Concerns around proposed changes to building code
By Chad Ingram
The Ontario government is proposing changes to the province’s building code, changes it says are aimed at streamlining customer service and providing consistency around the building process, but which are causing some concern with municipal building officials.
During a November Algonquin Highlands council meeting, chief building official Dave Rogers, who was taking part in a consultation process regarding the proposed changes, expressed some reservations about some of the province’s proposed transformations, including the creation of a central administrative authority that would oversee building operations in the province.
“That’s a thing I have a lot of trouble with,” Rogers told councillors.
That authority would act as a not-for-profit entity overseen by a board of directors, but municipalities would be responsible for the collection of fees on behalf of the authority.
“The proposed fee structure would be based on a percentage of the cost of construction which poses the issue – how would the municipality obtain accurate construction costs?” a report from Rogers read. “Currently the township bases its permit fees per square foot, which avoids the confusion of obtaining accurate construction costs from the property owner. In the proposed scenario, the building department would be responsible for collecting fees at the time of permit issuance, and the monies would need to be noted so that the administrative staff can place the funds into a separate account and subsequently forward to the authority.”
Rogers told councillors he hoped the province would introduce some sort of minimum flat fee for small projects, otherwise, a great deal of municipal staff time could go into processing very small fees for the many small projects that take place within the municipality.
“We have a lot of small projects,” he said. “If somebody comes in and asks for a building permit for a deck, and the deck’s worth $10,000, we’re going to be collecting 25 cents. So, to that end, it will obviously have to be tracked, it’ll affect our finance staff, because they’ll actually have to code it, send it, save it and remit it back. So there’ll be staff time involved in all of that as well.”
The proposed authority would also be involved in enforcement against those who violate the building code, but Rogers’s report indicated it was unclear how this assistance in enforcement would ultimately benefit municipalities.
“The administrative authority will be looking at ways to provide enhanced enforcement against person(s) and or companies in violation of the Ontario Building Code Act or Regulation,” the report reads. “Presently, a municipality can issue an order to comply against an owner or other persons, when they are not compliant with the Code or Regulation. Should a person fail to comply with an order, the township is forced to take the individual to court and request compliance through the court and fines against the person, which can be costly. The changes propose to retain the services of the administrative authority to provide enforcement against individuals in order to obtain compliance. It is unclear how this would save time or money for the township.”
There could be other implications for municipalities as well, such as a requirement for an increased number of exams to be written by municipal building staff, and the imposition of a province-wide code of conduct.
Municipalities already have their own codes of conduct.
“Currently municipalities are required to have a code of conduct for their building officials, while there is no code of conduct for individual ministry registered designers,” Rogers’s report read. “The provincial code of conduct would include all persons who are building code practitioners and include an escalating scale of discipline based on the nature of the infraction. Discipline can take the form of warnings, fines and/or possible termination. The administrative authority would be the agency to monitor the code of conduct and complaints.”
Mayor Carol Moffatt said it seemed like the process was an unnecessary and onerous one, and if there were problems with particular municipal building departments within the province, the province should deal directly with them.
“I’m confused with all of this . . . if there are challenges with building departments in certain municipalities, then those municipalities should be dealt with separately, rather than making everybody go through an entirely different and somewhat onerous process just to make sure everybody’s doing the same thing,” Moffatt said. “They should be doing the same thing anyway, and this, to me, is completely contrary to everything we’ve heard at conferences about, you know, the cutting of red tape. This reads like increasing red tape and creating a much more muddled system.”
Rogers was submitting his concerns on behalf of the municipality in a feedback process that ended late last month.
A release from the province regarding the proposed changes says they are meant to strengthen public safety; streamline customer service and approval processes; deliver sector-driven services; provide timely and modern tools and products; promote consistency across the province; and enhance integrity in the system.