Effective enforcement of the building code can help prevent properties from becoming dilapidated in the first place and provide remedies for repair and demolition if a property is not properly maintained. The WVSBC combines several different code standards to form one uniform statewide building code. If a community decides to adopt the WVSBC, the community must adopt it in one of the following manners: 1) adopt all parts of the WVSBC, which consists of 11 different codes; 2) adopt only the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) without adopting the rest of the WVSBC; or 3) adopt all of the WVSBC except the International Property Maintenance Code. Local governments are given interpretation and enforcement authority over the adopted codes in their respective jurisdictions.
The WVSBC was enacted in 1989 and became effective in 1990. 2 All building or housing codes that were in effect prior to the creation of the WVSBC are no longer valid in West Virginia. 3 Local governments are not required to enforce the WVSBC. However, no other code provisions pertaining to building construction, repair, or maintenance may be enforced in West Virginia. Prior to the enactment of the WVSBC, multiple regional building and housing codes were utilized, creating confusion as to which standards applied in different jurisdictions.
The WVSBC is administered by the State Fire Commission. The State Fire Commission is tasked with establishing rules and “standards considered necessary for the safeguarding of life and property and to ensure compliance with the minimum standards of safe construction of all structures erected and renovated throughout the state.” 4
Several code disciplines (e.g., mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and residential) are combined to form the state building code. For neglected properties, the IPMC may be the most applicable section of the WVSBC because it emphasizes the maintenance and upkeep of existing structures and properties.
- International Building Code 5
- International Plumbing Code 6
- International Mechanical Code 7
- International Fuel Gas Code 8
- International Energy Conservation Code 9
- International Residential Code 10
- ANSI/ASHRA/IESNA Standard 90.1-2007 Edition for Commercial Buildings
- International Existing Building Code 11
- National Electric Code 12
- International Property Maintenance Code 13
- ICC/ANSI A117.1-2009 American Standards for Accessible & Usable Buildings and Facilities
* The 2016 proposed version of the WVSBC also adopts the International Pools and Spas Code.
Notice to Fire Commission: A community must notify the State Fire Commission of its intent to adopt the WVSBC. 14 The State Fire Commission may conduct public meetings in each community that intends to adopt the WVSBC to explain its provisions. 15
Certified Personnel. A community must have certified personnel either on staff or contracted with the community in order to enforce the provisions of the WVSBC.
West Virginia State Building Code Certification
Individuals wishing to enforce the WVSBC may obtain certification in three overarching categories: 1) Code Official; 2) Code Inspector; and 3) Code Plans Examiner.
In general terms, a Code Official is the chief executive officer to administer and oversee the operation of a code department for local government. This individual is responsible for supervising employees who carry out the functions of code enforcement. Code Officials may only administer in the disciplines for which they are certified (e.g. a Code Official certified only in Property Maintenance may not enforce Fuel Gas provisions). The Code Offfical is responsible for the issuance of orders, permits, and other directives of the code department.
A Code Inspector is permitted to enforce the provisions of the discipline in which he or she is certified. For instance, a property maintenance inspector may inspect and examine properties for violations of the IPMC, write reports of conditions, issue notices of violation, etc. The Code Inspector’s findings are then taken to the Code Official for Orders and other actions based upon the condition of the property. The sole exception to this rule is for a “single person jurisdiction building code inspector,” which may act without a Code Official due to the limited size of the office.
A Code Plans Examiner is certified to review project documents and plans in a particular discipline to determine compliance with the WVSBC.
In order for a local government to enforce the provisions of the WVSBC, it must have an employee that is capable and certified by the West Virginia State Fire Commission. Certification typically involves taking courses and passing exams related to the code disciplines (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc.) that will be needed in a jurisdiction. Certification is valid for 3 years and each certified individual must complete 1.5 continuing education units (or 15 hours) each year.
- Provides uniformity and compliance with minimum standards of building construction and property maintenance
- Helps ensure the construction of safe buildings, protecting lives and personal property
- Codes utilize proven industry standards, including new technologies and commonly accepted construction practices and materials
- Helps counter effects of blight by improving property values and promoting economic revitalization
- Requires the community to allocate resources for enforcement, training, inspections, and possible legal costs
- Requires enforcement of all parts of the building code adopted by the community
- Building codes can be technical, complex, and not easily understood
- Misunderstandings about the building code’s purpose may lead to opposition to its implementation
- The code may not be enforced retroactively 16
Although a community’s code department should generate sufficient revenue to enforce the building code, that is often not the case. To increase revenue after adopting the building code, local governments should require a building permit for all new or substantially improved construction. Building permit fees for inspections and administrative work can offset enforcement costs. Note that a community may not issue building permits when it chooses to adopt only the IPMC. Therefore, communities that adopt just the IPMC will not generate this form of additional revenue to cover enforcement costs.
Other local sources of funding are available for the enforcement of the WVSBC, such as a community’s general fund. For instance, if a community identifies neglected properties as a top priority through its comprehensive plan process, elected officials should consider dedicating some of the general fund to adopting and enforcing the WVSBC.
In addition, a local government may place a lien against property for corrective action taken for violation of the WVSBC, including demolition costs. 17 However, there is no guarantee these liens will be collected and lead to additional revenue to offset the cost of the local government’s corrective action. For more information, see Section on Demolition Liens.
Regular inspections by code enforcement officers have proven to be one of the most successful strategies to prevent properties from becoming dilapidated. Our inspectors can frequently work out solutions with landowners before the property gets to the point where we have to spend money to tear a building down.
