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Building Codes Enforcement

Mark Rice, Chief Building Official, City of Marietta
Last Updated: February 22, 2018
Building codes 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 building code enforcement a high priority for Georgia’s cities. Georgia’s State Constitution and general law give 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.
 

Building 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” (O.C.G.A. § 8-2-28). Therefore, in order for a city to have a building 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
  • 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 lives by preventing structural fires resulting from defective installation of materials or the installation of improper materials in existing and new buildings
  • 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.
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
  • establishing the foundation for a permit system
  • helping to prevent the creation of slums and thereby contribute to the maintenance of a stable tax base
  • helping to prevent the creation of blighted areas by the adoption and enforcement of blight ordinances
  • 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, 1991 (O.C.G.A. § 8-2-1(2)). 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 14 state minimum standard codes. There are nine mandatory codes and five permissive construction codes that cities may adopt and enforce (O.C.G.A. § 8-2-20(9)(B)). Each of the 14 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 nine of these codes are “mandatory” (i.e., applicable to all construction, whether or not the codes are locally adopted or enforced) and five 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 to enforce them (O.C.G.A. § 8-2-25(a)). 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 
Any structure built in Georgia must comply with nine mandatory construction codes (see Table 1), whether or not the local government chooses to enforce these codes locally. Note that the standard and Council of American Building Officials (CABO) codes are the same as the international codes. 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 five 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 the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) (O.C.G.A. § 8-2-25(b)).





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 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 (O.C.G.A. § 8-2-26(a)).

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 (O.C.G.A. § 8-2-25(c)).

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 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.
 

Building Code Enforcement Agency


Building code enforcement should be organized so that only an official directly concerned with enforcing city codes reviews the inspector’s performance. The following criteria have been identified for successful local code enforcement programs (Richard L. Sanderson, Code and Code Administration (Chicago: Building Officials Conference of America, 1969)):
  • 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 building code enforcement activity should be in one building code enforcement department/agency.
  • Building code enforcement should be the sole function of that department/agency.
  • All code enforcement staff should be properly trained and/or certified.
  • Proper funding should be provided for training and certifications.
Permits and Inspections
Upon adoption, the building codes are enforced through a system of permits and inspections. Anyone planning construction or alterations covered by city codes must first submit a set of plans and specifications to the city building official. 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 building 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, building 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 building code enforcement program or enter into an intergovernmental agreement establishing a joint building code enforcement system. There are several good examples of joint building code enforcement programs around the state.

Regulatory Fees
Local governments are authorized to charge regulatory fees (i.e., permit and inspection fees) to help defray the costs associated with building 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 (see Table 3 for a sample schedule of permit fees based on the estimated cost of construction). Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing permit fees are usually calculated based upon the number of fixtures or devices that are to be installed as a price per fixture or device.



Building Codes Enforcement Training
To assist local government inspection officials in their building code enforcement responsibilities, DCA works closely with the International Code Council (ICC), the Building Officials Association of Georgia (BOAG), and other state 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 and contact the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Codes and Industrialized Buildings Program, 60 Executive Park South, NE, Atlanta, GA 30329-2231, (404) 679-3118, fax (404) 679-0572, e-mail: codes@dca.ga.gov.
CONTACT
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