What Does The Building Department Official Do For You Anyway?

September 1, 2011

It is common for property owners to believe that building departments and the employed plan check engineers and inspectors are actually checking to assure the home is designed and constructed in compliance with the applicable building codes, government regulations and applicable design criteria. This belief is in fact often FALSE.

The government officials in the building departments will tell you they check for primarily items that relate to health and safety. Often, however, those items like compliance with American with Disabilities Act, electrical, energy or building codes are actually found not to be in compliance after the final inspection is complete and the building certificate for occupancy is completed. Further, regardless of what they do or don’t check, the building departments and individual officials are, by law, relieved of any liability for any act, failure to properly inspect or omissions in the plans, inspections or anything else it does, short of fraud.

Prior to commercial or residential construction permits being issued, the construction drawings, which include various engineering and architectural details, must be reviewed and approved by the Building Department’s engineers and plan check professionals. While the property owners have to pay for this service, no minimum compliance with applicable laws is required before the plans can be approved. And while the particular building official may require revisions to the submitted drawings, ultimate approval does not mean the drawings are in compliance with applicable laws or standards, nor does it impose any liability on the Building Department or its officials for any failures or omissions. While this fact is set forth in the approved documents, many property owners and contractors are not aware of this fact (see actual Building Department approval stamps below).

building department stamp

The building inspectors are not different. The building inspectors inspect the construction to determine whether the construction is in compliance with the approved plans (see above.) Further, on the building permits themselves, the contractors who pull the permits sign a certification which reads something similar to the following:

building department signature

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? The design professionals and contractors are solely responsible for failure in design and construction. Just because the plans and construction were inspected and signed off by the building officials, does NOT mean the work was performed properly nor does it in any way insulate the designers or contractors from liability for problems with the buildings.

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