Building codes

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Re: Building codes

Post by Timeout on Tue Oct 28, 2008 8:29 am

Good question bug - maybe Kent or FD knows the answer? I voted against adoption of the current code because of the potential hardship rendered to landlords (no, I am not a landlord). I would support a companion rehab code that provides alternative options for cost-prohibitive renovations. That's probably not going to happen because the state couldn't achieve it even though it was set as a goal a few years back. Given that it is challenging to establish a "fair" set of guidelines, I would say that the next option is to discuss reasonable application of the current codes.

I think the main roadblock to such discussion is that many landlords fear asking for help or asking questions of an expert because it will then call attention to any problems they do have.

As building/safety codes go unaddressed, the fear of the apartment owner can grow unrealistically larger. Murph is a great example of taking the bull by the horns. He received a letter, spoke of his concerns and called the code enforcement for clarification... probably saved himself a few sleepless nights.
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Re: Building codes

Post by Phil Blampied on Tue Oct 28, 2008 9:51 am

There is a subtext here confusing the argument. I am not defending the landlord who is the subject of controversy, nor going into whether the violations found on his properties are valid or not. That situation is confused because the landlord in question didn't respond properly to the town's trying to work with him, so it's not just a code issue.

The South Bronx problem will happen elsewhere in town due to requirements such as the pull box expense and something else:
there are many buildings automatically and irreversably condemned by the provisions of the fire code. You need a second exit, but the code also requires setbacks. Many buildings can not put a fire escape on the back without violating the fire code setback requirements. Period. They are automatically condemned.

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Re: Building codes

Post by Timeout on Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:06 am

Phil, thanks for clarifying...going out for the day...carry on without me - lol...
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Re: Building codes

Post by Guest on Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:08 am

Phil,
That's one of the issues I heard about before the code came up for vote. It makes little sense to me that this was put before the voters.
What actions can now be implemented to address the unreasonableness of this code?

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Re: Building codes

Post by C on Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:11 am

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BASEMENT AND A CELLAR:
The method listed below shows how to determine if a floor of the building is a basement or a cellar. A basement is considered a story and defined as, that portion of a building below the first floor joists where at least half of its clear ceiling height is above the average elevation
of the finished grades along the perimeter of the building. A cellar is not counted as a story and defined as, that portion of a building below the first floor joists where at least half of its clear ceiling height is below the average elevation of the finished grades along the perimeter of the building.
METHODOLOGY FOR BASEMENT/CELLAR DETERMINATION:
This calculation must be done using average finished grades and pre-development grade elevations.
1. Determine the grades along perimeter of house. This is done by multiplying each wall section length times the
grade adjacent to that section. The grade used for this determination is whichever is lower, either finished grade
or pre-development grade at any point along the perimeter walls. Add all the products together and divide by the
total perimeter to obtain the average finished grade.
2. Determine the elevation of the lowest level (basement or cellar slab elevation) from site plan or floor plan.
3. Subtract #2 from #1 to get the average height of finished grade above basement floor.
4. Determine the distance from basement floor slab to the bottom or underside of first floor joists. This is the height
of the foundation wall plus the sill plate.
5. Divide the result of #4 by 2 to get the midpoint.
6. If #3 is greater than #5, it is a cellar and therefore not a story. If #3 is less than #5, it is a basement and is
considered a story.
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Re: Building codes

Post by C on Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:49 am

I understand that a landlord wants to make the most money possible from their investment but they shouldn't do it at the expense of their tenant safety. I perfectly understand the need for pull boxes. If you have a fire start in a basement apartment there is no way a third floor tenant will hear the smoke detector from the basement. Maybe the first floor tenants would hear it if the detector is hard wired and not a code violation detector with the batteries removed. Would those tenants on the lower levels be able to notify tenants on the upper levels in time to save lives without risking their own?

