rehab codes: overview

How can "rehab codes" facilitate rehabilitation of older homes?

Rehab codes are special building codes designed to make it easier to renovate older homes, while ensuring that modern safety concerns are addressed. Traditional building codes often require that older buildings be brought into full compliance with current standards for new construction, even when a project calls for only moderate levels of rehabilitation. The additional renovations necessitated by these requirements -- such as the widening of staircases or raising of ceilings -- can significantly increase the cost of a proposed project without contributing substantially to greater safety, creating a disincentive to restore or modernize existing structures. Learn more about obstacles to renovation posed by traditional building codes.

To remedy this problem, a growing number of states and localities have adopted rehab codes that tailor compliance requirements to the type and extent of work planned. Created specifically to address redevelopment in older buildings, rehab codes keep regulation predictable and proportionate to the scope of the project, while still ensuring resident safety. With new home construction slowing, effective rehab codes will take on increasing importance.  The renovation of attractive, but dilapidated older buildings can be an excellent vehicle for stabilizing neighborhoods, providing mixed-income housing and sparking downtown revitalization.

What problems do "rehab codes" solve?

Rehab codes reduce the financial obstacles to rehabilitation posed by unrealistic requirements in building codes intended for new construction. Rehab codes also help to alleviate unpredictability in the development process by specifying which requirements are triggered by different types of redevelopment projects.

Without this sensitivity to the differences between new construction and the rehab of existing structures, buildings in need of moderate restoration can fall further into disrepair. Many foreclosed homes are in need of rehabilitation because home repairs are often the first expense to be cut when homeowners encounter financial difficulties.  In a weak housing market, these buildings can stay vacant for years, reducing the potential tax base, potentially increasing crime, and impeding neighborhood stabilization and community revitalization. In a stronger housing market, buildings that are allowed to completely deteriorate may eventually be
Solutions in Action
Dom Narodowy Polski
Photo courtesy of MB Properties

Dom Narodowy Polski Apartments in Chicopee, Massachusetts provide 50 units of affordable senior housing. Built in 1930 and renovated in 1982, the property is currently undergoing further renovations, including replacement of boilers with energy efficient models and a partial roof replacement.

Visit the Gallery to learn more about Dom Narodowy Polski Apartments.
torn down and replaced with newer, more expensive homes that are out of
reach of working families.

Finally, building codes that make renovation more feasible help to maintain the character of older homes and historic neighborhoods by facilitating the preservation of aging structures.  From an environmental perspective, the rehabilitation of existing buildings is an inherently "green" option since it utilizes existing structures and materials that might otherwise be demolished.  Click here to learn more about the environmental benefits of preserving existing housing stock. 

Where are these policies most applicable?

Not surprisingly, rehab codes are most applicable in communities with a significant supply of older housing stock, particularly in places with large numbers of vacant, foreclosed, or abandoned properties in need of repair. When rehabilitation is too difficult or costly, it can be difficult to bring these structures back into productive use.

Municipalities concerned about stimulating downtown revitalization and reducing the extent of sprawl on the urban fringe also may wish to consider the adoption of rehab codes; without these more flexible standards, developers may choose to focus on easier-to-build new construction on the edges of the community rather than potentially costly infill redevelopment projects.  Click here to learn more about infill development

Galen TerraceLearn more about rehab codes

Mandela GatewayGo back to learn about other policies that help Reduce Red Tape.