Building Codes and Code Enforcement

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2 Construction code enforcement is an important issue facing Georgia's cities and counties. Georgia continues to attract thousands of new residents and new businesses each year. This growth requires construction of new housing, offices, commercial buildings, retail establishments and industrial facilities. Ensuring that these new buildings are structurally sound and safe and assets to both their owner and the community where they are located makes local construction code enforcement a high priority for Georgia's cities and counties. Georgia's State Constitution and general law gives local governments broad discretionary powers in the enforcement of the Georgia State Minimum Standard Codes. It is essential that local governments take the necessary steps to update their local ordinances to reflect current state law, particularly with respect to administrative and enforcement procedures. Construction Codes and the Progressive Community Georgia's uniform construction codes are designed to help protect the life, health, and property of all Georgians from the hazards of faulty design and construction; unsafe, unsound, and unhealthy structures and conditions; and the financial hardship resulting from unnecessarily high construction and operating costs of houses, buildings, and similar structures. Municipalities are not mandated by state law to enforce the state building codes or to issue building permits and perform construction inspections. Rather, cities may choose which, if any, of the state minimum standard codes they intend to adopt and enforce within their jurisdictions. However, the Uniform Codes Act provides that "any municipality or county either enforcing or adopting and enforcing a construction code shall utilize one or more of the state minimum standard codes... 1 Therefore, in order for a city to have a construction codes enforcement program, at least one of the state minimum standard codes must be adopted by local ordinance and enforced locally. Purposes of Building Codes Enforcing building codes is an important city function. The purposes of construction codes are to 2 save lives by preventing structural fires resulting from defective installation of materials or the installation of improper materials in existing and new buildings; protect individual health by assuring construction of facilities that are structurally safe, weather-tight, properly ventilated, adequately lighted, and designed to encourage maximum safe usage; save construction costs by preventing the use of more materials than are required for new buildings or existing structures; protect property by assuring that structures will serve the purposes for which they are designed; encourage sound, steady growth by assisting builders, owners, and developers in the use of acceptable technological improvements in the building trades; reduce the chances of costly litigation involving property disputes, interference in the use of light and air, or other matters that can arise during the course of construction; and permit qualification for federal grant assistance requiring code enforcement as a prerequisite to funding eligibility. The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers 1

3 Advantages to City Enforcement of State Codes There are a number of advantages to municipal enforcement of state building codes, including protecting the life, health, and property of citizens and thus helping to provide a better living environment; helping to prevent the creation of slums and thereby contribute to the maintenance of a stable tax base; establishing the foundation for a permit system; providing a means of systematically updating property assessments; obtaining lower insurance rates for residents; fulfilling prerequisites for federal rehabilitation grants; meeting the requirements of other state and federal laws, such as the water conservation act; ensuring that local construction is built in compliance with state codes; and demonstrating that the city is a progressive local government. Uniform Codes Act The Uniform Codes Act became effective on October 1, The act was adopted to establish standard building codes that are applicable statewide. Prior to that date, municipalities and counties could adopt any code or standard that they desired to enforce locally. This local control resulted in a great deal of variation in the construction codes and standards that were enforced throughout the state. This law authorizes the governing authority of any municipality or county to enforce the 11 state minimum standard codes. There are 8 mandatory codes and 3 permissive construction codes that cities may adopt and enforce. 4 Each of the 11 state minimum standard codes typically consists of a base code (e.g., the International Building Code as published by the International Codes Council and a set of statewide amendments to the base code.) Georgia law provides that 8 of these codes are "mandatory" (i.e., applicable to all construction, whether or not the codes are locally adopted or enforced) and 3 are "permissive" (i.e., only applicable if a local government chooses to adopt and enforce one or more of these codes). Since Georgia law gives the mandated codes statewide applicability, cities and counties are not required to and, in fact, should not adopt the actual codes themselves in order to enforce them. 5 Local governments should only adopt administrative procedures that authorize local enforcement of the state-adopted mandatory codes. However, local governments are empowered to choose which of the mandatory codes they wish to enforce locally. State Minimum Standard Codes The eight construction codes are mandatory (see Table 1), and any structure built in Georgia must comply with these codes, whether or not the local government chooses to enforce these codes locally. 6 It is not necessary for local governments to adopt any of the mandatory state minimum standard codes because these codes have already been adopted as the official codes of Georgia by state law. However, in order to enforce any of the mandatory minimum standard codes, a city must adopt an ordinance or ordinances stating that it intends to enforce that code or codes. The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers 2

