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Permitting and Building Inspections: Navigating Through Municipalities as a Commercial Builder

It has been said many times through the trades that the Building Inspector is “always right” or “make sure and don’t piss the inspector off”. While some of these things may end up being true in some cases, this should not be the norm. It’s ok to disagree with the inspector and even at some points have a little push back on items that you may be confused by. The key here is to do your homework and make sure you find exactly in the code what you might be having issues with. This way you can respectfully present the item to the inspector so that they might see the issues. At the end of the day, the inspector and the Building Department are there to help and make sure that projects inside their jurisdiction are built correctly and safely so that they may last and be used for the common good of the public. As long as you stay as transparent and respectful as possible, dealing with municipalities might be able to go into your opportunities on the project instead of your risks.

By: Ross Sherrod

Every General Contractor has a story of the difficulties that can arise while dealing with municipalities through the permitting and building inspection process. Though some of these stories may be humorous, it’s usually best to try to get ahead of or work around these issues to maximize production and minimize impacts on the project schedule. Here is a guide from a former Building Inspector and now Project Superintendent in the Self Storage Industry to help cut down on some of the issues and fast-forward production.

Knowing Your Municipality

In the beginning steps of the project, it is important to get to know who you will be working with. If possible, it is usually best to schedule a face-to-face meeting with the Building or Community Development Department you will be working with. Most municipalities want to feel involved and a part of the project that you are bringing into their town so the most transparent that you can be in the early stages might serve well later in the project. Being overly nice, showing interest in the towns development, and attempting to get to know the department employees on a personal level are all ingredients to a strong working relationship.

Tools to Help Interpret the Code

CodeCheck

The most helpful tool that I have seen to assist in the most commonly used code items is the Code Check Book. It’s almost like a cheat sheet for codes that you might see on a daily basis when on the project site. The IBC is an extremely large book with thousands of code items and does not include very many codes for MEPs that you might find in other large books. The Code Check Book has individual tabs for building codes as well as MEP codes that you can carry around in the field and assists in easily finding code numbers to look them up in more detail later if needed. Another great tool to use on the fly with a tablet or smart device is the International Code Council website. There you can search for codes by subject to easily find what you’re needing. Any resource that assists you in the field without the need to carry the voluminous IBC is a great tool.

Following the Intent of the Code

Most Building Inspectors or Building Officials realize how difficult it is to know and apply all codes at all times. There are some instances in construction and also in the code that allow for exceptions as well as stretching things just a little to make everything work and fit. Some of these instances is where your inspector may be ok with you following the intent of the code if it is not possible to actually follow the code itself. Often, if you can demonstrate your actions and their rationale, inspectors may be lenient, provided there is no compromise to structural integrity and safety.

What Should be Expected from your Municipality

It has been said many times through the trades that the Building Inspector is “always right” or “make sure and don’t piss the inspector off”. While some of these things may end up being true in some cases, this should not be the norm. It’s ok to disagree with the inspector and even at some points have a little push back on items that you may be confused by. The key here is to do your homework and make sure you find exactly in the code what you might be having issues with. This way you can respectfully present the item to the inspector so that they might see the issues. At the end of the day, the inspector and the Building Department are there to help and make sure that projects inside their jurisdiction are built correctly and safely so that they may last and be used for the common good of the public. As long as you stay as transparent and respectful as possible, dealing with municipalities might be able to go into your opportunities on the project instead of your risks.

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