Does your house have code violations?
Uhmm…I hope not.
Depending on where you live, there’s a whole gamut of building and housing codes you have to follow, from handrail heights to the placement of electrical outlets to window sizes for specific rooms.
Unless you’re a trained home inspector, the average homeowner is only aware of so many of these regulations.
However, if you fail to meet certain requirements–requirements you may not have known about–you’ll be slapped with code violations.
Code violations are the last thing anyone wants landing on their doorstep, but knowing how to deal with them and what the consequences could be is important.
So, whether you’re currently facing a code violation or just want to make sure you understand the concept, this article is going to cover everything you need to know.
I’m going to walk you through the most common code violations, talk about who enforces codes, and discuss potential penalties.
As unfair or ridiculous as it may seem, just remember that when you move into a neighborhood, you are accepting to play by certain rules, and it’s always better to comply than to resist and risk financial or legal repercussions.
1. What Are Building and Housing Codes?
In the United States, there are federal, state, and local housing and building codes that are implemented to protect public health and the safety of people working or living in residential and commercial buildings.
Building codes are sets of rules and standards directed to the construction of a building.
Structures have to follow specific protocols for electrical and plumbing systems, energy efficiency, fire safety, and structural integrity.
If a house was recently built by a reputable company, homeowners wouldn’t have to worry too much about building codes–it’s older buildings that are typically in jeopardy of breaking codes (or homes with extensions that were completed by private contractors).
Housing codes are mostly determined by local municipalities.
These codes set standards for things like room sizes, prohibitions of rodent and insect infestations, minimum heat levels, and lighting requirements.
Both building and housing codes help prevent people from harm or living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Everyone in the state or municipality has to follow these codes, or else they’ll receive a code violation. But what exactly are these code violations?
2. What Are Code Violations?
Failing to follow any of the housing or building codes set by federal, state, or local governments can lead to code violations.
Because the codes and regulations in place are to protect the individuals inside structures, violations are taken seriously; however, code violations vary greatly in severity.
For example, violations can range anywhere from having a broken window (increasing the threat of weather and intruders) to unsafe gas piping (creating the possibility of explosions and fires).
If the city were to catch wind of these violations, the owners of the building would be contacted and given a deadline to address the issues.
In some cases, the violation may be so severe that there will be direct intervention or immediate fines and legal action.
So, let’s take a closer look at the potential consequences of code violations.
3. What Are the Consequences of Code Violations?
When a code is being violated and a local code enforcement agency discovers it, action will be taken.
The type of action that’s taken depends on what code is being broken and how much of a danger the violation creates for people inside the home or building.
However, no matter the violation, it must be fixed.
Failing to respond to code violation notices will only make the issue worse.
So, respond as quickly as possible to avoid further fines or other consequences.
Here are the most common consequences of code violations:
A code violation notice is almost always accompanied by a fine.
The financial penalty could cost a certain sum per day or a flat rate.
Depending on the severity and the time it takes for the violation to be fixed, the total financial burden, including repairs, can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.
As soon as you are notified of a violation, it is crucial to make the necessary adjustments to keep fines down.
If the owner of a building or home does not respond to a code violation or fails to pay the fines, it can lead to legal action.
The owner may receive a court order to make repairs.
In extreme scenarios, the court may even decide to put the property in the hands of the government.
If you receive a violation notice, being cooperative is the best strategy to avoid court or having your property seized.
When a building is considered unsafe or unlivable, the city can issue vacate orders if the code violations are severe enough.
This can be especially problematic for rental property owners because all of their tenants will be removed from the building, and there will likely be costly lawsuits.
In the most extreme cases, a building could even be considered unsalvageable, leading to demolition, but such scenarios are very rare.
Decreased Market Value (Unresolved Codes)
Active code violations will decrease the market value of a property.
The good news is once a code violation is fixed, statistics show that it will not affect the market value.
So, when you’re preparing to sell a house, take the time to have the property inspected to ensure you are able to get as high of an offer as possible.
4. What Are the Most Common Code Violations?
The amount of potential housing and building code violations that exist are innumerable.
For example, there are codes that require stairs to be a certain height, hallways to be a certain width, and a million other minuscule details.
It takes months and months of studying and training to be able to properly inspect a home.
So, don’t expect to master every code under local, state, and federal law.
However, there are a handful of violations that come up time and time again, and staying on top of these regulations could save you a few bucks and a bit of inconvenience.
Let’s check out some common violations.
Just keep in mind that codes vary from county to county and state to state, so not every example may apply to you.
Here are the most common code violations to look out for:
Misplaced smoke alarms
Smoke alarms’ placements cannot be random.
They have to be in certain locations, such as on all levels, inside every bedroom, and outside every sleeping area.
A code violation for misplaced smoke alarms is an easy problem to fix, but it’s an important one so that everyone inside stays safe.
A handrail in a home has to have a return.
A handrail return is a piece of railing that connects the end of a handrail back to the wall.
