Report of the NYSBOC Technical Committee
Uniform Code: Minimum Standards for Administration and Enforcement
The NYSBOC Technical Committee met on January 24, 2003 at the Fire Academy in Montour Falls to review the proposed Uniform Code: Minimum Standards for Administration and Enforcement, 19 NYCRR Part1203. Attached is a copy which we have marked up to include recommended changes. Below is an explanation of those proposed changes.
Where the Standards were broad and general statements of authority and responsibilities, the Committee felt they would serve code officials well as guidelines and as a basis from which to cite authority. In places such as in 1203.3 (a) 2, however, the Standards went into considerable detail regarding exactly how the local code official’s office should be run in terms of documentation to be required and procedures to be followed. In these cases the requirements were often unnecessary, inconsistent with the practices of some well run offices, needlessly cumbersome, and, perhaps of greater concern, created a legal mine field for code officials who may find themselves in litigation at some time in the future.
The second sentence of Section 1203.3(a)(2) starts out, "An application form for a building permit shall request sufficient information to permit a determination that the intended work accords with the requirements of the Uniform Code…". This is all that needs to be said in the regulations. It confers clearly and simply the authority and the responsibility to require whatever documentation the code official may find to be necessary in order to determine that a project is code compliant. The sentence in 1203.3(a)(2) goes on, however, to say "…and shall require submission of the following information and documentation." and goes on to list required information, some of which goes without saying, some of which might be inappropriate in many cases, and some of which might be unnecessary in all cases due to the procedures adopted by a particular building department. A site plan for an interior renovation is almost never necessary; a second set of plans is unnecessary where a department uses a text plan review in lieu of "marked up" plans, etc. We (code enforcement officials in New York) represent a broad and diverse spectrum of communities – small villages and hamlets, rural towns suburbs and big cities, residential bedroom communities and commercial centers, historic villages and shopping malls. Each department has developed its own techniques for achieving compliance and they often vary depending on the scale and nature of the project. The information required from a neighborhood resident proposing to build a carport on the weekends will be very different from that required from a major developer proposing a 750,000sf shopping mall. The end product – compliance with the Uniform Code – will be the same; the approach to achieving that compliance will and should be different.
Many of our code enforcement officials have either found themselves in court defending some action of their office or one of their boards, or spending countless hours in their offices responding to questions and compiling documents for their attorney. More often than not these cases focus not on a substantive point, but rather on details of law, regulation and procedure. It is not uncommon for some minor procedural mistake to become the essence of a case seeking to demonstrate incompetence and mismanagement and to overturn an action of a code official. From that perspective a proliferation of detailed requirements simply creates a minefield through which code officials will have to navigate in the future.
In summary, keep the regulation simple, convey the authority and responsibility necessary to get the job done, and leave the building departments the discretion necessary to achieve voluntary compliance effectively and efficiently in their communities. That will work best for us and for the communities that we serve.
That being said the Committee recognizes the many building departments would value guidelines and pointers on how to better operate their departments, sample forms and regulations that they could simply customize for their office, useful references, and tips from other departments about things that have worked well for them or, conversely, things they have tried that have caused problems. A handbook for building departments compiled jointly by Department of State, NYSBOC and code officials from across the State of best practices for different size departments from different type communities would be both useful and, I suspect, very welcome. It would accomplish the purpose of assisting departments to improve their operations without hamstringing them with inappropriate or needless regulation.
Some more specific comments along the lines of the general points made above include: 1) requiring building permits to be visibly posted [1203.3(a)(8)] is a little like prohibiting removal of mattress tags; simply requiring the permit be kept on site and produced on demand would work better for us. 2) There is no need to include the Education Law by reference [1203.3(a)(3)(a)] as this law already applies to municipalities enforcing the code and including it by reference calls into question Labor Law, Sanitary Code, DEC regulations, etc. which similarly apply to municipalities enforcing the code, but which were not included by reference. 3) Different departments have different ways to handle their inspection reports [first sentence of 1203.3(b)(3)] some of which will fit this requirement and many equally effective ones will not; the second sentence addresses a substantive point, however. 4) Stop work orders [1203.3(c)]are one of a number of ways to address work performed contrary to the code and is more often than not a last resort; changing the shall to may permits the code official to pick the best approach for the situation. On the committee, most of the members provide a reason for a stop work order, but do not feel compelled to list conditions for resumption of work at the time of issuance. Often those conditions are a matter of discussion once the work has stopped. 5) The second sentence of [1203.3(d)(1)] potentially creates real problems for code officials who are trying work with the common situation of a business or home which, for practical reasons, must continue to be occupied during the time when work is ongoing. These situations must be worked out individually to meet the needs of the owner while protecting the safety of the occupants. A sentence like the one proposed unnecessarily ups the liability for the municipality trying to work with a constituent and unnecessarily restricts the options. 6) Much of the information listed to be included on all certificates of occupancy [1203.3(d)(2)] is not relevant for many projects – carports, site work, garden sheds, residential improvements, etc. and some of this information is better kept elsewhere in the file. 7) Many municipalities use "conditional" as well as or instead of "temporary" certificates of occupancy [1203.3(d)(3)] and, in the same section, deleting "which has been installed" clarifies the sentence. 8) Adding "or electric equipment" to the of fire department notification items in 1203.3(e) makes this section consistent with current practice in many districts where it is considered a minimum standard in terms of public safety.
In addition to the changes noted above, the Committee took strong exception to 1203.4. It does not seem to strong to say this is a real thumb in the eye of code enforcement officials. This reporting requirement has traditionally been part and parcel of the 54-g reimbursement. We have fought long and hard for the restoration of 54-g funding including having a bill passed unanimously by both the Senate and Assembly. Money from 54-g is intended to help municipalities offset the costs of implementing their code enforcement program. To the extent that the State is providing to the municipalities these reimbursements, it is not unreasonable for the State to ask that the municipalities account for the funds in the sense of reporting exactly what they are accomplishing with the funds. To the extent that the State withholds these funds, collected specifically for the purpose of reimbursing municipalities for their code enforcement programs, from the municipalities for which it was originally intended, the State has no right to expect the municipalities to undertake the additional costs and effort of preparing annual reports. Adding to this section, "Failure to produce the requested materials shall permit an inference that the minimum standards of this Part have not been met.", appears to the Committee literally to add insult to injury.
NYSBOC Technical Committee
Ben Curtis, Chairman