Q&A / 

Certificate of Occupancy NH

"The building code is not a set of recommendations. It’s a pass/fail document. Something either meets code or it doesn’t. There’s no gray area."

Certificate of Occupancy NH - Don't Issue Until All is OK

QUESTION 2: Tim, I’m at my wit's end. My builder thinks my new house is finished but there are numerous defects. He had the building inspector through and this government official issued a certificate of occupancy (CO). The builder says this is proof everything is okay. I know there are numerous items that are against the building code and I hired an engineering firm to produce a report to verify this. How would you settle this scrum? Meredith S., Windham, NH

Oh my, Meredith’s plight is oh so common! I receive identical emergency requests from homeowners all across the USA on my AsktheBuilder.com website each week. The problem is growing and it’s very troubling.

I’ve done expert witness work in situations like this for the past twenty years. The last case I was on had me crawling over the roof of the Brazilian ambassador’s house on the Caribbean island of Antigua. It was a mess!

As I see it, there are two problems in Meredith’s case. Let’s assume she’s correctly identified numerous code issues. If that’s the case, the building inspector that issued the certificate of occupancy has made a mistake. The building code is not a set of recommendations. It’s a pass/fail document. Something either meets code or it doesn’t. There’s no gray area.

The way I prevailed in all my past cases was to ignore quality issues for the most part and just stick with code violations. I’d go page-by-page through the code and any section that had a measurement requirement, I’d go measure that item in the house. I’d then take a photograph or two to prove that the item didn’t meet code.

What Are Examples of These Measurements?

Here are examples of parts of the building code that require measurement standards be met:

  • stair risers and treads - look for the minimum deviation in riser heights - check the top and bottom riser
  • handrail height
  • deck railing post connection method and strength - see below video
  • hallway width - often hallways are 1 inch less than the code requires
  • stair/step landing size
  • amount of foundation showing between soil, siding, or brick
  • amount of fall of the exterior soil away from the house in the first ten feet of horizontal run

There are quite a few other places in the building code that provide minimum and maximum measurements. Be sure every part of your home or project complies.

Does an Expert Need to Do This Measuring?

You don’t have to hire an expert to do this. You can read the code and take measurements. Be sure to take photographs of the flaws. It's best to assemble all of the flaws you discover in a simple spreadsheet you can share with the head building inspector. the columns might have headers such as:

  • Descriptive Code Section Heading
  • Actual Code Section Number
  • Phrase describing the flaw
  • Amount of measurement deviation
  • URL of photos - upload photos to the cloud allowing you to link to them

opens in a new windowCLICK or TAP HERE to see an example of construction photos in the cloud.

How Can I Resolve This With the Building Department?

You need to create the list of known building code defects and document them as stated above. Schedule a meeting with the head building inspector and point out all the flaws. Demand that the CO be rescinded and not re-issued until such time as a follow-up inspection verifies everything in the house meets code.

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