Handrail returns are a support system for people with mobility problems, and they also help eliminate dangerous sharp edges.
Improper bathroom ventilation is going to result in code violations.
Fans must vent air outside through the wall or roof.
They cannot vent to the attic, which could rot wood and jeopardize the structural integrity of the home.
Additionally, not expelling moisture properly from a bathroom could also result in mold, creating an unhealthy living environment.
Flashing is installed on windows and doors to prevent water from entering a home and causing moisture damage.
Even if a tiny bit of water slowly seeps through the cracks, it can lead to big problems in the future, specifically mold growth.
Improper flashing is a common violation, but it is a very easy issue to fix and relatively inexpensive.
Code violations are avoidable, especially these common examples.
So, double-check that your smoke alarms, handrail returns, bathroom ventilation, and flashing all look good.
Also, keep in mind that these examples are common violations that homeowners can see for themselves.
Other common violations deal with bigger problems, such as improper electrical systems, no GFCI receptacles, plumbing work, and gas piping.
So, if you live in an old home and are not sure if everything is up to code, it would be wise to have everything assessed by a professional.
5. Who Is Responsible for Enforcing Codes?
In general, housing and building codes are enforced by government agencies and local building departments.
When a house or commercial building is being built, the local building department must approve the construction plans before the project can begin.
Additionally, the building department will send inspectors out to verify the project is following all codes.
If any codes are being violated, the project manager will be notified to make the necessary adjustments.
In most cases, building departments do not have the right to inspect a home or building that is not under construction without the owner’s permission.
However, it is legal for a building department to analyze structures from public thoroughfares, such as from the street.
When there is suspicion of serious code violations, a search warrant may be granted, giving inspectors the authority to enter the property and assess the building.
6. Does Code Enforcement Drive Around?
Building departments may send code enforcement officers to drive or walk around neighborhoods to verify that all homes and buildings are following codes.
These officers do not have permission to enter your property; however, if they see a violation from the street or sidewalk, they are legally allowed to then issue code violation notices and fines.
Of course, if you see a code enforcement officer on your property without permission, you could make a complaint with the local building department.
Although the idea of these officers driving around may seem intrusive, they are ensuring that the entire neighborhood is safe.
If your neighbor is breaking a major code that could result in a house fire, it’s the code enforcement officer’s job to make sure that you, in addition to the people living in the home with the violation, are free of danger.
7. How Often Are Rental Properties Inspected for Code Violations?
Each state and county has its own laws pertaining to the frequency of inspections on rental properties.
But most rental properties are inspected every few years to verify things like the plumbing, electrical systems, fire safety, and sanitary living conditions.
If you are the landlord of a rental property, it is crucial to consistently monitor the building to ensure no violations are found during an inspection.
8. Can A Tenant Call Code Enforcement?
If a tenant notices a code violation in the rental property, they are, without a doubt, able to call code enforcement; however, the landlord should be contacted first.
Once the landlord has been contacted and made aware of the problem, the way they handle the situation should determine whether or not code enforcement needs to be notified.
Violations that create unhealthy living conditions or pose life-threatening dangers need to be dealt with immediately.
If you are a tenant and feel like your landlord is not taking the necessary steps to create a safe living environment, don’t hesitate to contact code enforcement.
9. Are there Consequences for Renting a Property with Code Violations?
Renting a property with code violations could result in serious financial and legal consequences.
Like all violations, code enforcement officers will slap down fines and penalties and set a deadline for the problems to be fixed.
In addition to all the consequences that are standard for violations, tenants could also sue landlords for creating unsafe or unlivable conditions, resulting in costly lawyer fees and being ordered to compensate tenants.
If a code enforcement agency deems a property to be unsafe for tenants and takes legal action to prevent a landlord from renting out a property, the landlord will lose rental income until the issues are resolved.
So, code violations can be devastating for landlords, further emphasizing the importance of keeping a building up to code and consistently monitoring the property for potential problems.
10. Who is Responsible for Paying Fees Related to Code Violations?
The owner of the property is typically responsible for paying fees related to code violations.
On top of the fines, owners will also be required to pay whatever costs are associated with fixing the issue, such as hiring a professional to repair electrical work.
If the building is a rental property, and the tenants are the reason for code violations or unsafe living conditions, the tenants could be responsible for paying the fines.
Depending on the circumstances, landlords could potentially take tenants to court and sue for damages.
Homeowners and landlords should always be proactive when it comes to code violations to avoid future complications and financial inconveniences.
Code violations should be taken seriously.
Not only can they lead to expensive fees and court cases, but a violation also suggests that there is something about your home or building that is creating an unsafe environment.
So, if it’s been a while since your electrical or plumbing systems have been updated, call in a professional to take a look.
Although it may cost money to have upgrades installed, there’s no price too great to ensure that the lives of you and your loved ones, employees, and tenants are not in any way threatened.
And remember, you never know when a code enforcement officer may be driving around your neighborhood, so don’t wait to take action!
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.