Getting Around Covenants?
August 13, 2008

Getting Around Covenants?

One of our readers named Lyle has a question for those of you knowledgeable in covenants. Here it is:

I keep running into this small problem in the town I’m living in. I look at a piece of land I like then find out that the covenants for the area require a min. sq footage of at least 1,000 square feet.

I would like to build a house that is about 600-700 square feet.


Is there any good way about trying to purpose this size house without (hopefully!) being turned down? Has anyone else run into this problem and succeeded in building their small home because they could persuade the powers that be that a smaller house is more earth friendly?

Any ideas or thoughts about this would be great!


If you have any ideas or suggestions please comment below.

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Doug H - August 14, 2008 Reply

I took a building class (in CA) recently which covered similar situation. Here are a couple suggestions:
1. Look for similar, recently approved projects/granted variances – this is key. Look for similar projects that were not approved and understand why, ask those (owner/others) why the project was denied.
2. If you’re really serious – build a team to assist you with the variance. These would include architects, lawyers, designers, etc that know your town, know recent projects in your town, know influential people in your town, etc. Back to point #1 – if you a project similar to yours – research the project (at city hall) and find who was involved with that project.
3. If you live in a small town – get involved…volunteer for boards, committees, etc, meet the people that make the decisions on zoning, building, etc.
4. Make sure you completely understand the code/law regarding sq ft requirements – read it, look for exceptions/allowances on how/what is included in sq ft.
5. (Long shots) – Can you divide the property? Build two 700 sq ft buildings?

Chris - August 14, 2008 Reply

I live in Montana so the rules may be different but you could look into a deck or a simple ground level patio. Here, an extension of the house can be considered in the overall square footage. Even going furthur, if you really don’t want anything like that, just lay it down knowing that eventually you will remove it to add native plants or a garden or something. Maybe that is a bit sneaky but in all honestly, it is less ridiculous than requiring a minimum building size.

Kristie - August 23, 2008 Reply

Where I live there are different covenants for vacation homes. If you already have a residence I wonder if you could get it aproved in that way.
Could you add a loft, or is one already in you plan?

Patrick - March 12, 2009 Reply

Add a 3-400sqf “sun room” to your design.

Rando - April 9, 2009 Reply

I live in an east Atlanta suburb county and, of course, they require a minimum square footage to build a house (I think it’s now 1,200 SF). They have specific guidelines saying it must have a kitchen and bath and all the minimum dimensions that most travel trailers will satisfy. So, for one person I know that wanted a smaller home, she built a 700 SF house and has a 1,200 SF garage. The way the house is sited and designed, it is not obvious that 2/3 of the house is garage. Very ingenious idea and she beat the “code wars.” Her garage is really nice, too, because she has room for two vehicles and quite a large work space for crafts, etc. AND still has her very small “dollhouse.” Just an idea. I am hopeful to try the same arrangement one of these days, but I want mine to be all garage with an RV bay and then I’ll just full-time in the RV.

AC - April 13, 2009 Reply

I love the house pictured in this post, can anyone tell me more about it? thanx.

Jane - April 19, 2009 Reply

It’s a Ross Chapin cottage.
I love his small house designs!

AC - April 20, 2009 Reply

Thank you so much! im away to have a look at the site.

THE small HOUSE CATALOG - November 26, 2012 Reply

One way to resolve an issue like this is to create habitable space over a small footprint. For example, its possible to design a small house with livable attic space. While this will increase the square footage of a small house it won’t add much cost to the project. It will add resale value to a small house without adding big costs or requiring additional embodied energy. Maximizing a footprint is a very good idea and adds diversity of use a house. I sincerely hope you were able to resolve your conundrum.

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