Opponents Circulating Petitions Against Proposed County Building Codes- Foster Believes Many People Misinformed

January 10, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

Petitions are being circulated in opposition to proposed building codes for DeKalb County.

County Mayor Mike Foster says he believes many people may be misinformed about the plans.

In October, the DeKalb County Commission began the process of formulating regulations for non-agricultural residential and commercial construction under the 2006 International Building Code.

The commission adopted three resolutions, as recommended by the county's building and safety committee, establishing general guidelines for construction, but specific regulations for DeKalb County at that time were not yet established. The final plan will be presented to the county commission again for passage in a few weeks after a public hearing.

Foster says the county needs a set of building codes in order to protect the homeowners. "Since I've been in office, I know of ten houses that have been built on wrong lots or partially on wrong lots. We've had houses slide off the hillside. We've had foundations fall, retainer walls fall. We had one house where the floor joists spanned seventeen feet, six inches and it turns out they were 2x6's. To span that length, it should be at least a 2x12. It's unscrupulous builders cutting corners that are costing the homeowner a tremendous amount of money. Probably the biggest investment the average person will make in their lifetime is their house. To me, the way I look at it, it's just like an insurance policy to say that we have a person (inspector) who is unrelated to the builder and unrelated to the homeowner going out there and checking to see it's done properly and safely. It's a safety issue as much as a compliance issue."

Under the plan, Foster says permits would be required for new non-agricultural residential and commercial construction. "They're based on the 2006 International Residential Building Code. You would have a site plan where you draw a little map of your land. You would mark the corners of your lot with flags to make sure it's on the right lot and then there would be a footer inspection. You would dig your footer and they would go out and check the width, depth, the soil, and the slope and everything to make sure it was what it needed to be or if you did a slab, they would check that. Then they would come back and check the foundation to make sure the foundation was square, that it had the anchor bolts in it, that it was water proof, that it had adequate openings and ventilation. Then they would come back and do the framing to make sure you had complied with the proper size framing and that your headers and everything was done like it should have been done. Then when you got your plumbing in, they would come in and cap it off and air pressure test it to make sure you don't have any leaks in your walls, or anything that would cause you a problem on down the road. They would check the mechanical and then they would come back and do a final inspection to make sure everything was correctly and safely done."

"They (codes) do not in anyway apply to any kind of an agricultural building unless it's commercial. If you build a barn, a dog house, a chicken house, or whatever you build, it does not require a permit. If you're doing routine maintenance on your house, you do not have to have one (permit). If you paint your house, put in a sidewalk, put a new roof on, put vinyl siding on, you would not need a permit. If you build a new house or if you're building an addition to your house you would need a permit simply to make sure that it was built to codes and that you are getting what you are paying for."

"Anybody can build a house for themselves or to sell, one every two years. That person could pull the permit and then hire someone to do the work. Any carpenter, whether licensed or not, can do $25,000 worth of work on that house. So somebody could come in and frame it and they don't have to have a license. Somebody could come in and hang sheet rock and they don't have to have a license. Someone could put the roof on and they don't have to have a license. But collectively, if one person does more than $25,000 worth they would have to be a licensed contractor and they would have to have liability insurance, which again protects the homeowner."

Foster says the fees generated from the building permits would go toward funding the position of a building codes inspector. "One fee would cover the inspections and if you had a question and you felt uncomfortable about it, they would come back and inspect it free. The bigger the house, the more the inspection fees because of more inspections that would be incurred. The average cost of a house built in DeKalb County is $93 a square foot and they (committee) have voted to base it on $80 a square foot as the cost and then there's a fee system set up. On a house that probably you or I would build, it would probably be in the neighborhood of $450. The bigger houses around the lake, for example, that are on steep lots, would be proportionately bigger with larger fees. It's (codes) absolutely not meant to make money. It's to pay for the building inspector, his benefits, and for a vehicle for him to come and go in.'

Those who fail to comply with the building codes would be subject to penalties. "If you built a house and you didn't have a permit, they would fine you twice what the normal permit would be, that's what other counties do. We're not to that point. The guy (inspector) that we've talked to, we've all kind of agreed that the first year would be a learning phase for everybody. They would still have to get the permit if this goes into place because we have to pay this guy to do the inspections and we don't want it to be a burden on the other taxpayers. It's kind of like a user fee. It's a user fee, insurance policy the way everybody is looking at it and a safety issue. The way we have talked about doing it, the permits would probably be purchased at the tax assessor's office."

Subject to final approval by the county commission, Foster says the proposed building codes may be implemented by spring. " The commission has voted to proceed with it. We've ordered the (code) books and they will be in the county court clerk's office on display for anybody to come in and look at. We'll put them over there and after the proper period we'll have a public hearing on it and then proceed with whatever the commission wishes to do. We're probably looking at somewhere between 60 and 120 days of getting everything in place. If they do it, it would hopefully go in place maybe by April or May, somewhere in there."

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