If the cellar or basement level has the proper egress and the height to accommodate living quarters it should be considered a story. For example, on Main Ave. several of those buildings have basement apartments and IMHO should be considered 4 story buildings and should have pull boxes.
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Re: Building codes

Post by C on Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:50 am

Another point- most commercial insurance companies require hard wired smoke detectors, in fact some even require enclosed fire exit stairs. Many of these municipal code violations are also insurance violations. One way to help enforce these codes might be with the help of the insurance companies.
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Re: Building codes

Post by C on Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:55 am

Why are they tearing down some of these buildings rather than giving them to someone willing to invest in them and fix them up? Are they too far gone? I'm just thinking that it is costing over 30K to tear down and clean up a building plus the loss of tax revenue. If they could give that building to someone who will sign a contract to repair the property to code standards within a certain time frame wouldn't that make more sense?
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Re: Building codes

Post by Phil Blampied on Tue Oct 28, 2008 4:15 pm

It's expensive to tear them down, but the ones being taken down didn't have much potential for rehab. The little two-story trailer on Oxford Ave, which is gone, was done as part of a deal between the town and the Wardwell's, which actually netted the town $2500. It was pretty wobbly and an eyesore. The building on Maine Ave has asbestos siding and an oil spill in the basement. Fixing those environmental hazards would probably be cost-prohibitive and there is the risk that the person buying the building on the promise of re-habbing it would not make the investment but try to slum it out again, getting the town into another codes battle. That neighborhood is very congested. The space that the demolition will create in the block will provide welcome parking, if not just outright welcome space. York Ave, I'm not that familiar with.

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Re: Building codes

Post by C on Tue Oct 28, 2008 5:38 pm

I'm sure the other buildings will welcome the space. It may not apply to these particular neighboring buildings but if the empty lots could be divided and purchased by the neighboring owners it could help to avoid any future code hindrances due to setback requirements.
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Re: Building codes

Post by xmashen on Tue Oct 28, 2008 6:00 pm

C, while i totally respect you, i think your idea about the empty lots is a bit of wishful thinking. Personally, i see them as becoming weed-strewn garbage-filled spaces in a very short time. It's not like they are gonna be turned into beautiful community gardens or playgrounds any time soon. While I agree that SOME building should be just torn down, i think that many of the other existing "in-danger" buildings have a historic value. Rumford was initially a town of poor immigrants (from all over.... Italy, Maritime Canada, Ireland) and those large "blocks" enabled them to get a foothold into the community. And some of them are actually of architecural interest and value. I would hate to see them go just because the cost and trouble of bringing them up to standard is too cumbersome.

I don't have a solution, but those are simply my thoughts. (for now)

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Re: Building codes

Post by kels on Tue Oct 28, 2008 7:05 pm

C, I believe for the purpose of firefighting and insurance, with basement apartments they would be considered 4 story and possibly 5 story depending on the height of the building which is the criteria.
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Itís time to go beyond black and white thinking

Post by Admin on Tue Oct 28, 2008 7:24 pm

Timeout, please forgive me for using your quote but it seems to fit here.

Regarding the building codes, as a society we need to make sure people live in safe housing. Life is about balance though. This town went out of balance when we voted in these severe building codes. I agree with Phil that these codes, combined with the way they are being enforced, has the potential to shut down quite a number of buildings in Rumford. I know people that own apartment buildings in town and between the heat, mortgage, taxes and so forth, there isnít a big profit margin in them. I think the way these codes are unnecessarily heavy handed and almost designed to shut down buildings.

Regarding JNS, I also agree with Phil. I have been extremely angry at her for the behavior she has exhibited in town and for the way she has conducted herself toward others. We all have had very good reason to be angry. When you end up in conflict, itís easy to become polarized, to think in terms of black and white, good and evil. However, JSN, just like the rest of us, is made up of all kinds of shades of gray. She certainly seems to be trying to do something positive here and the way she is going about isnít hurting anyone. Iím guessing the tenants she is advocating for are probably quite appreciative.