-Ryan Simonton, City Attorney, City of Morgantown, WV
Usage in West Virginia
Any municipality or county in West Virginia is permitted by state law to adopt the WVSBC18 According to the West Virginia State Fire Commission’s Office, as of June 11, 2015, 9 counties and 52 cities and towns in West Virignia had adopted the WVSBC. Of those 61 communities, only 7 chose to adopt only the IPMC. For a full list of communities in West Virginia that have adopted the WVSBC, see Appendix C.
Although one advantage of adopting the statewide building code is the uniform requirements, note that there are no exceptions in the WVSBC for low-income persons. In many situations, a property owner may want to repair property to conform to the building code but not have the necessary funds. Repairs may be further hindered when the property is the primary residence of the owner or a renter.
The end goal for building officials should be to correct violations and ensure safe building construction. In doing so, building officials should work with property owners to develop a reasonable timeline that reflects factors such as inability to pay for repairs or the fact that the property serves as a primary residence.
Identification & Notification Requirements
There is no set method for identifying a violation of the WVSBC. Often, violations are identified through a complaint-based system in which citizens contact building officials. Building officials might also identify violations while driving to and from an inspection site or by periodically driving through the community, conducting a “windshield survey.” 19 Once a violation is identified, building officials must then provide notice of the violation to the property owner.
Procedures for providing notice can be found in each of the different WVSBC codes. For example, the IPMC requires that a notice of a violation be in writing and include a description of the real estate, statement of violation, reason for issuance of the violation, correction order, notification of the right to appeal, and statement of the right to file a lien. 20 An owner who fails to comply with a notice of violation or order served under the IPMC must be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor or civil infraction. 21
As of February 2015, 38 of 50 states have provisions enabling or requiring state or local governments to adopt the IPMC. 22 All 50 states have enabled state or local governments to adopt the International Building Code, and all but one state has enabled state or local governments to adopt the International Residential Code. 23
Sharing Building Inspectors
Most communities in West Virginia have very limited resources, either in the form of financial resources or personnel. For many communities, hiring personnel or a certified third-party contractor to enforce the building code is not feasible. However, if the community establishes an agreement with another community to share a building inspector, costs for each participating community are lowered. For instance, County “A” works with City “B” and City “C” through a mutual agreement in which the building inspector spends a certain percentage of time in each jurisdiction and is paid a proportional amount from each community. This scenario can also alleviate the concern that one community may not have the need for a full-time (40 hours per week) building inspector but would benefit from having an inspector available for 10-15 hours per week.
The City of Summersville, county seat of Nicholas County, has a population of over 3,500 residents. Summersville adopted the WVSBC in 2009 and added the IPMC in 2012. The City typically issues between 200 and 250 building permits per year.
The City has one full-time code official, Ashley Carr, who enforces all WVSBC provisions within the City limits. Some of Mr. Carr’s daily duties include:
- Reviewing permit applications for planning and building department approval
- Conducting plan reviews for building code compliance
- Issuing building permits and approved plans prior to construction
- Answering any questions citizens might have regarding the WVSBC
- Conducting all required inspections throughout the construction process
Mr. Carr identified several benefits of adopting the WVSBC: having building, construction, and maintenance standards to reference; having a building code official to assist with questions pertaining to the code provisions; and having a certified code official to complete a plan review to prevent costly construction mistakes and job delays. Lastly, and most importantly, by adopting the WVSBC, a community can reduce risk of hazards and utilize proven standards and materials to ensure safety.
However, Mr. Carr is not acting alone with respect to the WVSBC in Summersville. As Mr. Carr explained, other city officials and the entire municipal staff work together towards promoting the future of Summersville, which includes the goal of property maintenance and safe building construction. For example, the Summersville Forward Committee, a volunteer group, has been working on a number of projects that aim to improve and revitalize Summersville’s central downtown business district.
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 29-3-5b(b) (West 2015).
- Id. (originally enacted as Fire Prevention and Control Act, ch. 114, art. 3) (stated that all building and housing codes in existence were void one year after enactment, in 1990); see Swiger v. UGI/Amerigas, Inc., 216 W. Va. 756, 759 n.13, 613 S.E.2d 904, 907 n.13 (2005).
- W. Va. Code R. § 87-4-8 (2013).
- Id. § 87-4-1.1.
- Int’l Bldg. Code (2012) (with a few minor exceptions noted in Series 4).
- Int’l Plumbing Code (2012).
- Int’l Mech. Code (2012).
- Int’l Fuel Gas Code (2012) (with a few noted exceptions).
- Int’l Energy Conservation Code (2012) (effective 2013).
- Int’l Residential Code (2009) (with noted exceptions).
- Int’l Existing Bldg. Code (2012).
- Nat’l Elec. Code (2011) (established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)).
- Int’l Prop. Maint. Code (2012).
- Id. § 87-4-7.1.
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 29-3-5b(i) (West 2015).
- Id. § 29-3-5b(a).
- Int’l Prop. Maint. Code § 106.3.
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 29-3-5b (West).
- Guide 1: Set the Directon with a Community Assessment, Nat’l Network of Libraries of Med., https://nnlm.gov/outreach/community/planning.html (last visited Jul. 23, 2015) (explaing that a windshield survey is when a person drives (or walks) around a community or area and records his or her observations).
- Int’l Prop. Maint. Code § 107.2.
- Id. § 106.3.
- International Code Council, International Code—Adoption by State (2015), available at http://www.iccsafe.org/gr/Documents/stateadoptions.pdf.