State Has New Renovation Rules

October 28, 2002
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LANSING — They may not be getting something good to eat, but no one has to smell anybody’s feet, either.

Still, it’s a treat instead of a trick this Halloween for building renovators, as a set of new statewide rules that govern renovation projects will go into effect on Thursday.

Michigan Department of Consumer & Industry Services (CIS) Director Noelle Clark said the new guidelines would make renovations less scary and more cost effective for investors, architects and developers. She also felt the rules would help eliminate urban decay and save acres of Michigan farmland from being lost to new construction.

“Without these new rules, our communities would undoubtedly continue to see property owners and developers investing in new construction rather than using existing buildings,” said Clark, who took over the agency in August from Kathy Wilbur.

“This would mean more aging buildings would be left abandoned, which would only exacerbate the development of valuable farm land, increase urban blight and decay, and reduce the tax base that is necessary to make Michigan cities economically viable,” she added.

The set of new rules is officially called the Michigan Rehabilitation Code for Existing Buildings and the code becomes effective on Halloween, Oct. 31.

“What we have is a code that responds to a need first expressed to us by developers about a year-and-a-half ago. Developers came to us then and said the existing Michigan building code makes it difficult and often too expensive to renovate existing buildings,” said Tom Martin, director of the office of policy and legislative affairs for CIS.

The new code is a prescriptive one that replaces the state’s performance code, which was often confusing for everyone involved. Under the performance code, a developer could earn points for doing a number of smaller projects in a building. When a developer accumulated enough points, part of a project, such as widening a narrow hallway, could be exempted.

“The problem was the performance code wasn’t widely used and wasn’t understood either by developers or many building officials. Developers really preferred a prescriptive code that says, ‘If you’re going to renovate this building, this is what you’re going to need to do,’” said Martin.

“And those requirements would be less severe than if a developer was going to build something new somewhere outside the city,” he added. “What the developers were looking for in the development process was certainty, because someone would put up money only to find out later there were additional costs that they didn’t know about when they first looked at the building.”

The code also allows developers to do some work without having to get a permit.

For instance, sidewalks and driveways not more than 30 inches above grade can be repaired and replaced without a permit as long as these are not over a basement or another level of a building. Minor electrical and mechanical repairs also can be made without a permit, as can changes to a building’s plumbing system.

In some cases, developers won’t have to submit construction documents for review, and temporary power can be used without notice before the installation of an electric system.

All existing buildings in the state are covered by the new code, so the rules don’t just apply to older structures and historic renovation projects.

“It’s easier to follow and there is a level of certainty in it that we didn’t have in the performance code,” said Martin.

Clark added that the new rules mirror the International Existing Building Code, which she felt would ensure safety in existing buildings.

“We held a public hearing on the proposed code in August and received overwhelming support from government leaders, architects, historians, business owners and consumers,” said Clark.

“The new rules make the rehabilitation of Michigan’s aging buildings more attractive and cost effective, without jeopardizing the safety levels of the structure. It encourages people to reuse the structures currently available and help reduce urban sprawl concerns facing many communities.”           

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