Whatever the reason or motivation, Iím inclined to recognize, support and encourage positive behavior.
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Re: Building codes

Post by C on Tue Oct 28, 2008 7:54 pm

This town went out
of balance when we voted in these severe building codes. I agree with
Phil that these codes, combined with the way they are being enforced,
has the potential to shut down quite a number of buildings in Rumford.

Can you elaborate on this? I've not yet seen anything demonstrated that I would consider to be unreasonable enforcement. But I may have missed something and/or my view of unreasonable might differ from someone else's view. I kind of feel some are trying to scare everyone that the "big bad" building codes are out to get them, when many of the codes apply to renovations, new buildings and additions or change of use. Aren't some of these buildings "grand-fathered" from some of the structural code changes unless any of the previous conditions apply? Aren't most of these codes in line with the expectations of the insurance companies?
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Re: Building codes

Post by Admin on Tue Oct 28, 2008 9:20 pm

Can you elaborate on this? I've not yet seen anything demonstrated that I would consider to be unreasonable enforcement.

Sure,

This is just my opinion but I base it on Philís posts early on about the difference between the code Rumford adopted (NFPA) and the one the fire marshals office endorses (ICC). Iím not a code expert but after reading the threads, it appears that the NFPA is very strict. Phil B sure seems to indicate itís unnecessarily so.

I agree that we should take care of issues that are paramount to life and safety but based on what Iím reading, it seems we have gone beyond that. An example would be having to completely rip out walls and rebuild stairs to have to widen a staircase by 3 inches. I donít want people to be trapped but that just seems like overkill.

Phil (or anyone else) please feel free to correct me if Iím wrong.
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Re: Building codes

Post by Timeout on Tue Oct 28, 2008 9:28 pm

From what I have seen, the town has been extremely lenient in the enforcing of codes, any codes. All I've heard them do is ask for cooperation from the landlords. I've seen the board give extensions over and over...sometimes beyond reasonable expectation.

One of the primary issues in enforcement is the perception of equity and everyone's knee-jerk reaction to this perception. Anyone whose building is inspected is bound to feel picked on if they are not up to standard...then comes the feeling of it's unfair and why aren't you looking at the other guy's building.

Next come the reaction of the powers that be to try to make it "fair" and pull street names out of a hat. (That didn't build any trust because all I've heard is that people are suspicious that Waldo Street came out first!) Then we see a few articles on buildings that are being torn down (evidently a good idea according to many) and another landlord required to evict because he has not fully complied with the town's request for a plan. Suddenly we have the reaction from the landlords and tenants who fear that their buildings will be next on the chopping block.

I agree with C...I have yet to see an unfair enforcement...but I've heard a lot of fear about what horrible things people think the town government will do to them given the power of these codes.

Too much government...not enough government...and so the pendulum swings.
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Re: Building codes

Post by Timeout on Tue Oct 28, 2008 9:30 pm

At this point by resisting renovations/modifications, we end up creating a bunch of buildings that are unsalable for anything except cash because no bank will finance a building that can't meet insurance requirements...and insurance requirements drive codes.
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Re: Building codes

Post by Timeout on Tue Oct 28, 2008 9:48 pm

Here's something interesting I found at the State Planning Office site...this information on the new law that will be effective on January 1, 2010. This public law creates a uniform building code which appears to have rehab provisions in it. It will no longer be up to the municipalities to adopt this code - it will be state law. I've given the link - it helps to read the FAQ portion first.

http://www.maine.gov/spo/specialprojects/buildingcodes/index.htm

Maine Uniform Building and Energy Codes


With P.L. 2007 Resolve 46, the Legislature recognized that Maine needs more uniformity of building-related codes across the state. It directed the state to develop a building and building rehabilitation code implementation plan. A committee comprised of the departments of Economic and Community Development and Professional and Financial Regulation, the Fire Marshalís Office, Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and State Planning Office presented their recommendations report and implementation plan to the Business Research and Economic Development (BRED) Committee on January 31, 2008. The BRED Committee accepted the committeeís recommendations and enacted PL 2007, Chapter 699. On January 1, 2010, Maine will have a new statewide building and energy code. A new board will streamline code administration and a uniform code will bring more consistency to builders, developers, and towns.
For more information contact: sue.inches@maine.gov at the state Planning Office.
Frequently Asked Questions
Public Law 699 Summary
Public Law 699 Timeline
Public Law 699


