Rdn Alerts

Spring 2010 Building Inspection in the RDN

Spring 2010 Edition

Building Inspection in the RDN

Whats Inside
How Building Inspection Works for Homeowners
Green Building, Sustainability and Building Inspection
The Building Inspection Process
Upcoming Events
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Spring 2010 Edition

Building Inspection in the RDN

The Regional District of Nanaimo is considering the expansion of Building Inspection to cover all areas of the Regional District, with a proposed implementation date of April 1, 2011. Building Inspection has been provided in RDN Electoral Areas since 1972. The communities of Cedar, Extension, Gabriola Island, Nanoose Bay, French Creek and Nile Creek are all included within the Building Inspection service area, and the municipalities of Nanaimo, Lantzville, Parksville and Qualicum Beach provide Building Inspection separately within their municipal boundaries. In fact, almost all of Vancouver Island is covered by Building Inspection services, with the exception of some remote Vancouver Island communities, and some portions of Electoral Areas A, C, F and H within the RDN.

For a number of years the RDN Board of Directors has maintained its priority to introduce Building Inspection Building Inspection throughout the Region. This goal was reconfirmed in the most recent update to the Board’s 2010-2012 Board Strategic Plan "Integrated Solutions for a Sustainable Future", approved in October, 2009. At the direction of the Board, a number of initiatives have been undertaken to expand this service, but all have met with limited success. In order to truly make progress on implementing broad community visions and priorities in the Board Strategic Plan, it is recognized that Building Inspection is an essential tool. This publication will explain the many reasons why Building Inspection is considered a fundamental service for our regional district, and includes important information for homeowners on how the expansion of Building Inspection may affect you.

Working Toward a Sustainable Future

In 1994 the Regional District established its first Strategic Plan which set out a long term vision for the Region. Over the last 15 years this Plan has been updated and refined to respond to our changing environment. With the 2009 update, "Integrated Solutions for a Sustainable Future", the Plan now includes a renewed emphasis on implementation – doing the work now to build the resilience needed to thrive over the long term. Sustainability remains at the core of the Board’s decision making, and with this in mind the Board has identified four strategic priorities that touch on all aspects of work in the region: Climate & Energy; Watershed Health; Economic Resilience; and Monitoring & Adaption. The following pages will explain how Building Inspection can work as one of our most effective tools in advancing these strategic priorities.

How Building Inspection works for homeowners

Consumer Protection

It has been suggested that Building Inspection did not prevent the building envelope failures seen in "leaky condos" constructed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, the Barrett Inquiry on the matter clearly determined that systemic problems in the construction industry, such as inappropriate construction techniques, and materials not suited to the coastal BC climate, were primarily responsible for the problems faced by homeowners.

HPO Act

Changes have been made at the provincial level to address these issues, including introduction of the Homeowner Protection Act, mandatory warranty coverage, and changes to the Building Code. The HPO Act was established to work in-line with permitting and inspections by ensuring that no permit for house construction can be issued without registration by the Homeowner Protection Office (HPO), and warranty coverage.

Provincial Regulations

Building permits require that all new construction has the appropriate electrical and gas permits issued by BC Safety Authority.

This is similarly the case with other requirements from Vancouver Island Health Authority, Riparian Areas Protection, and Development Permit Areas. In all of these areas the permit process acts as a trigger for those and other requirements, as well as a proactive tool for ensuring compliance.

Fee for Service

The RDN has introduced an approach to funding Building Inspection whereby permits and inspection services are funded entirely (under RDN Board established policy) from permit fees. It is a user-pay model that does not rely on taxes. Expansion to the service will not be paid for by increased taxes.

There are also current and ongoing tax implications to residents both inside and outside of Building Inspection due to the enforcement costs involved with properties that are in violation of current regulations and community expectations. The RDN spends thousands of dollars on "after-the-fact" enforcement activities based on public complaints. Many of these violations and complaints would not be necessary if permits were required before construction was undertaken. Permits and inspections allow the RDN to take a proactive role in addressing community concerns in relation to construction and development.

