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Use issues vs code ones

Jim Baird

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I know most here inspect existing buildings mostly, as do I, but sometimes I inspect new work.

I live in an area that is sparsely populated and mostly agricultural use, but is covered by standard codes and a fairly standard zoning regimen.

Sometimes use, which is classified in our state by NFPA 101 Life Safety, clashes with ICC codes.  Life safety does not address separation of uses, but it does define them.  ICC codes do address rated construction but do not define use (in our state anyway).

I have a client who has added habitable space to an agricultural use building.  The local AHJ has refused to "sign off" on the habitable space because it is regarded as outside the use category of the building (a "shop" space associated with a chicken farm).  Because the habitable space was only noticed by the AHJ after it was completed, yet still under permit for the ag use, they want the owner to hire me to conduct an inspection of the habitable space.

I am fine with that, but I have to tread the tightwire of description by not calling the space a "dwelling" to avoid use issues.  I also want to avoid separation issues that the ICC would call for if the dwelling were to be attached to a "garage".

Does anyone here do deal with new work have to do this kind of hopscotch?

Edited by Jim Baird
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Responding from my phone, so please pardon my brevity.

Call it what it is, include the fact that there may not be adequate fire separation. Inspect to a standard that was in place at the time the construction was performed. 

There is no tight wire per se, it is what it is, there is a way to make it conforming. That said, the solution may not be palatable for the owner.

Clearly the use matters to how the building is built, but the zoning matters as to whether or not the use is allowed.

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It sounds like trouble to me, but you can do the inspection and just avoid using those words in your report.

Is the seller your client? The same guy that built without a proper permit? And he's set it up so tractors and trucks can drive in and out? I would certainly call for fire separation and exhaust ventilation.

Sometimes here an old building will be sold as have a non-conforming use, that is, not zoned for that use or not built under a permit. But new build, no way, they would be putting a 'Stop Work" order on it until the AHJ is satisfied.

BTW, nice grammar.

Edited by John Kogel
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The AHJ is just passing the buck to you. He's not going to care what you do as long as your recommendations are within the general boundaries of reason. 

I'd call it a non-conforming studio, or something like that, and just inspect it as if it were a dwelling attached to a garage. Why would you want to avoid such separation issues? 

I inspect these things once or twice per year and I always treat them that way. No one's complained about it. . . 

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13 hours ago, Jim Katen said:

Why would you want to avoid such separation issues? 

Thanks for the replies.

I preached the gospel of separation to the owner/occupant, whose use of this space is to be temporary. 

Remaining space is in fact not a garage but a multi-purpose work space associated with ag use.

(It replaces a DWMH that was there and was sold and moved, so there isn't a zoning issue as to number of dwellings per parcel.  Owner would rather not jacket the party walls with drywall to satisfy IRC garage separation, which actually is not included among rated wall assemblies from IBC.

Local AHJ has a policy (a strange one IMHO) of not inspecting anything existing.

I will just visit, write about what was done, and bill by the hour. I will call it "habitable space" to punt the labeling of the building down the road.

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I could not certify the building for a house.

AHJ is being goofy, charging owner with have changed permitted use and therefore due to permit as residential, but AHJ refuses to inspect any existing buildings, which leaves them a little short on service.  Don't see how they could charge for permit and refuse to inspect.

Here is the letter I issued him, told him to swing it like a stick at Magistrate's.

Jim Baird Inspection Services

      Jim Baird • 584 Hawksview Dr., • Comer, Ga. 30629 • Phone  706 783 5568



Inspection Report


November 06, 2017



At the owner’s request I visited the subject property the morning of November 06, 2017, to inspect part of a building.


The building was a multi-purpose agricultural building, permitted, inspected, and certified for occupancy of the permitted use.


The original building layout included buried plumbing systems for bath and utility locations, and included service installation of a 200 ampere service.


After its occupancy under its use, the utility space was fitted with amenities to make the occupancy more accessible through the duration of time and weather.  Back in the day, when it was so desirable to have a space in the ag setting where an occupant could bathe, prepare meals, and rest without leaving the property, it was called a “break area”, where the sweated brow might find some relief.


In such light the enhanced use of the multi-purpose space’s availability only more fully expresses the permitted use.


My inspection found a well made habitable space that missed the mark on some code requirements for a dwelling space like a house, where all the building is put to residential use.


As part of a building made for the multiple purposes of agricultural needs the so-called dwelling space is not intended for permanent dwelling use.  It could be called the “comfort zone” of a barn.



Inspection for Martin (Continued)


The owner showed me his documents on the septic system installation.  The plumbing, electric, and heating work was done by licensed practitioners.


It is a clean and well done rest area.  You can even do laundry there.


I don’t think it is fair, however, given its location on the site of a working agricultural operation, to describe the building as a “dwelling”.






Jim Baird


Certified Inspector

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If there's a sleeping area, an eating area with provisions to cook, a pooping area and they all meet the minimum  area standards set forth in code, it's a dwelling unit.

I think this is the first time I've ever disagreed with anything you've written. It'd be a bad scene if someone burned to death (gassed, electrocuted, et al) while living/ sleeping in the space after you (eloquently)said it was OK. 

The AHJ sees the  liability of being the person to write the letter you wrote and he/she realizes that indemnification won't save his ass if he's negligent in his duty. He should insist that the property owner modify the premises such that the space does not meet the definition of a dwelling unit. Then he should demand that all construction performed w/o a permit be brought to the applicable standard that was in place at the time of construction.

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I appreciate the replies.  It's what makes this forum better than the other ones.

I see my role here as an advocate, just like a lawyer that takes a stand based on a certain rationale.  I have seen lots of little nestlike cubbies in ag type buildings in this county that were just called barns or whatever.  OP erred saying permit was still active.  It was done and signed off as the letter points out.  When you say negative, Bill, do you mean AHJ won vs individual?

In this case AHJ is off base by demanding permit yet refusing to inspect as its part of permit process. I think their standing in terms of written policy is really shaky.

Land use regs will always be contentious.

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