Archive for the ‘Building Codes’ Category

Creative use of electrical boxes

March 11th, 2015 No comments

I was recently in Columbus, Ohio teaching a couple classes for a conference for OBOA and COCOA.  One of the attendees sent me a photograph of a magnetic door closer which I wanted to share with everyone.  He told me that the contractor did not have the extender rods so drilled his own holes in electrical boxes and stacked them up in an effort to make the wall magnet reach the door!  During the inspection, the door closer pulled the box out of its foam ‘mounting’.

It never ceases to amaze me that supposedly professional contractors would do something like this.  What horror stories do you have?  Submit them and I will post the best ones.  Photographs are always welcome.Door closer

Inspectors reach settlement in retaliation case

February 11th, 2015 1 comment

Moreno Valley, CA spent $1.2 million dollars in a settlement after employees alleged that they were retaliated against for following the law and pursuing code cases. A former building official and code compliance manager each received $600,000 after allegedly being fired  for carrying out code-enforcement actions involving building-code violations by a former councilman.

It’s important for an inspector to document attempts made to thwart him or her from carrying out official duties.   Emails, letters, notes regarding witnesses, and summaries of conversations may be useful at a later time. Even if an inspector doesn’t get a written reply to an email regarding a sensitive matter, being able to show that there was an attempt by the inspector to get guidance from a supervisor or a response from a governmental official may be valuable.  People often say dumb things in emails, never realizing that those types of communications are discoverable in a lawsuit.

German architect sentenced to jail after firefighter dies

January 18th, 2014 No comments

Criminal prosecutions are rare in the field of building code enforcement but when there is a high profile death that results from shoddy construction, indictments do happen.  Recently in Los Angeles, A German architect/contractor was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a firefighter. The architect designed his own mansion and told the building department he wasn’t going to include any fireplaces in the 12,000 square foot structure.  But, then he changed his mind:

Days after Becker was permitted to move in, a fire awoke him and his girlfriend at night. After the fire, authorities determined that Becker built long, natural-gas fire pits meant for outdoor use into the interior of his home. He’s accused of gross negligence for building the frame of the fireplaces with combustible materials, instead of materials such as brick, and for not building any firebreaks inside the walls.

The judge ultimately gave the architect 1 year in jail of which he will serve about 6 months.  This is not unusual as defendants usually get credit for good behavior while in jail.  Firefighters were angry the defendant didn’t receive a maximum 4 year sentence but the judge said  he was concerned that “responsibility for the fire could be shared, because safety inspectors had failed to find the illegally installed fireplaces.” However, evidence showed that he made these changes after the final inspection and even disconnected sprinklers.
I have often found that judges know very little about how the inspection process works.  Code officials know that they have little control over owners once the certificate of occupancy is issued.  Too many owners create dangerous conditions because they don’t want to spend the necessary money to do things right.

Cycle of complacency and outrage continues

April 24th, 2013 No comments

In my last couple of Tweets, I pointed inspectors to articles involving the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West Texas and a tragic fire in England.  It’s a shame we wait until people die before there is interest in better prevention and regulation.  It’s human nature to cut corners to save money which is why we need consistent oversight to prevent these foreseeable tragedies.  After these terrible events which catch the attention of the public, we always see a flurry of enforcement but eventually that fades until the next preventable occurrence. These are opportunities though to educate the public and why safety inspections are so important.

Compliance Connections assists inspectors

April 16th, 2013 No comments

The Illinois Association of Code Enforcement group does a lot of informative programming for its members.  Recently I had the pleasure of attending a day of training and learning more about Compliance Connections which is a division of Safeguard, one of the largest service companies that take care of properties for lenders.  I first wrote about Compliance Connections last year after learning about it from inspectors in Minnesota.  Everyone has a horror story about the lack of involvement by lenders and service companies used by them but I think some real progress has been made recently.  The inspectors I work with have had success using this website (which is a free service) to get grass cut or trash removed.  However, the company only addresses vacant property issues due to potential litigation with property owners so there are restriction.  In addition, privacy laws sometime restrict service companies from contacting inspectors when a problem with the property arises.

Inspectors can use Compliance Connections to notify a servicer about problems on the property.  Compliance Connections should respond and the inspector will get notified about a plan for correction as well as the lender.  It can also be used to send information on outstanding bills (e.g. for cutting weeds) so that the municipality gets paid.

