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State Building Code Considerations for Cities

By Bradley D. Bail (PE)

In 2008, Minnesota’s State Building Code (SBC) was Two men in construction hats frame a building.established as the minimum construction standard throughout the state. The intention was to provide a set of criteria that ensures public welfare and protects the investments of property owners and financial institutions.

A uniform statewide building code offers a long list of benefits, including consistency of construction standards; safe construction practices and materials; improved value for owners, financial institutions, and secondary mortgage markets; and reconstruction standards for insurers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to use during a disaster.

Advantages of enforcement
The law does not mandate local enforcement of the code unless it is adopted as a local ordinance. As a statewide standard, the SBC is in force regardless of whether a community adopts it or not. However, by adopting the SBC as an ordinance, the local government is accepting responsibility for administering and enforcing it. Such a move comes with a number of direct advantages for your city such as:

  • Keeping residents happy. Providing code administration services at the local level is another avenue for serving your residents well and maintaining satisfaction.
  • Increasing efficiencies. There is efficiency in integrating other construction-related obligations, including contractor licensing, design standards, accessibility codes, fire protection codes, elevator requirements, and plumbing and electrical codes.
  • Reaping insurance benefits. The National Insurance Services Organization may factor in such an ordinance when considering reduced property insurance rates within the community.
  • Improving funding opportunities. Consistent standards may improve state and federal grant and loan partnerships.

There are also indirect benefits, such as helping to reduce blight, preserving the quality of local building stock, and maintaining property tax value within the community. In addition, by attaching a fee for service, it could be self-funding with minimal impact on your general fund.

Ensuring success
Adopting the SBC as local ordinance can have its disadvantages, too. Additional services provided by the city usually means additional bureaucracy. The city would also be taking on the added duty to administer the code. And not all citizens will see such added regulation as valuable.

To be successful—that is, to ensure consistent compliance—such an ordinance would require broad support. Sharing information with constituents will help them understand the benefits and needs while also encouraging buy-in.

Building inspection services
If the benefits to your community outweigh the pitfalls and your city chooses to take on this responsibility, you will need to hire or contract with a building official. There are a few different ways to obtain building inspection services, including:

  • Hire a building official as an employee. Under this option, the city has direct access to and oversight of the employee as well as the responsibility to set up a functional building department in city hall. Depending on your needs, this employee should be a “certified building official” or a “certified building official-limited.”
  • Hire a building official by contract. This method allows the flexibility to re-evaluate the services provided on a yearly basis.
  • Retain a private consulting firm to provide the services of a building official and department. This provides the same benefits of contracting with an individual, but gives you access to additional professionals and support staff as needed. It is usually used when a more detailed service is desired or when the volume of work may exceed the capability of one individual.
  • Share the services of a building official with another governmental entity. This can be accomplished by contracting services through a joint powers agreement. This option can usually be considered when an adjacent municipality has already adopted the code and has adequate staffing levels to deal with the additional workload.

While some cities have already adopted the SBC as a local ordinance, others may still be weighing the pros and cons. For more information, contact the Department of Labor and Industry, Construction Codes and Licensing Division, at (651) 284-5012 or (800) 657-3944, or visit www.dli.mn.gov/CCLD/Regional.asp. While you’re there, look near the bottom of the page for another link to an excellent resource entitled Minnesota State Building Code Adoption Guide.

Bradley D. Bail, PE, is a civil engineer and vice president with Widseth Smith Nolting & Assoc., Inc. (www. widsethsmithnolting.com). Widseth Smith Nolting is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).

Read the January-February 2014 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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