Inspections Vs. Code Enforcement

As a professional, you would think all building codes are consistently enforced. Remember once your project is under construction that means you have passed all the tests with all your permitting, sign offs and plan checks resolved. However, over the last two years we are experiencing inspectors that will not accept the wisdom of the plan check process. I have talked to supervisors from Los Angeles and they all agree that there is uneven and uncoordinated processes with plan check and with inspection. They say it will take another 3-4 years to work out the bugs because of all the new plan checkers and inspectors including the supervisors. I asked how I am to design against a moving target. The answer was “good luck”.

As an Architect, working for clients this makes for ever-changing design parameters. On top of that, the rules and or interpretations change on many issues. There are rules un- written but are being enforced. Each plan checker interprets these differently. Many times the last correction comes after most other issues are signed off. Once fully approved and permitted a project still is at the whim of these inspectors.

We had a building inspector that required us to rework an unrated ceiling condition, which meant the removal of 80% of the built work under three separate codes. When I asked if there was any way that he could re-write the codes he said he just guessed. The codes he wanted us to base the changes on, did not exist. We never received the correct code issues for the changes the city inspector had required and the issue went away. We fight for our clients, but these issues are out of our control. It is never easy to write these types of contingencies into contracts. However, this is where we are needed the most. One must stick with the project to help get it built and finished. If we give up then we look bad and the client is stuck.

We just finished with another project where the inspector did not agree with the plan checker or the supervising inspector. When I re-checked the issue with the plan checker, we were told we designed correctly. We even explained what and how we did what we did and the supervising inspector said we did it per city requirements. When we checked with another plan check office they said no we should do our math another way. That is when I heard not all enforcement is consistent. There is no location to get all the true requirements for design and enforcement issues.

We can only do our or best and use the knowledge developed over 40 years in the business. Whether you go for plan check extensions and are told the dates to renew are 1-2 weeks before what is posted on the plan check application or going to pay for a permit where the price keeps changing, none of this is easy. Please be patient with the governing agencies and all your design consultants. Keep your expectations real. I do, but I cannot control what I have no control over. The process is ever changing and even my expectations need a reality check!