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Building codes

MALCOLM TAYLOR | Posted in Building Code Questions on

I often see posters refer to building in areas with no codes. Here in Canada, although we have areas in which there are no permits or inspections, the building codes are enacted to cover the whole of each province or territory. People building in areas where the codes are not enforced have the same obligations to follow them as elsewhere.
Are there areas in the US where there are no codes and you are free to build as you like?

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Yes. Many rural areas are free of building code enforcement.

    In Vermont, outside of Burlington (and perhaps one or two other towns), the residential building code is totally unenforced.

    I worked for many years as a builder in northeast Vermont, and I never met a building inspector in all of those years. Most towns where I worked did not require a building permit. I only pulled a permit once -- for a garage in Danville back in the 1980s -- and I think I paid $10 for the permit. I asked the town clerk, "Do you want to see the plans?"

    She answered, "No. You paid your $10, so you are all set."

  2. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #2

    In the US there is no single overarching national building code- it's managed by state & local governments. Most states have statewide codes covering at least some aspects of construction (but not necessarily all), often with local county & municipal amendments. Vermont is one of the least code-encumbered states in the US, but there are others.

    Sometimes mortgage lenders will place requirements on the building when there is limited or no state & local mandates or oversight.

  3. Expert Member

    Thanks Martin and Dana,
    I guess my question is a bit narrower. We have large areas without enforcement or permits too, but the code as legislation covers the whole province. The preamble says owners are responsible for meeting its requirements - that would be whether they are enforced or not. I just wondered if your situation was different. No obligation where no enforcement.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    We have both situations in the U.S.

    For many years, there were many areas in the country without any residential building codes. Then the federal government provided incentives to states with strings attached -- strings compelling states to adopt energy codes. The federal government has not required states to develop any enforcement mechanisms.

    In Vermont, the only statewide residential code right now is an energy code. Compliance is voluntary.

    What that means is up to the lawyers. I suppose if Mr. & Mrs. Smith buy a house from a builder in a rural area, they might try to sue the builder if they discover that the house doesn't meet the (unenforced) code. So builders have to think about how they build.

  5. exeric | | #5

    Malcolm, you asked a really good question. It's always surprising how much a well thought out question leads to illumination. The answer to your question really changes my feeling about buyer education versus code enforcement. In a busy metropolitan center there really isn't a good excuse to not have strict code enforcement. But the bottom line is that building is mostly still an honor system. So buyer education about the character of your builder will always play an important role. It often just isn't possible to be educated on every aspect of the build as it's in process, so assessment of character is a good talent. Of course, that applies to current builds and not all the old stock of housing in a region.

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