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Permissive codes & permitting process for residential repairs & maintenance

The City of Johns Creek prides itself on customer service and responsiveness to citizen and business concerns.  We have received complaints from our residents regarding the building inspection and permit process.  Specifically, residents have expressed a concern that the City is requiring permits unnecessarily and that inspections may not be as thorough as they should be.  The complaints allege that this has driven up the cost of repairs, improvements and maintenance.  

To that end, the City would like to solicit feedback regarding your personal experience with our permit and inspections process.  Please send an email to our City Manager Warren Hutmacher at permitfeedback@johnscreekga.gov to share any experiences you have had with our permit and inspection process.  Please be as specific as possible regarding your individual experience.  We value your feedback.
 

Background

 
The International Code Council or ICC was established in 1994 as a non-profit organization dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national model construction codes. The goal was to provide a set of standards that could be followed across our state and nation. Georgia has adopted these codes through The Uniform Codes Act which is codified at chapter 2 of title 8 of The Official Code of Georgia Annotated. O.C.G.A. Section 8-2-20(9)(B).
 
In short, Georgia adopted nine sets of codes that are mandatory and four that are permissive. While local governments are not required to adopt any of these building codes, the City cannot enforce any of them unless it adopted the mandatory codes in the exact form that they were approved by the state. The City of Johns Creek opted to enforce these mandatory codes in 2006 upon our incorporation and has also adopted two of the four permissive codes with very good reasons.  From the four permissive codes, Johns Creek has only adopted the Property Maintenance Code and the Existing Building Code. 
 
The mandatory codes adopted by the State include regulations for industry disciplines such as plumbing, gas, electrical and building construction.  The mandatory codes may not be amended by the local government unless the City chooses to make the code more stringent than the State law. Since the City’s goal was primarily to ensure that life safety issues are addressed within Johns Creek, the City opted to not increase the strictness of the existing building codes.
 
The City of Johns Creek also cannot be selective in which codes to enforce among the mandatory state codes.  Only State legislators have the authority to eliminate the mandatory code requirements.  The City recommends that residents contact their State representatives if there is a desire to influence a change to this statewide position.   
 
That said, there is a logic to the way the building code works as well as when residents are required to obtain a permit to perform work on respective homes or properties. In general, routine maintenance of the home that does not involve a change to electrical wiring, plumbing pipes, or gas lines will likely not require a permit. Common examples of routine maintenance include changing out an appliance such as a washer, dryer or refrigerator, changing a light fixture, replacing a light switch or electrical outlet, replacing a component of an air conditioning unit, etc. By comparison, larger repairs such as replacing a roof, deck or siding generally require a permit as each are required to be inspected to ensure that they were performed in a proper and safe manner.
 
The City understands that this approach is sometimes frustrating to homeowners when it slows down the process of completing a repair, but it would be far more frustrating to have a home catch on fire or should a repair not be performed properly. The City is always seeking to balance safety and the public benefit with minimal private intrusion.  An improper installation or repair to appliances or pipes using gas or electrical lines for example, has dangerous potential to affect not only the property owner but surrounding properties and public safety personnel as well.  This is reason the State adopted these codes and the City chooses to enforce them. 
 
The rationale behind the City’s decision to adopt the permissive codes is that it believes that the Existing Building Code section is used to provide relief for those with older homes from costly or burdensome requirements of having to comply with the mandatory Building Code in instances when it would be too burdensome or costly to comply in these older homes.  The International Property Maintenance Code section was adopted to provide the City with the tools necessary to ensure that properties in the City are maintained at a defined minimum level.
 
The City leverages this section to ensure that older commercial complexes or structures are maintained for safety and aesthetic appearance. Additionally, the Property Maintenance Code is a valuable tool to ensure that residential properties within the City are kept to a reasonable standard and do not present potential adverse impacts on the surrounding residents and their respective property values.   A significant amount of the complaints the City receives from citizens such as high grass and weeds, outside storage, rubbish and other nuisances are ultimately resolved using the Property Maintenance Code.
 
The City of Johns Creek believes in small government, individual responsibility and self-reliance.  However, the City cannot independently ignore the enforcement of statewide mandatory codes adopted by the State of Georgia.  The City also believes that residents expect code enforcement officials to uphold their primary responsibility to help maintain the community’s high quality of life and protect property values.
 
The City will continue to focus on ensuring that the processes in place are as customer-friendly as possible.  To that end, it will continue to identify opportunities to expand the online permitting process to expedite permitting and increase convenience.  Additionally, we recognize that emergencies occur and often at inconvenient times such as a water heater unexpectedly fails over the weekend.  In such an instance, the City will work with the homeowners after the fact to verify that the water heater was installed properly rather than make the resident wait for a permit, or be inconvenienced because the repair took place outside of normal City office hours.
 
We believe that the adoption of both the mandatory and two permissive code sections are beneficial to the safety of the residents of Johns Creek and will serve to better protect the investment you have made in your home.