Building Code Regulations: How One Group Challenged Discrimination, and Won

When back-to-the-land homeowners in 1970s California were ordered to demolish their homes, they decided to fight back.


| May/June 1976



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United Stand stood up to unfair building code regulations, and won.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Excerpted by permission of Owner-Builder Publications from The Owner-Builder and The Code: Politics of Building Your Home, by Ken Kern, Ted Kogon, and Rob Thailon. Copyright©1976 by Ken Kern, Ted Kogon, and Rob Thallon. 

Anon Forrest -owner-builder and prime mover in United Stand—has shown it's possible for back-to-the-landers to have their voices heard: She's been made a commissioner in California's Commission of Housing and Community Development.  

Just the thought of health and construction codes can send shivers up the spine of the do-it-yourself builder and make the heart of the homesteader skip a beat. And for good reason. Much time has been lost, physical energy wasted, money spent, back-to-the-landers discouraged, and owner-builders driven off their land and from their homes because of these all-pervading—but sporadically and unevenly enforced—regulations.  

What is "The Building Code" . . . what is the "Health Code" . . . from where do these regulations come, whom do they protect, by whom and how are they enforced, what are the penalties for non-compliance, and—most important of all—how do they get changed to meet the real needs and concerns of people (you and me)? These are just some of the questions that need answers. Answers that—believe it or not—are frequently difficult to come by. Some state legislatures (California's, until very recently, to name an example) adopt one code—applicable to any single-family dwelling whether constructed in the city, suburbs, or the woods—that all political subdivisions within the state must abide by. The lawmakers of other states-such as Texas or Vermont—leave it to the individual counties (a variation from county to county is possible) or to local municipalities (with the likelihood of a different set of building regulations for each town and city in the state!) to adopt or not adopt a building code. Still other states (New York, for instance) have promulgated general construction codes but don't force them on the municipalities within their boundaries . . . each local government has the freedom to either adopt or not adopt its state's building law.  

Thanks to this hodgepodge approach to the problem, it has been estimated that—during 1968—there were 5,000 different building codes in force in the United States. No wonder that questions about regulations are frequently difficult to answer.  

Though there have been warnings in most do-it-yourself construction books, manuals, and magazines about building and health codes, they have mostly been just that . . . warnings that such restrictions exist and that they must be complied with. As the back-to-the-land movement has gained momentum, however, more and more self-built homes have violated these codes which—in far too many cases—has resulted in the taggings, evictions from, and demolitions of owner-constructed dwellings.  





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