The Union of Harju County Municipalities has proposed amending the Building Code to require consent from neighbors and the local government going forward for the construction of structures under 20 square meters in size and 5 meters in height, such as sheds or play houses.
The Union of Harju County Municipalities submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Economic Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu seeking to amend the Building Code, as under current legislation, one does not have to notify one's local government or neighbors about, or seek their consent regarding, the construction of a building up to 20 square meters in size and 5 meters in height. This has led to several problems, however.
The union had contacted city and municipal government engineering specialists regarding the matter in September already.
"The processing of applications for permits for the use of construction works has turned up neighbors' sheds that are under 20 square meters in size and 5 meters in height that are built too close to the property line, not leaving enough space to ensure a fire safety lane," the union said. "After a building like this is discovered, it is the individual who sought a permit for their building that suffers."
The demolition or reconstruction of a neighbor's shed is a lengthy process if ever even reached, however, and involves expenses.
The union also cited a real-life example from Keila, where an owner applied for a permit for their detached home and submitted the correct documentation for their property, but the Rescue Board inspector approved the draft for the permit together with the remark that a wood shed on the neighboring property had been built within the fire safety lane, and it was the responsible individual who had followed all regulations, not the one who built the wood shed, who was ordered by the Rescue Board to pay a fine.
The municipalities' union finds that such situations are difficult to prevent, as typically such issues are only brought to light in the permit application process.
"One opportunity for avoiding problems such as the one just described would be if the location of a building smaller than 20 square meters in size were approved by one's neighbor and local government," the union said. "The Union of Harju County Municipalities is prepared to compile the problems that have cropped up in Harju County local governments as well as proposals for the changing or expanding of the Building Code."
Several Harju County municipalities agreed that the issue is a topical one. Saku Municipal Government said that they have the same concern regarding permits in their municipality: the one applying for the permit, who has everything straightened out, is the one to be punished, while the neighbor is the one that has built a shed along the property line that does not comply with requirements.
"The local government can of course conduct an administrative procedure regarding the owner of the shed, and issue a precept demanding that the shed be removed or relocated, but this is all time-consuming and gives rise to an unreasonably large administrative burden," said Maire Laur, head of construction and planning at Saku Municipality.
"This is essentially addressing the consequences of illegal activity, which is possible to prevent if one were required to get the position of an under 20-square-meter building approved by the local government and, if needed, one's neighbor prior to building it," Laur added.
Ministry: Low-density areas not affected
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications responded to the Union of Harju County Municipalities at the end of November, letting the union know that it had signed a contract with the law firm Sorainen for reviewing the current Building Code and related practices and court rulings and proposing integrated changes to make to the Building Act.
The ministry noted that legislation in force through mid-2015 called for building notices to be submitted for small buildings as well, but this regulation was abandoned as the current Building Code was drawn up.
Regarding the shortcoming highlighted by the municipalities union, Ivo Jaanisoo, director of the ministry's Construction and Housing Department, said that this would require further analysis, as this problem is not universal throughout Estonia, but rather occurs in more densely populated areas and regions filled with summer cottages.
"Thus we believe that applying the requirement to seek a permit or notify [others] regarding buildings under 20 square meters in size and under 5 meters in height on everyone, including in sparsely populated areas, cannot possible be proportional," Jaanisoo said. "On top of that, we don't know whether this problem exists in all local governments throughout Estonia or whether this is a specific problem unique to Harju County."
When introducing such an additional procedure, it must be considered that this doesn't become too much of a burden for those interested in building, as according to the proposed changes, a building notice would be required for the construction of a children's play house on one's own property, for example, which may not be reasonable.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs intends to draw up a bill based on the results of Sorainen's analysis which would reflect changes to the Building Code. Jaanisoo noted that it would be possible to assess based on the analysis whether a procedure is necessary for small buildings as described or not.
"We certainly do not support changing the Building Code via individual proposed changes," he concluded.
Editor: Aili Vahtla