Monday, March 10, 2014

Guide To Virginia Maintenance Code. Is Virginia Code Retroactive?


The simple answer is that in most cases, Virginia Building Code is not retroactive. ONLY in the case of an imminent hazard can the government force you to bring a property up to currant code. Our politicians have been good to us by allowing these protections from rogue enforcement that would happen as a result of language that could have been made discretionary. Fortunately it wasn't.

And an imminent hazard would be defined as something that will certainly cause serious injury to an individual if it is not repaired, replaced, or whatever. I don't know a single property owner that would willingly and knowingly allow any imminent hazard to exist in or on any of their properties.

So what we've come down to is if there is anything that a Code Official is requiring you to do, ask yourself if it is an imminent hazard. If it is fix it immediately. Items such as adding a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet near water (bathroom or kitchen) would qualify as an imminent hazard due to the fact that if the item they have plugged in goes bad, the lack of a ground in old wiring will cause the person to get shocked by what they have plugged in. Another example would be a wire that they see is frayed and lost it's protective coating. A person could get electrocuted by something like that so clearly that would be an imminent hazard.

Also, If what was originally built is not in working order you will have to fix it. Everything must be maintained in good condition and in working order. If you decide to repair that broken item and the repair is "In Kind" meaning that you are using the exact same thing to replace what was damaged than you don't have to bring it up to today's code. However if you install something completely different, everything that you are working on will have to be brought up to today's code. There is value in keeping a house historically accurate.

If it is an issue where code is trying to make you add something to your property that doesn't qualify as an imminent hazard such as a bathroom vent or a window, or an anti hammer valve on old plumbing, etc,  you have the right to refuse to do so. Your property is essentially grandfathered in and if what is in question was built prior to code or was built to the code of the day than you have the choice to upgrade it or leave it as is.

Code enforcers like to quote Section 102.1 out of the Virginia Maintenance Code as an all inclusive statement that they can do whatever they want to you implying that the code has so much leeway that it is at their discretion no matter what it is. However that's not the case. Reading this "alone" would seem that way.

Section 102.1 states " . . . the purpose of this code is to protect the health, safety and welfare of
the residents
of the Commonwealth of Virginia, provided that buildings and
structures should be permitted to be maintained at the least possible cost
consistent with recognized standards of health, safety, energy
conservation, and water conservation, including provision necessary to
prevent overcrowding, rodent or insect infestation, and garbage
accumulation . . ."

The use of "health, safety and welfare of the residents” to encompass everything doesn't fly. The code is very clear that an imminent hazard must be found to make a property be brought up to a more recent code.  They can’t encompass anything they want as the law is very restrictive on what the purpose and scope of these inspections are. The statement above is from the code section “Purpose and Scope."

On the exact same page of the Purpose and Scope it dictates the Application of the Purpose and Scope. See page 5 of the Virginia Maintenance Code.

"Section 103 - Application of Code
103.1 General. This code prescribes regulations for the maintenance of all existing buildings and structures and associated equipment, including regulations for unsafe buildings and structures.

103.2 Maintenance requirements. Buildings and structures shall be maintained and kept in goof repair in accordance with the requirements of this code and when applicable in accordance with the USBC under which such building or structure was constructed. No provision of this code shall require alterations to be made to an existing building or structure or to equipment unless conditions are present which meet the definition of an unsafe structure or a structure unfit for human occupancy.
103.21 (where they say fire detectors are not required) Maintenance of non-required fire protection systems. Non-required fire protection systems shall be maintained to function as originally installed. If any such systems are to be reduced in function or discontinued, approval shall be obtained from the building official in accordance with Section 103.8.1 of the Virginia Construction Code.

103.3 Continued approval. Notwithstanding any provision of this code to the contrary, alterations shall not be required to be made to existing buildings or structures which are occupied in accordance with a certificate of occupancy issued under any edition of the USBC" (Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code).

So as you see above. The laws are very clear and very restrictive regarding to what degree that code enforcement enforces Maintenance Code. Virginia Politicians were looking out for us when this code was drafted as they understood that there is potential for widespread abuse by lower levels of government.

May God Bless the USA!


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