4 Table 1. Mandatory Codes International Building Code International Fuel Gas Code International Mechanical Code International Plumbing Code National Electrical Code International Fire Code International Energy Conservation Code International Residential Code a Note: All of the mandatory codes have Georgia amendments that are applicable statewide. a The General Assembly specifically omitted the plumbing requirements of the International Residential Code for Oneand Two-Family Dwellings. Therefore, the plumbing requirements of the International Plumbing Code and the electrical requirements of the National Electric Code must be used in one- and two-family construction. The three optional codes are available for city or county adoption and enforcement (see Table 2). Unlike the mandatory codes, in order for a city to enforce one or more of these permissive codes within its jurisdiction, the city must first adopt the code or codes that it wants to enforce, either by ordinance or resolution. The city must file a copy of the ordinance or resolution adopting a permissive code and authorizing its enforcement with DCA. 7 Table 2. Permissive Codes International Property Maintenance Code International Existing Building Code The State Codes Advisory Committee DCA's state codes advisory committee plays a major role in the review and periodic update of the state construction codes. This committee is made up of 21 members who are experts in the various codes and who are chosen to represent the diverse interests of citizens, builders, financiers, designers, city and county code enforcement officials, and other groups. The Georgia Safety Fire Commissioner and the Commissioner of the Department of Community Health or their designees are ex-officio members of the advisory committee. The commissioner of DCA appoints the remaining members. The state codes advisory committee uses task forces to assist in the review of new codes or proposed amendments to existing codes. A task force is made up of experts in a particular field, such as building, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, gas, housing, fire prevention, or energy. Codes experts in the Department of Community Affairs provide staff support for these task forces. State construction codes are reviewed, amended, and revised as necessary by DCA with the approval of the Board of Community Affairs. Code amendments to Georgia's codes may be initiated by the department or upon recommendation from any citizen, profession, state agency, political subdivision of the state, or the state codes advisory committee. New provisions and amendments or modifications of the state construction code requirements go into effect after approval by the Board of Community Affairs and upon filing with the Secretary of State in accordance with the state Administrative Procedure Act. The approval of the state codes The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers 3

5 advisory committee must be obtained before the proposed changes are submitted to the Board of Community Affairs. The board cannot alter the recommendations of the state codes advisory committee. It has two options: approve the recommendations as submitted by the state codes advisory committee or deny them and return them to the advisory committee. Administration and Enforcement of the State Minimum Standard Codes In order to properly administer and enforce the state minimum standard codes, cities and counties must adopt reasonable administrative provisions. These provisions should include procedural requirements for the enforcement of the codes, provisions for hearings and appeals from decisions of local inspectors, fees, and any other procedures necessary for the proper local administration and enforcement of the state minimum standard codes. Local governments are empowered to inspect buildings and other structures to ensure compliance with the codes, to employ inspectors and other personnel necessary for enforcement, to require permits and establish charges for such permits, and to contract with other governments for code enforcement. 8 Some cities and counties have mistakenly assumed that DCA has adopted the "administrative" chapter (chapter 1 of each code), thereby providing local governments with the administrative procedures required by the law. This assumption is incorrect. DCA has excluded the administrative chapters, and state law specifically allows local governments to adopt, by ordinance or resolution, any reasonable provisions or procedures necessary for the proper local administration and enforcement of the codes. DCA periodically reviews, amends, and/or updates the state minimum standard codes. If a local government chooses to enforce any of these codes locally, it may only enforce the latest editions adopted by DCA (along with the statewide amendments also adopted by DCA). DCA has developed both a sample resolution and ordinance that can be used as a guide for local governments in the development of their administrative code procedures. Cities should contact the Construction Codes Section at DCA for a copy of this sample resolution or ordinance and for any technical assistance needed in the development of a local code enforcement program. Appendices It should be noted that the Uniform Codes Act states that the appendices of the codes are not enforceable by a local government unless they are (1) specifically referenced in the code text adopted by DCA or (2) specifically included in an administrative ordinance adopted by a municipality or county. If any appendices to a particular code have been adopted by DCA, they will be noted in the Georgia amendments to that base code. Local Code Amendments The Uniform Codes Act allows cities to adopt local amendments to the state minimum standard codes under certain conditions. DCA does not approve or disapprove any local code amendment. The department only provides recommendations to the local government. However, in order for a city to enforce any local code amendment, the local government must submit the proposed local amendment to DCA for review and recommendation. 9 There are several requirements that local governments must meet in order to enact a local code amendment. These requirements are as follows: The requirements in the proposed local amendment cannot be less stringent than the The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers 4

