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Q&A: Building code loopholes and boat sharing

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This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

I built an 8 by 12 ft. cabin last year. I would like to cut a hole in the 12-foot wall and insert a box measuring six by eight feet to function as a bunk bed, supported outside with posts. Would the building then be considered more than 100 sq. ft.? The insert would not be at floor level. —Looking for a Loophole

We know what you’re thinking: the addition doesn’t count towards square footage because you’re not expanding the building’s footprint. Sorry, but “the building code doesn’t care about footprint, only the area the building occupies,” says Dan Sayers, the chief building official for Ontario’s Municipality of Dysart et al. Math tells us that with this bump out, your cabin would equal 144 sq. ft. We assume that your original cabin didn’t require a permit; regulations vary, but in many places, buildings smaller than approximately 100 sq. ft. don’t. But changing almost anything on an already-standing, originally permit-free structure—adding a deck; inserting a window or a door—may require one.

“There are so many different factors that can affect whether you need a permit or not,” says Ben Meeres of the J.L. Meeres Construction Group in Chilliwack, B.C. “The fact that you’re doing any work at all can require a permit.”

Does the original cabin comply with your provincial building code? You may have to prove that before you can get the okay from your building department to add on to it. Your addition might also be limited by zoning bylaws or setback restrictions.

Don’t abandon this project. (It sounds cool. Send us photos when you’re done.) Just call your building department first.

I’ve heard that one way to finance a boat is to share the ownership with others on the lake. What do I need to know? —Broke But Buying

Smart idea. “This can be a great option,” says John Davis, the co-creator of Nautical Monkey, an online management and time-scheduling tool for boat co-owners. Boat sharing usually works in one of three ways: 1) a solo owner takes on a partner (or several), who, in exchange for paying part of the costs, gets time on the boat; 2) a syndicate of people buys a boat together and shares costs and use; or 3) a company maintains several boats, and customers pay for time every season. (This is usually called fractional ownership.)

The downside to boat sharing is the sharing. “You don’t necessarily have the freedom to use the boat whenever you want to,” says yacht broker Mike Burns, the president of North South Cottage Nautical Group. “You have to be prepared for limitations.” What if your boating plans for the long weekend are derailed by stormy weather? “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, well, we’ll do it next weekend.’ ”

On Nautical Monkey, partnerships typically range from two to seven people, though Davis doesn’t recommend more than four or five owners for a cottage craft. (Insurance in a multi-owner situation, in case you’re concerned, is a matter of putting all the names on the policy.)

You’ll definitely want to set up a sharing agreement to cover the terms of the arrangement, including, for example, how all the costs are split, how the maintenance is handled, and, of course, how use is divided between you and the other owners. “In my opinion, it’s absolutely mandatory to have something in writing,” says Davis, a former lawyer. A sharing agreement also sets out what happens when there are conflicts or when things go wrong with the boat or the people who own it. “You need to plan for the worst-case scenario,” says Burns. “What if one person has an accident that causes major damage? What if someone divorces or wants out of the arrangement? What if someone dies?”

If this is starting to sound grim, don’t be deterred. Lots of people share boats, and lots of people make it work. In fact, Canadians are one of the largest users of Nautical Monkey, says Davis, who is based in Texas. “Apparently, you guys are more friendly to the idea of sharing.”

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