Building Code Compliance


Other than during construction, building code compliance becomes an issue when failure to adhere to a code or a standard caused personal injury or property loss. Depending on the situation, failure to comply with the building codes may be either supportive or central to the case.

For example, code compliance used as supportive evidence strengthens a slip/trip and fall case. This approach is useful only when conditions at the incident site failed to meet code, and can be shown to have contributed to the incident. The steepness of a ramp, the absence of handrails, the rise and run of a stair, or changes in floor elevation at an exit door may contribute to a fall. By contrast, travel distance to an exit or absence of an automatic fire damper may violate code but still have no relevance to the slip/trip and fall issue. At the same time, in litigation concerning lives lost during a fire, these same violations of the codes become defining issues.

Identifying the code that governed construction of the building under consideration precedes the determination of code compliance. Before 2000, there were several model codes that were updated on a three-year cycle. In 2000 the International Building Code consolidated the three major model codes into one model code. Municipalities can write their own code, promulgate a model code “as-is” or amend and/or modify a model code before adopting it. In addition to the local building code, various state and federal standards can also govern construction. Usually, a building must comply with the code(s) promulgated at the time it was built.

In most cases, the scope of building codes is limited to the physical boundaries of the building. If the incident occurred outside the boundaries of the construction covered by the code, there may be no statutory regulation to support the case.


Effective determination of code compliance must address the following issues:
  • What code governed construction at the time the building was built?
  • Did the incident occur within the physical boundary over which the code has authority?
  • What is the configuration of the building at the location of the incident?
  • What sections of the code are relevant to the construction?
  • Does the construction comply with the code?
  • If the construction fails to comply, in what way does it violate the code?
  • Could this violation have been foreseen and prevented?