Cost of Construction

There are significant financial costs to property owners not subject to permits and inspections. Part of the function of inspections is to confirm that construction meets minimum building, health, and safety requirements. Certification is provided by the occupancy permit issued at completion, and is relied upon by insurance companies, mortgage holders, and other agencies as proof of compliance with the applicable standards.

The building inspection process reduces the risk faced by lenders and insurance providers, and enables property owners to pay lower insurance premiums and mortgage rates. The financial saving over an extended period can be significantly more than any costs associated with the permit and inspection process.

Housing Affordability

A prominent concern about Building Inspection is its impact on housing affordability.

Two issues are often raised: that Building Inspection adds to the cost of construction, making it even more difficult for people to build a home; and that permitting and inspection creates a timeline for construction that prevents owner-builders from building a simple shelter to start, and gradually turning that into a home over time.

First, inspections do not add significant cost to construction. Permit and inspection fees are calculated at one per cent of the value of construction. There are of course existing requirements from other agencies that may be required regardless of whether or not permitting and inspection is required.

Second, the view that Building Inspection creates a timeline that prohibits an incremental approach to building is untrue. Local governments have the ability to choose how to administer the Code. It is possible for the RDN to develop alternative, flexible timelines for owner-builders that allow homes to be built over time, while respecting residents’ wishes to live in comfortable, well-kept, lived-in communities.

In the RDN today, we know that poverty exists in our rural areas.

Typically, people with limited or no income cannot own their homes. Instead they must rent in buildings that are often in substandard condition. With limited options, renters often have no ability to demand upkeep or improvements for fear of eviction. Building inferior and unsafe housing is not a solution to housing affordability.

One of the most effective forms of affordable housing are secondary suites. The Building Code has specific and relaxed requirements to facilitate the construction of secondary suites.

Value of Building Permit

The permit and inspection record of a building provides important information to prospective buyers regarding the history of construction and compliance with applicable regulations. The Regional District maintains these records for the public's benefit. This information is important to the saleability of property in the future, and as such also directly impacts the value of the property for resale. Again, property owners in Building Inspection areas can gain financially by the inclusion in the service.

Public Safety

Building Inspectors have extensive backgrounds and education in the construction industry and are members of professional organizations that regulate their ongoing training and certification standards. Additionally, they have specialized training in areas such as contaminated building remediation and rapid damage assessment. These skills are utilized to assess the condition of structures that would prevent safe occupancy following a flood, earthquake, landslide, or wind storm, and identify high risk areas where motion could cause structural damage and injury to occupants.

Law Enforcement

Grow-ops and drug labs are prevalent in rural areas of the Regional District, particularly in those areas not currently serviced by building inspection. Illegal activities cause serious damage to houses and other buildings and pose significant health and safety issues to current and future owners and neighbouring properties. Building Inspection provides local governments with the tools to require owners to remediate these buildings and return them to a healthy and safe condition for occupancy.

Environmental Protection

Building permits require that all construction and sewage systems meet applicable environmental standards and development permit regulations. A building permit is not issued by the RDN without documentation from the Vancouver Island Health Authority that a new or modified private sewage system has been designed or examined by a registered professional. This ensures that private sewage systems meet current provincial standards and are appropriate for the type of use on the property.

Additionally, the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and groundwater supply is assured by Building Inspection through the regulation of construction within designated development permit and riparian areas.

Building Inspection and Farm Buildings

The prospect of region-wide Building Inspection has raised a great deal of concern in the farming community. Farmers have always worked hard to earn a living, and any new regulation or additional cost is seen as a threat to a livelihood that provides the foundation for a sustainable region.

The concern is that Building Inspection will create new requirements for construction, extra costs for permits, and unanticipated delays for inspections every time a structure essential to the operation of a farm is to be built. However, for many structures built on a farm, this need not be the case.

