Question of the Day - #91 Is it a rule or a definition?

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Question of the Day - #91 Is it a rule or a definition?

Postby RDavidson » Mon Dec 01, 2014 6:04 pm

You get a call from a residential designer who asks you a question about townhouses. In particular, she says that she is trying to understand the rules for what a townhouse is. She says there are multiple definitions for the term “townhouse” in the code.

She says there is a definition in the IRC that reads: “TOWNHOUSE. A single-family dwelling unit constructed in a group of three or more attached units in which each unit extends from foundation to roof and with a yard or public way on at least two sides.”

She says there is also a definition by Minnesota amendment that reads: “A single-family dwelling unit constructed in a group of two or more attached units in which each unit extends from the foundation to the roof and having open space on at least two sides of each unit. Each single-family dwelling unit shall be considered to be a separate building. Separate building service utilities shall be provided to each single-family dwelling unit when required by other chapters of the State Building Code.”

She says both definitions use the term “attached”. She asks you what your definition of “attached” is. She says MN rules section 1309.0302, subpart 1, R302.2.4, requires the individual townhouses to be structurally independent. She asks if detached just refers to siding and roofing because that is about all that is left. You tell her that you guess that is the situation. So she says, what if they run a saw cut through the siding and roofing, are they now detached? What do you say? She asks what if she goes back and “seals” the saw cuts with caulking, is it still detached or is it now attached? What do you say? Do you tell her you think they are “sealed”?

She says that the IRC definition defines a townhouse as having “a yard or public way on at least two sides”. She says a public way is defined as being at least ten feet in width. She says a yard is defined but without stipulating a width. She asks you what you interpret the width of a yard to be. So you tell her that if a public way must be ten feet wide that it is reasonable that a yard be ten feet wide as well. She agrees that is a reasonable interpretation.

She then says the state definition defines a townhouse as having “open space on at least two sides of each unit”. She asks what your interpretation of open space is. What do you tell her? Do you tell her that since both definitions apply and the rule is that the most restrictive applies that the IRC definition that references ten foot wide public ways or yards would prevail? You do and she says super!

Now we are getting somewhere she says.

She tells you that you mucked up the definitions with the number of dwelling units but she doesn’t care because in her case it is irrelevant. But she says, just to be clear, under either rule you agree that an individual townhouse must be attached and have a public way, yard, or open space at least ten feet wide on two sides. You tell her, yup, that is your interpretation.

Ok, she says, now we are clicking. She then goes on to describe her project. She says it will be ten detached single family dwellings built on ten individually platted lots and they would extend from side lot line to side lot line. The front of the dwellings would face a public street. The rear yard will be 8 feet. She says the dwellings will be structurally independent. They will saw cut the siding and roofing so they will be detached. They will follow MN rules 1309.0302, subpart 1, Table R302.1(1) Exterior walls in its entirety.

You say, oh, you are building townhouses.

She says, no, they don’t meet the definition of townhouse because they don’t have the open space on two sides which she says that you interpret to mean a minimum of ten feet. She says they are individual single family homes. She says they will be detached.

You tell her you believe the code requires a ten foot yard. She tells you that that is a criterion in the definition of what a townhouse is, based on your interpretation, and not a mandatory requirement. It only distinguishes between a structure that is a townhouse and one that is not.

She says her single-family dwellings are less than 4500 square feet so they don’t need sprinkler systems and since they aren’t townhouses she doesn’t need parapets!

You tell her you don’t think she can do that.

She tells you that the code allows buildings to be built to a lot line otherwise there wouldn’t be tables that address exterior walls built to a lot line. Her dwellings don’t meet the definition of townhouse based on your own interpretations which you both agreed were reasonable. So, she says, cite me the chapter and verse why I can’t do what I propose to do? What is your response?
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