Code enforcement impacted by COVID-19: ICC survey

Building departments are working through the pandemic, but are facing challenges
Builders could face slowdowns if permitting and inspection departments can't adapt to remote work.

Most building and fire departments around the country are still performing inspections, according to a survey released April 2 by the International Code Council, but they’re facing challenges as they adapt to mixing remote and in-person work.

[Related: A county-by-county guide to working through social distancing]

The fact that 93% of departments are still working shouldn’t be a surprise, according to the council, as most states have recognized that construction is an essential business, and has largely been exempted from stay-at-home orders. However, ICC’s survey shows that code departments are unevenly prepared to maintain social distancing measures.

Nearly two-thirds of inspection professionals surveyed said some or all of their workers are conducting plan reviews or inspections remotely, and 66% are using a combination of electronic and hard-copy documents. Just 7% have transitioned entirely to electronic versions of necessary documents, while 27% said they still rely only on hard copies.

“This could create challenges where hard copies are shared and departments do not have enough hard copies for each now-remote employee that needs them,” ICC wrote in a statement. “In fact, 23% said their employees do not have access to needed hard-copy code books.”

While most departments have transitioned at least part of their workforce to remote work, some simply don’t have the capacity to do so. ICC found that 61% of departments don’t have the ability to conduct electronic or remote inspections, and 40% can’t do plan reviews remotely. Thirty percent said they aren’t able to conduct permitting functions online.

Some builders may have to wait longer for permits, as requests for permits for temporary shelters increase. The survey found over a quarter of departments have received requests for temporary occupancy or temporary shelter permits as hospitals have tried to set up beds in gymnasiums, hotels or outpatient surgical centers.

[Related: Pride of place—How builders shape their communities]

ICC noted that remote work at code departments should be eligible for funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Code enforcement actions have previously been funded through FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and the Community Development Block Grant program, according to the council.

“The Code Council has also urged the U.S. Congress to allocate support specifically for code department remote capabilities as part of a fourth coronavirus response measure Congress is currently considering,” according to ICC.

Danielle Andrus

Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.

Danielle Andrus has 343 posts and counting. See all posts by Danielle Andrus

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