I would get that in writing. The minimum clearance required it to protect your home from fire. We deal all day with prevention of liability and god forbid a fire occur I would bet that it will not be covered under insurance and some things are irreplaceable such as human life. I would be willing to bet that if you had a letter filled out and went to get it signed from that person he would change his story. Codes are there to prevent All possible situations and deviating from that MAY be ok but Dies not mean you will be safe.