6 requirements in the state minimum standard code; The local requirements must be based on local climatic, geologic, topographic, or public safety factors; The legislative findings of the city council must identify the need for the more stringent requirements; and The local government must submit the proposed amendment to DCA 60 days prior to the proposed local adoption and enforcement of any such amendment. After a local government submits a proposed local amendment, DCA has 60 days in which to review the proposed amendment and forward its recommendation to the local government. DCA may respond in three ways: recommend adoption of the amendment, recommend against adoption of the amendment, or have no comment on the proposed amendment. If DCA recommends against the adoption of the proposed amendment, the local governing body must specifically vote to reject DCA's recommendation before the local amendment may be adopted. If DCA fails to respond within the 60-day timeframe, the local government may adopt the proposed local amendment without any recommendation from the department. After adoption by the local governing authority, copies of all local amendments must be filed with DCA. Once the adopted local code amendment has been filed with DCA, the local government may begin local enforcement. No local amendment becomes effective until the local government has filed a copy of the adopted amendment with DCA. Code Enforcement Agency Code enforcement should be organized so that only an official directly concerned with enforcing city codes reviews the inspector's performance. 10 The following criteria have been identified for successful local code enforcement programs: 11 All code enforcement activity should be located in one code enforcement department/agency. Code enforcement should be the sole function of that department/agency. The code enforcement agency should have departmental status. The code enforcement administrator or building official should be responsible directly and exclusively to the person serving as chief administrative officer of the city. All code enforcement staff should be properly trained and/or certified. Permits and Inspections Upon adoption, the building codes are enforced through a system of permits and inspections. Anyone planning construction of alterations covered by city codes must first submit a set of plans and specifications to the city building inspector. If these plans meet city code standards and other development regulations (i.e., zoning), a building permit is issued. The permit allows construction to proceed on the condition that the approved plans must be followed. The local building inspector makes periodic inspections to monitor compliance. Personnel requirements for code enforcement vary with the size of the city, the volume of building activity, and the type of mandatory and optional codes being enforced. In larger cities, code enforcement may require a department with several full-time staff members, while small cities may choose to contract with a county or another municipality that has a code enforcement program or enter into an intergovernmental agreement establishing a joint code enforcement system. There are several good examples of joint code enforcement programs around the state. The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers 5

7 Regulatory Fees Local governments are authorized to charge regulatory fees (i.e., permit and inspection fees) to help defray the costs associated with code enforcement activities. However, no local government is authorized to use permit or inspection fees as a means of raising revenue for general purposes. Therefore, the amount of regulatory or inspection fees charged by a city must approximate the reasonable cost of the actual regulatory activity performed by the city. A sample schedule of permit fees based on the estimated cost of construction is recommended (see Table 3). 12 Codes Enforcement Training To assist local government inspection officials in their code enforcement responsibilities, DCA works closely with the International Code Council (ICC) and local training agencies to assist individuals looking for proper training. In addition, DCA provides on-site construction code technical assistance, information, and referral services to cities and counties. Information and Assistance For in-depth information and resources about Georgia s Construction Codes Program, including copies of the current state minimum standard codes and amendments, visit DCA s website at For more information or assistance, contact the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Codes and Industrialized Buildings Program, 60 Executive Park South, NE, Atlanta, GA , (404) , fax (404) , The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers 6

8 Table 3. Recommended Schedule of Permit Fees A. Permit Fees Total Valuation Fee Building Codes and Code Enforcement $1,000 and less $1,001 to $50,000 $50,001 to $100,000 $100,001 to $500,000 No fee, unless inspection required, in which case a $15 fee for each inspection shall be charged $15 for the first $1,000 plus $5 for each additional thousand or fraction thereof, to and including $50,000 $260 for the first $50,000 plus $4 for each additional thousand or fraction thereof, to and including $100,000 $460 for the first $100,000 plus $3 for each additional thousand or fraction thereof, to and including $500,000 $500,001 and up B. Moving Fee $1,660 for the first $500,000 plus $2 for each additional thousand or fraction thereof For the moving of any building or structure, the fee shall be $100. C. Demolition Fee For the demolition of any building or structure, the fee shall be 0 to 100,000 cu. ft., $50 100,000 cu. ft. and over, $0.50 per 1,000 cu. ft. D. Penalties Where work for which a permit is required by this code is started or proceeded prior to obtaining said permit, the fees herein specified shall be doubled, but the payment of such double fee shall not relieve any persons from fully complying with the requirements of this code in execution of the work or from any other penalties prescribed herein. E. Plan-Checking Fees When the valuation of the proposed construction exceeds $1,000 and a plan for the construction is required to be submitted, a plan-checking fee is required to be paid to the building official at the time of submitting plans and specifications for plan review. Said plan-checking fee shall be equal to one-half of the building permit fee. Such plan-checking fee is in addition to the building permit fee. a In eliminating the need for an applicant to state the value of the estimated construction cost, the Building Valuation Data Table, which is available from the International Code Council, may be used. b a Applies to permit fees for all construction, including alterations. b The Building Valuation Data Table represents average square foot costs for most buildings. Costs are based on national averages and include total design, inspection, and construction of the particular building and appurtenances. The table presents 18 occupancy categories, e.g., dwelling, church, office, restaurant, and retail store. Each occupancy is sorted into nine types of construction, for which there is a square foot construction cost. The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers 7

9 1 Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) Adapted from Howard Schretter and Jerry A. Singer, Institute of Government and Institute of Community and Area Development, University of Georgia, Athens, Memorandum to the Mayor and Council, Planning Commission, and Chamber of Commerce of the City of Dahlonega, Georgia, O.C.G.A. tit. 8, ch. 2, art. 1, pt O.C.G.A (9)(B). 5 O.C.G.A (a). 6 Code editions in effect as of January 1, The standard and Council of American Building Officials (CABO) codes are the same as the international codes. 7 O.C.G.A (b). 8 O.C.G.A (a). 9 O.C.G.A (c). 10 Richard L. Sanderson, Code and Code Administration (Chicago: Building Officials Conference of America Inc., 1969), Ibid, International Code Council, The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers 8

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