No New Regulation The construction of farm buildings is regulated by the National Farm Building Code. This Code is tailored to the needs of the agricultural community, providing the minimum requirements for health, fire protection and structural sufficiency for farm buildings in Canada. All farm buildings should be built in accordance with the National Farm Building Code. This is true today, and will continue to be true in the future whether or not Building Inspection services are provided in a given area.

No Fees, No Additional Time

Farm buildings present a special case in the Regional District of Nanaimo. Recognizing the importance of local agriculture, and to encourage farmers and farming communities, the Board will consider exempting farm buildings from the Building Inspection service. With this exemption, building permits and inspections would not be required for certain farm buildings. This would mean no permit fees, and no arrangements for inspections for many farm buildings.

What is a Farm Building?

A farm building is a non-residential building located on land devoted to the practice of farming, and is used essentially for housing equipment or livestock, or the production, storage or processing of agricultural and horticultural produce or feeds.

Green Building, Sustainability and Building Inspection

High performance green buildings are located appropriately on a site and are made of local, renewable materials. They use energy very efficiently, emit small amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, conserve water, and provide healthy, comfortable environments for their inhabitants.

The issue of using local, renewable materials in green building is especially important in the RDN. With our forested lands there are great opportunities to use timber harvested within the region, or even from an individual building site. From our agricultural areas, it is possible to grow straw for extremely durable, exceptionally insulated straw bale and cob houses.

To encourage the use of local, sustainable materials, as well as other green building techniques, the RDN is exploring ways to provide incentives to innovative builders through a Green Building Incentive Program. This program could provide financial incentives to reduce permitting fees, or flexibility in the inspection and approval process to tailor the pace of the process to the individual builder.

RDN inspection staff are familiar with innovative construction techniques and alternative building materials. Working with local builders and encouraging the development of more green buildings with incentives and other tools will be a priority for the Regional District.

How does Building Inspection affect existing buildings and construction underway?

An expansion to Building Inspection would not be retroactive, and would apply only to new construction started after the effective date of the bylaw - Building Inspection does not require the inspection or review of existing structures or construction in-progress.

The Building Inspection Process

The primary goal of Building Inspection is to ensure the health, safety and protection of persons and property by ensuring that new construction and installations generally conform to relevant bylaws, the BC Building Code, and other applicable standards and regulations. The RDN Building Inspection Department administers Building Regulation and Fees Bylaw 1250, and through this bylaw the BC Building Code and other regulations. A Building Permit is required for the following activities:

  • Construction of any new building or structure (buildings under 107 sq ft exempt)
  • Making structural alterations or additions to an existing building or structure
  • Demolishing or relocating a building or structure
  • Locating or relocating a manufactured or mobile home on a lot
  • Remodeling or constructing a deck
  • Constructing a swimming pool
  • Installing or altering plumbing within a building or structure or on a property
  • Connecting to a municipal sanitary or storm sewer system
  • Installing a new chimney or fireplace
  • Installing an unused wood stove, fireplace insert or other wood burning appliance
  • Enclosing your carport or changing your garage to living space
  • Changing the use / occupancy of an existing building, i.e. from office to retail.
The requirements of construction in all of these instances is determined by the B.C. Building Code. The existence of a permitting and inspection process does not alter these requirements.

Building inspectors conduct inspections and provide assistance and advice at various stages of construction, and maintain records on file for future reference. Beyond the immediate role of ensuring safe construction, these inspection records provide verification of no longer visible building elements located within a building or structure. Lending institutions, appraisers, insurance companies, lawyers, and others can then rely upon these files in determining the value of a building.

HOW TO REACH US

The Regional District of Nanaimo offices are located at
6300 Hammond Bay Road,
Nanaimo, B.C. V9T 6N2
250 390-6530
(Nanaimo vicinity)

1 877-607-4111
(Toll-free in B.C.)
Email: corpsrv@rdn.bc.ca
Fax: 250 390-4163
www.rdn.bc.ca

Last Modified:  Jan 26, 2011
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