The speaker, Heather Lazar (phone 1-800-852-8306 x 1500) encouraged inspectors to report contractors to Safeguard who violate local ordinances by working without the proper permits.  Safeguard doesn’t actually do the work required but relies on local contractors.  If a contractor doesn’t follow Safeguard’s rules, the company may be excluded from future work.  Other people to contact when there is an issue using Compliance Connections are Michael Halpern 1-800-852-8306 x 1392 and David Mazanek 800-852-8306 x 1261.

Safeguard will pay for 8 scholarships for inspectors to the AACE conference in Oklahoma City, OK which starts October 30, 2013.




HUD contact for property management

February 14th, 2013 No comments

One of the inspectors I work with shared this with me about contact information for a property management company taking care of properties for HUD.

HUD has established a contract with PK Management Group c/o Prescient, Inc. to do property management of all HUD properties. The Florida office contact number is 305-854-1711.

I hope this will be useful to you.  I have been preoccupied lately with planning to move my office.  I will let my readers know all of the particulars as the time gets closer.  The contact information will hopefully remain the same.

Home owners gone rogue

December 12th, 2012 No comments

Recently I was interviewed by MSN Real Estate for an article on working without a permit.  The article just appeared online entitled “When Homeowners Go Rogue”.  It’s a very thorough article about the dangers of working without a permit, hiring unlicensed contractors or failing to research a property before buying it.  Much of the article is based on my interview with Marilyn Lewis, the author, and it mentions my book, “The Building Process Simplified”.  It may be a worthwhile article to disseminate to the public in your local jurisdiction.

Code enforcement and cannabis

November 6th, 2012 No comments

Santa Barbara is a wonderful place for a code training.  I was lucky enough to be invited by the California County Building Offiicials Association to teach Legal Aspects of Code Administration on September 24th.  I really enjoy traveling around the country because I learn so much.  One of the big problems the building officials are facing in California are houses used for growing marijuana.  There are a lot of mom and pop operations because of California’s approach to medical marijuana.  Some unscrupulous individuals rent vacant houses, never letting on that they are not going to live in the house, and then fill it with plants.  The electrical system is compromised with all of the power needed for such an operation and the owner is left with a big mess when the perpetrator moves on or is arrested.  I wonder if anyone has ever used the zoning ordinances to prosecute anyone for illegal home occupation?

Expired building permits

September 27th, 2012 4 comments

One of my pet peeves are building permits that don’t have a set expiration date.  Most of the building codes have their permits expire 180 days after no work is done.  However, this leaves open the potential for a permit to last a long time.  For example, if a person pounds in a couple of nails every other month, it would be tough to prove in court that the permit expired.  Recently, inspectors in my area did a survey to see what various jurisdictions did with permit expirations.  I particularly liked Crystal Lake, IL’s approach.  A permit for commercial construction lasts 1 year and a residential one lasts 6 months.  In addition, there is a provision for a special permit with specific conditions.  That would be very useful in a situation where a builder has been remiss in moving a project along.  Recently, I had a case where as a condition of a sentence, the defendant agreed to a timeline of construction.  It was not part of the permit because there was no provision for such a thing.  It would have been helpful if the permit could have been issued with specific deadlines.  The Crystal Lake ordinance also has provisions for extensions.  I would rather see a set expiration date with a possibility of an extension rather than have to guess when a permit expired.

Tough enforcement of building codes critical to prevention of damage

August 22nd, 2012 No comments

A recent article by an insurance group discusses how important it is to enforce tough building codes. As an example, it uses Hurricane Andrew.  Insurance companies like tough enforcement because it saves the industry money.  On a more personal level, it decreases the amount of destruction done to people’s homes and property by major weather events.

Multiple studies have been conducted which demonstrate the positive impact of modern, engineering- based building codes on the performance of residential homes during a severe high-wind event. Among them are: an IBHS study conducted following Hurricane Charley (2004); it found that adoption and enforcement of modern building codes reduced the severity of residential property claims by 42% and the number of residential property claims by 60%; and,

•      a study commissioned by the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), which found that, if states in hurricane-prone areas had begun adopting and enforcing modern building codes in 1988, wind-related property losses could have been reduced by nearly $13 billion dollars.

Unfortunately, not all states have adopted minimum standards. The question is, why not?



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