Last edited by Timeout on Tue Oct 28, 2008 11:18 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Building codes

Post by C on Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:18 pm


Stair Width:
Minimum 36" with a stipulation allowing a wall mounted
handrail to project from each side 3 Ĺ"

http://www.woodsthebest.com/Stairs/building-codeUS.htm

If this is indeed the standard minimum code ( I actually saw 34" somewhere) and the landlord is 3" shy and then if you add the required hand rail (to only one side rather than both) that leaves 30.5" which makes for some pretty narrow travel in an emergency. If you have a second story take your yard stick and hold it across the stairway so you can visualize just how narrow those would be...


National Fire Code 2005 http://isis.fastmail.usf.edu/eh&s/firesafety/lsc101ch7.pdf Table 7.2.2.2.1.1(b) Existing Stairs
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Re: Building codes

Post by Admin on Wed Oct 29, 2008 7:01 am

You all make great points.

C, I had trouble accessing the link you left but I agree 36 inches is narrow. My only question is, is this the width that Rumford is using?
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Re: Building codes

Post by Mark_Henry on Wed Oct 29, 2008 7:18 am

As Phil pointed out, one of the major considerations is that no matter how hard a landlord might try, no matter how much time the Town may give him, many buildings simply cannot be brought up to the standard. This leaves the landlord little leeway. If the building isn't up to code, then that would have to be disclosed prior to selling, and a 3-floor walk-up isn't suited to convert into a single family home. Couple that with the fact that many of Rumford's landlords own multiple buildings and what you end up with this lots of people looking for new housing (and not enough exists in the River Valley to accommodate them) and lots of empty buildings with disgruntled owners.

So what's the solution? Well, if adoption of the codes were done at the local level and not the state, then it could be repealed or edited locally. I would suppose that the planning board would need to be tasked with rewriting/editing the codes by the selectmen should that route be taken. How long that takes is anyone's guess.

For short term relief, the residents could get together with a petition and demand a moratorium be passed to stop application of the code until something could be worked out. I'm sure there are enough people living in apartments that would be willing to sign to get the needed number of signatures to force a town vote.


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Re: Building codes

Post by Timeout on Wed Oct 29, 2008 7:47 am

I agree with Mark on looking into whether it would be advisable to hold off the more stringent code applications. On January 1, 2010 we will have a state-wide rehab code...just over a year away.
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Re: Building codes

Post by Timeout on Wed Oct 29, 2008 7:57 am

Kevin, it looks like the state has already passed the law? Correct me if I'm misinterpreting. The info is in the links I've posted above.
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Re: Building codes

Post by C on Wed Nov 12, 2008 9:34 pm

I'm wondering why Mr. O'Keefe has allowed all these tenants to be evicted when he could have simply evicted the 3rd floor tenant to satisfy the egress width problem. The first floor tenants work at Hancock Lumber, they likely get an employee discount and would have access to finding someone who could fix their railings if they weren't capable themselves, the company probably would have even let them borrow power tools to save them from eviction. The other tenant drives a truck for a development/construction company, wouldn't the employees of these people been able to offer tools or point these people in the direction of someone to do the work rather than see them evicted? What the landlord will lose in a week or two of rent certainly would have covered the cost of hard wired smoke detectors. It just seems like these people (landlord included) are sitting back, blaming others and expecting the town help them finance a move etc. when they aren't doing much to help themselves. Am I missing something here?
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Re: Building codes

Post by Timeout on Wed Nov 12, 2008 9:54 pm

Yes, you are missing something. He probably already has a buyer for the property.
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Re: Building codes

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