- United States General Services Administration (GSA) – Codes and Standards