- For People having trouble with new homes
- For People who disagree with decisions made by the Building Safety and Permits Division
If you are having problems with your new home, there are many things you should know and things you should do in an attempt to resolve them.
Some Important Time Frames to Keep in Mind:
The Code of Virginia Section 55-70-1(E) requires that a new home be warrantied by the builder for ONE YEAR, "IF HE IS IN THE BUSINESS OF BUILDING AND SELLING SUCH DWELLINGS." If you have a home built with a property owners permit, this warranty may not apply. This same section of the law requires that the builder warranty the foundation for a period of FIVE YEARS. This section does not apply to condominiums. These warranties extend directly from the builder to the buyer and do NOT pass through the Building Safety and Permits Division.
Under Section 115.2.1 of the Uniform Statewide Building Code, notification of Code violation may be served on the responsible party for up to TWO YEARS. The two-year time period begins either at the date of initial occupancy or closing or the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy. Each individual situation may vary depending on the exact circumstances and the portion of the law involved.
When you have determined that a problem exists, you should:
- Notify the contractor in writing or all problems. Proper notification is very important. You may wish to send a registered letter, return receipt requested or hand deliver the letter. Keep a copy of the letter and a record of how and when it was delivered. You may wish to consider sending Code Compliance a copy of the letter.
- In the letter establish a reasonable deadline by which the corrective work must be done. Often 30 days is a reasonable time for such work.
- If the corrective work can be done in more than one manner, you should request that a written agreement with the General Contractor be reached before the work begins.
- You should establish reasonable guidelines for communications and access.
- Make it clear to the General Contractor in the letter that it is not your responsibility to supervise or coordinate work with a subcontractor unless you specifically agree to do it.
- Documentation before repairs by photograph or video may be wise. If you do either make sure to keep a record of the date the photograph or video was made.
If your problem is complex and/or involves structural components of the home (such as the foundation or load bearing framing) you should consider hiring an engineer to evaluate the problem; and provide you with a written analysis and repair method. Some homeowners perceive this as an unjustified expenditure. While the Building Safety and Permits Division may assist you in identifying a problem the Building Safety and Permits Division is prevented by law from designing repair methods. If you choose NOT to hire an engineer then the contractor will be the one who makes the proposal to Code Compliance for how the problem may be fixed. An engineer working for you will hopefully provide an objective and sound recommendation for repairs. An engineer's report may also become valuable if the contractor refuses to correct the problem.
If the contractor ignores a letter of notification or fails to complete the corrective work by the requested deadline then you must decide what action is available to you and what action you wish to take if any. Three possible courses of action are:
- You may notify the Building Safety and Permits Division. Building Safety and Permits Division may send an inspector to the home if the condition involves a possible code violation. If a violation is confirmed, and it is within the two year period since issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy, Building Safety and Permits Division will notify the contractor to correct the violation.
- You can file a formal complaint with the Department of Professional Regulation (DPOR). This is the state agency that licenses contractors. Call 804-367-9753 or check their web site at http://www.state.va.us/dpor/ Note the Contractor's Recovery Fund which this agency administers.
- You may decide to pursue the matter legally by bringing a civil case against the contractor. Most homeowners hire attorneys to do this but some do it on their own. If you decide to hire an attorney ask what will happen and when it will happen.
Please note that the Uniform Statewide Building Code references the IRC One and Two Family Dwelling Code for single-family homes permitted before Oct. 1, 2003, and the International Residential Code for single-family homes built after that date. Please note that the Uniform Statewide Building Code references the IRC One and Two Family Building Codes for construction of single-family homes. This requires work to be done to a code MINIMUM. Code minimums do not address contractual agreements between contractors and homeowners nor do they address any owners association covenants nor do they address aesthetic concerns.
This document is not intended to be an absolute answer for the multitude of possible problems than can occur during the construction and initial occupancy of a new home. Nor is it intended or should it be used for legal or engineering advice. If such advice is needed you should contact a professional in the appropriate field.
