Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flywheel - Building codes - ABC’s of Avoiding Claims

If you have built, are building or planning to build there are likely times when you have wondered why building departments do the things that they do. Local jurisdictions that elect to handle building permits, yes you could live in a home that never had building permits and inspections, face the challenge of protecting the pubic safety and health (and now reducing the carbon footprint) as well as protecting against future liability. After the leaky condo crisis many municipalities have written bylaws and improved internal policies to reduce risk (some have not), which have led to builders and owners getting frustrated on the amount of red tape to work through. In future newsletters we will discuss the importance of codes, bylaws and keeping proper records and taking more responsibility as the owner. But for now we will start with a list prepared by Frank Cowan Company Ltd (who specialize in risk management for municipalities), which outlines what a Building Inspector should do to avoid claims and it may shed some light on why they do the things they do or could do better.

Avoid acting as a consultant

Be aware of changes to construction, which may require revised plans.

Communicate to potential new buyers any outstanding orders or open permits.

During inspection, document deficiencies, issue orders when necessary and follow-up to ensure compliance.
Ensure drawings are sealed by an architect or professional engineer where appropriate.

Files and records should be kept in accordance with the Statue of Limitations.

Get to know your builders. Which ones will follow the building code and which ones will take short cuts.

Have procedures for consistent plan reviews.

Inspections completed today will need to stand the test of time. Remember the subsequent owner.

Judges rely on documentation to formulate a decision. What will your documents reveal about the inspection?

Keep you documentation consistent and objective. Checklists will allow you to do this. It is also an excellent tool to ensure a complete inspection.

Liability for negligent building inspection arises at the plan approval stage and the on-site inspection stage.

Municipalities that make a decision to conduct building inspections are at law, held to owe duty to the individual property owners, future property owners and the public at large to properly review plans, issue building permits and conduct inspections.

Never admit liability.

Owner acting as the Builder is a potential red flag.

Plans submitted should be detailed enough to carry out a proper review. Do not expect less.

Qualified persons are required to prepare plans for building permits.

Remember to follow up on deficiencies found during permits.

Safety of the present owner, future owner and potential visitors to a property must be considered, particularly associated with an occupancy.

The building code is your bible. Refer to it when in doubt.

Understand that by the time a claim is made, the municipality may be the only defendant left to sue. Other parties may have gone bankrupt, may not exist or may not have liability policies that will respond.

Verify that all required documentation has been received before issuing a permit.

What length of time do you allow inactive permits to remain open? Why do you allow them to remain open?

X’pect a red flag when the contractor is working outside of his usual expertise or is a new builder.

You have the power to order work to be uncovered when it is covered before you’ve inspected.

Zero in on the aspects of construction within the Building Code that are related to health, safety and structural stability.

1 comment:

Pearse Walsh said...

I like your emphasis on the importance of focussing on items in the Building Code that pertain to health, safety and structural stability. There are other systems in the home that are very important from a safety perspective - electrical and gas - these are regulated by the Safety Standards Act and overseen by the BC Safety Authority - - in all locations except some of the larger urban areas, where the municpalities have this role. Gas and electrical installation work for new and renovation work must be done by licensed contractors who take out permits or by the homeowner, who also must take out a permit - for details go to the BCSA home page and click on the "Heads Up for Safety icon. The BC Safety Authority is very anxious to work much more co-operatively with building inspectors to ensure that all home construction work is done with all permits in place - building, electrical and gas. Ideally we would like to ensure that there is evidence the permits are in place when framing and/or insulation/vapour barrier building inspections are done - this can save major disruptions and cost that can result once the drywall is installed. We know this is not a requirement for a building inspector to check unless it is specifically included in a municipality's by-laws. We are planning to work with municipalities to encourage them to make this a requirement and to jointly explore ways this information could easily be sent to us. We are also open to exploring ways we can share information with building inspectors when we see situations in the field where we believe there is a concern related to the Building Code - working together we will all be more successful in ensuring that homes are safe for the families who live in them. Frequently we see situations where significant safety issue are discovered and sadly lots of time its subsequent owners of the homes who pay the price for the unsafe gas or electrical work done by a previous owner or handyperson renovator or in some cases a builder. There is a misconception out there that as long as a ticketed (certified or qualified) electrican or gas fitter does the work that is all that is needed - this is not correct - the tradesperson can do the work, but it must be done under the umbrella of a licensed contractor. There are two reasons for this - (a) the licensed contractor must be bonded and the BCSA can call in that bond to have unsafe installation work made safe and (b) in the case of electrical work the licensed contractor has a qualified person called a Field Safety Representative (FSR,) who has taken specific training on the Act and Regulations. This person is required to submit a declaration to the BCSA that all work is done to the requirements of the Act and related regulations. For further information contact Pearse Walsh, Leader Business Development, BCSA - e-mail or phone (250) 718-1958 or any of our BCSA offices - contact information is on our website.

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