Non-compliance to local building codes may be an indication of negligence per se. While a building code cannot include all variables of building and site design, many of the most recognized site and building elements are covered by “code.”
Most governmental entities (cities, counties, etc.) adopt a specific building code or formulate specific documents created for that entity’s specific needs such as for street improvements, subdivisions and buildings. Prior to the year 2000, many variations of building codes were used throughout the United States but since that time, great effort has been put forth to combine the numerous and often conflicting building codes into what has become the International Building Code.
To understand code compliance, one must understand the areas of jurisdiction within the community. Public streets (generally referred to as “off-site”) are generally controlled by a Public Works Department or City or County Engineer. The control of these areas include the property within the “right-of-way” (generally from the back of sidewalk, across the street or roadway, to back of sidewalk, including all property within such as pavement, utilities, street lights, etc.). “On-site” refers to private property, that land and improvements typically owned and developed by non-governmental entities.
A problem then arises as to the control of the “on-site” property outside a building. Public Works departments generally have jurisdiction over all “off-site” property; however, a Building Department typically controls “on-site” development. A very common problem arises when building officials do not recognize or monitor site development outside the building. The comment is often heard, “We are building officials. We use a building code!” If one would diligently read the “building code,” yards, areas of refuge, “green belts” and such are included in building codes such as the International Building Code or their interpretive manuals. Essentially, the building code attempts to assure safety compliance within buildings AND safe egress to areas of refuge (typically a public street). In addition, the Building Departments generally review and approve “on-site” plans including private driveways, sidewalks, parking, etc. To deny any code or standard compliance is tantamount to negligence!
While I have argued this case many times, in defense, building officials typically and erroneously acknowledge a “no man’s land” where egress requirement for steps, ramps, lighting, etc. are not monitored by the “on-site” officials although clearly required by building codes! As a result, many trip/fall accidents could be prevented if adequate lighting, step and ramp design, and egress were provided AS REQUIRED BY CODE!
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