Finally, the Building Safety and Permits Division created this document to assist contractors and homeowners in the resolution of problems especially through clear written communication. The Building Safety and Permits Division does not advocate confrontation, legal, emotional, or otherwise as a tool to achieve resolution. It is our sincere hope that contractors and homeowners who are having problems can work together in a spirit of cooperation to resolve all of these issues.
Resolving Technical Problems with the Building Safety and Permits Division
The role of the Building Safety and Permits Division is to enforce the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC). Sometimes the contractor/owner/designer will disagree with a Building Safety and Permits Division decision as to what code requires. When this happens, and even when unmet Code requirements are absolutely clear, options may exist. Often, such problems can be solved easily with a combination of civility, candor, and cooperation. If you are not accustomed to dealing with Building Safety and Permits Division, please understand that inspections are often rejected for valid but minor code discrepancies. Such situations are often easily resolved. As with many similar situations, communication is the key to solving such problems. What follows is an informal attempt to describe a variety of steps to resolve problems.
INFORMAL MEETING -Talk directly to the person who made the decision you disagree with. Normally this involves the inspector who identified a code discrepancy during a requested inspection. Whenever possible, problems should be addressed on this level. You know a lot about your project. The inspector is also familiar with the job, having visited the site. Until you have discussed the matter with that inspector, it's unreasonable to ask a Building Safety and Permits Division manager to intercede. Most problems are resolved at the inspector level. If you are unable to reach agreement with the inspector as to how to solve the problem, the inspector may recommend you consider requesting a Code Modification. Usually, that is the next step. Building Safety and Permits Division staff recognize that it's human nature to be irritated by rejected inspections. We ask that you keep your cool, and try to focus on the facts of the situation. Code violations are resolved by taking measures to bring the situation into compliance. Such measures never include adverse emotional reactions.
CODE MODIFICATION - Section 106.3 of the USBC says: "Upon written application by an owner or an owner's agent, the building official may approve a modification of any provision of the USBC provided the spirit and functional intent of the code are observed and public health, welfare and safety are assured." If you have a code violation, or anticipate one, on your job, and you feel that you meet the "spirit and intent" of code, you may apply in writing to the Building Official for a code "modification." You must state your reasoning why what you want approved is equivalent to the code requirement. The statement of equivalency is important. Many modification applicants identify the code violation while failing to state how they have met the spirit and intent of code. When this happens, the Building Official has no choice but to turn down the request. Applicants who are unsure what to write for equivalency text should imagine that they are standing on the job site looking at the code discrepancy in question. They should imagine the Building Official is standing beside them, and imagine what they would say to him to convince him the item in question meets the spirit and intent of code. What they would say to the Building Official to justify what they have done is what they should offer as text for their modification request. A modification request can be in the form of a letter to the building official, or the applicant can use blank forms available at the Building Safety and Permits Division counter. In either case the application should include the street address, the permit number, and the signatures of both the contractor and the owner. If you have additional questions about this process, please contact the Building Safety and Permits Division staff.
FORMAL APPEAL - Section 119.5 Right of appeal; filing of appeal application. "The owner of a building or structure, the owner's agent or any other person involved in the design or construction of a building or structure may appeal a decision of the building official concerning the application of the USBC to such building or structure and may also appeal a refusal by the building official to grant a modification to the provisions of the USBC pertaining to such building or structure." This is a complex process that utilizes lots of resources for both the applicant and the Building Safety and Permits Division. Ideally formal appeals will never be necessary, but if they are used, they should only be used after the processes identified above have been fully explored. An appeal application must be in writing and must be submitted within 90 days of the decision to be appealed. Upon receipt of the written appeal application, the Building Official shall arrange for the local five member Board of Building Code Appeals (BBCA) to meet within 30 calendar days to consider the appeal. Following a public hearing to consider the matter the BBCA may rule against or in favor of the applicant. Their decision maybe appealed to the state Technical Review Board. The precise administrative processes involved are a bit more complicated than what is described here. If you decide filing an appeal is your only option, please make sure you review the entire administrative process with Building Safety and Permits Division management.