When the county commissioners suggested that a property owner may be given the option of using the county to verify building code compliance, people started losing their minds. The fear mongering was cranked to 11 and all kinds of ridiculous claims were presented. Good policy rarely results from bad information so let’s examine the facts.
Presently if you want to build or significantly remodel a structure larger than 200 square feet you need to take your checkbook to the community development department where three things will happen. First, your project will be reviewed for compliance to the zoning ordinance (type, setback, height, etc.) and you’ll pay a fee based on the value of the project.
Second, the plans are reviewed for structural and compliance to the current building codes.
Third, the structure itself is inspected during construction for compliance to the building codes. At the end of the process the owner is issued a Certificate of Occupancy.
Even though the county has reviewed the plans and inspected the construction, the owner has no recourse if the county makes an error or omission. If the county makes a mistake or misses a key structural component and the building collapses (it has happened) the owner better have insurance because the county can’t be held liable.
If, on the other hand, you hired a licensed engineer and a private code compliance inspector and they made a mistake, then you would have legal recourse and they likely have insurance for just such an occurrence.
Commissioner Eberlein’s proposal to have a simplified site only permit option, with the owner taking responsibility for code compliance, would allow a small portion of the massive burden of regulation to be moved from “REQUIRED” to “Optional.” This ONLY applies to property owners in the rural area who wish to improve their own property. Electrical, plumbing, HVAC and fire requirements and state permits remain unchanged. Contractors would still need formal inspections. Making county verified code compliance an option for the land owner is good policy.
Presently if an owner/builder wishes to erect a pre-engineered, pre-fabricated steel building they must still incur the costs and delays of having the engineered plans AGAIN reviewed and the building inspected. This adds no value or safety to the structure. Plan checks and inspections are currently required even when not needed.
If a person wants to buy some land and clear a home site of trees and then mill those trees into lumber, they can’t use that lumber in their county permitted home because it isn’t stamped by a lumber inspector.
By forcing the property owner to use the county’s code compliance verification, the county is exposing the property owner to an uninsured liability because the county can’t be sued when they make a mistake.
The landowner should have the authority and responsibility of determining code compliance. The county should offer the service of verifying code compliance as an option to the landowner. The landowner should also have the option of using a professional inspector with an appropriate license. Also, if the landowner is knowledgeable they may wish to do their own inspections to verify code compliance. Of course there would be no legal recourse if they made a mistake, but that is exactly the situation now.
There are multiple advantages to Commissioner Eberlein’s proposal:
• The owner/builders in the unincorporated areas of Kootenai County would have the option of avoiding the cost and delays associated with the county’s process.
• The landowner could hire a private inspector for timely service and have legal recourse if there is an error or omission.
• Local area licensed professional inspectors would enjoy more business.
• The burden to the taxpayer to underwrite inspection efforts would be reduced (yes, it costs more than the fees they collect so we are on the hook for the balance).
• The citizen in Kootenai County would enjoy a little less government regulation and a little more privacy.
We all talk about reducing regulation and shrinking government. Here is our chance to make a very small step in that direction.
Brent Regan is a Coeur d’Alene resident.