rehab codes: overview » introduction » facilitative approach

Building inspectors are responsible for ensuring regulatory compliance and building safety, and in this role can have a great deal of discretion in the interpretation and application of building codes. Proper training of inspectors and adoption of a cooperative approach to code enforcement help to create an environment that facilitates and encourages the rehabilitation of older structures.

Click on the links below to learn more about code enforcement techniques that complement the goals of rehab codes:

Train officials to be familiar with new rehab codes
Building inspectors are at the front-lines of building code implementation. If they are not familiar with the standards and requirements in new rehab codes, developers and building owners may have a difficult time realizing the benefits of these codes.

Cultivate a cooperative approach to code enforcement
A flexible approach to code enforcement can help achieve the goals of safety and affordability, while allowing builders to find reasonable solutions to code-related problems.

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Promote a facilitative approach to building code enforcement
When building inspectors take a flexible, cooperative approach to building code enforcement, reasonable solutions to rehabilitation challenges can be found without compromising building safety.

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Adopt a rehab code
New "rehab codes" intended specifically to guide the rehabilitation of existing buildings improve on conventional building codes by establishing a proportionate and predictable approach to the regulatory requirements associated with rehabilitation.

Click here to view other resources on rehab codes.

Train officials to be familiar with new rehabilitation codes

Code enforcement is a highly technical job that requires building inspectors to be well-trained and familiar with the regulatory requirements in place. To successfully transition to a new rehab code, building departments need to ensure staff is properly educated about code specifications and standards.

In areas where local adoption of a state-endorsed code is optional, a special outreach effort may be needed to encourage municipalities to

Photo credit: Robert Schoen, courtesy of Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation
take up the new system. As part of the 2009 North Carolina Rehabilitation Code, for example, the state unveiled a complementary website that contains materials to support outreach efforts about how the code can work in communities throughout the state.  Some online tools available free-of-charge include a PowerPoint presentation, case studies, and listings of training opportunities for building professionals to learn more about the code. Technical assistance to communities can also help ease the process of converting to a new rehab code, building familiarity and confidence in code interpretation.

For example, the N.J. rehab code, issued in 1998, substantially changed the rules of code enforcement in rehab projects. Rather than assessing necessary improvements on the basis of estimated project costs, the new system established a series of project categories, each of which is associated with its own set of regulatory requirements.

To help with the transition to this new system, the Department of Community Affairs offered an extensive training program to ensure code officials had the knowledge and familiarity needed to properly enforce the code. Day-long, mandatory briefings reviewed how to apply the code, while shorter, small-group sessions allowed participants to ask specific questions about individual projects. Licensed inspectors complete semi-annual continuing education requirements, ensuring that application of the code remains consistent.

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Cultivate a cooperative approach to code enforcement

Rather than enforcing codes in a narrow and rigid manner, building inspectors in some communities assume a more facilitative attitude towards code enforcement. Taking the approach of an "educator" rather than a "policeman," inspectors work with building owners and developers to make projects feasible, rather than penalizing them for noncompliance. One report cites the example of "sympathetic code officials" who "allowed renovations to proceed if it met the intent, albeit not the letter, of the code," such as stair risers that fall slightly short of the level required by the code. [1] Proper training and knowledge of code details help staff to more confidently make reasonable allowances, while still assuring the overall safety of the project.  Without adequate preparation, inspectors may "'go by the book' instead of properly granting variations where warranted." [2]

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[1] Barriers to the Rehabilitation of Affordable Housing, Vol. 1. 2001. By David and Barbara Listokin. Prepared for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research, pp. 84-85.
[2] Building Codes and Housing. [PDF] 2004. By David Listokin and David Hattis. Cityscape 8(1): 21-67, p. 36.