Many cities in Iowa regulate how buildings and structures in their community are constructed. This is done to protect the safety and well-being of the citizens and to establish uniform standards for property owners. After approving these standards, cities will often require property owners to get a building permit before construction begins. They also establish building inspection methods so the city has the ability to see if a building is in compliance.
Each city has some options regarding their building, electrical, plumbing, mechanical and fire codes. Many cities adopt the State Building Code of Iowa and use its provisions. Others may use standardized, uniform codes developed by national associations – these codes are typically adopted by reference. Cities that opt to establish local codes must remember to not set any codes that are less stringent than those imposed by the state (they may be more stringent, however). Also, cities with a population of 15,000 or more are required to adopt a building code at least equal to the State Building Code of Iowa.
Building codes provide the standards, regulations and inspection methods for the construction and major repairs or renovations of buildings. They also set the standards and regulations for mechanical, electrical, heating/air conditioning, ventilating and plumbing systems. City officials should review these codes often to ensure they match the wishes of the city council and that proper enforcement is being done.
Building codes usually require a person interested in constructing or renovating a building to first obtain a building permit from the city. The process often requires the applicant to submit their building plans and scope of work and allows for a building inspector to review the plans to see if they are in compliance. Many cities charge a fee for the building permit to cover the costs of inspecting the plans as well as site inspections of the actual construction. The city council approves these fees and should review them annually.
It is imperative that cities establish a method of inspecting buildings and then execute that plan. While having proper building codes and regulations is necessary, the city must enforce those provisions to ensure its citizens live and work in safe structures. Most larger cities will hire employees to inspect building plans and complete site inspections. Smaller cities typically do not have the budget capacity or need to hire a city employee to do this work and many hire an inspector on a contractual basis. In either case, the city should set inspection standards and schedules for when inspections will occur. The city should also establish protocol for when a building is found to not be in compliance, including parameters for how and when the property owner can rectify the issue.