There seems to be a general lack of understanding about the building codes and the enforcement of codes. They are touted as the “final” word while at the same time they are known to be a “minimum standard” to which structures must conform.
Home inspectors are often chastised for quoting codes and most Home Inspectors do not put code references in their actual reports. I refrain from doing so myself. However, when pressed by a builder, I have no problem resorting to” public information” to support my opinions–whether it is the Building Codes or Manufacturer’s Instructions.
With many builders, it is not much of a challenge to win these arguments. Having been a builder for 33 years myself, there have been many opportunities to have interpreted the codes improperly or to have not even known the codes. This school of hard knocks approach to “learning” the codes helps me today in understanding how things get built out of compliance.
Of course codes change with the times, and they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction–so one must be VERY careful when citing any code on any given property. The language of any defect in the home is almost always “softened” with appropriate language like: “may not conform to current standards,” or that the installation is not: “typical of requirements in most jurisdictions at time of construction.” Some code requirements are more universal (covering all jurisdictions) and have clear-cut start dates as to when they became required. This would lead to wording in the report that might say that the item is “missing” as opposed to “may be missing” or would make a “good safety improvement.”
I once had an instructor in a code class make the following statement (or at least something close to this): “The code is not what you think it says, what you wish it says, what you hope it says, what someone told you it says—or even what you know it says. The code is just the code.”
I have since come to learn that this quote was a botched attempt at a quote by Seattle’s own Charlie Beck that actually said:
Charlie’s Rule of Technical Reading
It doesn’t say what you think it says, nor what you remember it to have said, nor what you were told that it says, and certainly not what you want it to say, and if by chance you are its author, it doesn’t say what you intended it to say. Then what does it say? It says what it says. So if you want to know what it says, stop trying to remember what it says, and don’t ask anyone else. Go back and read it, and pay attention as though you were reading it for the first time.
Copyright © 2005, Charles E. Beck, P.E., Seattle, WA
Either way, it was just a way of getting across that one has to be very careful “interpreting” the code–it is very easy to read it to say what one needs it to say.
Officially, “interpretation” of the code is left to the Jurisdictional Inspectors–they have the final say. Like any good referee–even when they are wrong they are still right. Resistance is futile as they say.
Of course, even among jurisdictional inspectors, there is almost always someone above the guy actually doing the inspections to appeal to–and sometimes that will work out alright for you–sometimes it won’t. Just remember that it is OK to be wrong–this is how we learn about the codes sometimes–especially the many nuances of the codes.
So now to the famous line that we have all heard–perhaps have even used: “But it passed all the Jurisdictional Inspections and I have the Certificate of Occupancy right here!”
Your version of this statement may vary, but they all amount to the same attempt to get across that there could not be anything wrong with the house because it passed all these various inspections.
Welcome to: JURISDICTIONAL INSPECTIONS 101.
If the jurisdictional inspectors spent the kind of time looking at homes that most home inspectors do, nobody would stand for what the permits would cost. In other words, the jurisdictional inspectors MUST rely on builders to know what they are doing. (No laughing in class please!) It is true nonetheless. In fact right on many permits it will say something to the effect that not only is the jurisdictional inspector not responsible for code violations that are missed but that it is the builder’s responsibility (actually whoever draws the permit) to build everything to “current regulations” at the time of permitting.
Now before everyone gets all up in arms at what a crappy job these guys do, let me remind everyone that we do get what we pay for.
For the jurisdictional inspector to “actually” do what we “think” they should be doing, it would likely cost at least 10 times as much as what a permit costs now. Permits are very IN-expensive when you really think about it.
In fairness to the jurisdictional inspectors, based on my many years of dealing with them, they ARE VERY GOOD AT CATCHING THE IMPORTANT STUFF IN MOST CASES. In other words they are pretty good at keeping builders from killing people. This is what you are paying for with the permit–not all the little nit picky code violations the Home Inspector finds after the CO is issued.
In a vary real sense, the fee of the lowly home inspector can be seen as part of the checks and balances of making the house safe for the public that we are unwilling to pay for in the purchase of the original permit.
The Jurisdictional Inspectors and the Home Inspectors are not to be seen as adversaries–but partners. And like all partners–there will be disagreements. It does not bother me in the least that sometimes I might be over ruled–as long as my buyer is being taken care of and they are getting the information they need to make the right decisions. This partnership is especially important as it relates to all those misguided folks that attempt to do things without permits. I know this is “America,” and it is our God-given right to avoid paying higher taxes, but the amount your taxes will increase will be nothing compared to what it might cost you to get that new addition to pass code after-the-fact.
Class, you have now graduated.
So when you get that famous line that the house has passed all “Jurisdictional Inspections,” you will have the appropriate response: “So what!”
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email!