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RE: UBC Commentary

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>No secret.  Except for the courts, the building official,
>not ICBO, is the final interpreter of the building code
>and ICBO does not want to be drawn into the middle
>of a dispute between the building official and some
>applicant for a permit.  This is especially true, if their
>opinion was to be used against the building official.
>Of course, if the applicant believes that ICBO would
>support his or her position, then asking the building
>official to seek ICBO's interpretation would be appropriate.

The following ICBO Code Interpretation Policy is posted at 

ICBO Code Interpretation Policy 
by Jon Traw (January - February 1998) 
Based on the number of written and telephone inquiries handled by the
Conference's technical staff, it is apparent that requests for
interpretations of code provisions are high on the list of services
requested by the Conference membership. From its inception, this service was
designed to assist enforcing jurisdictions in the application and
understanding of the code provisions contained within the Uniform Codes
promulgated by the International Conference of Building Officials. Demand
for interpretation services has accelerated as the Conference has grown and
has resulted in an ever-increasing number of total requests from all
segments of those involved in the construction process, i.e., code
officials, architects, engineers, contractors and building owners. 
The litigious nature of our society has also led to numerous requests from
code consultants and attorneys. The increase may be at least partially
attributed to increased litigation and reluctance to exercise one's
judgement as freely as in the past. Regardless of the reason, the demand for
interpretation services from the Conference has increased almost
exponentially. This phenomenon is not expected to decrease, and as the code
provisions become more complex, there is a need to be extremely careful as
to how one interprets the code requirements. What is the ICBO policy on
responding to requests for interpretations of the Uniform Codes which the
Conference publishes? As with any corporation, the policies are formulated
and adopted by the board of directors elected to represent the Conference
membership. The adopted policy states: 
Code interpretations involving specific job situations are to be given only
to representatives of a Class A member having jurisdiction. Staff shall
expedite responses to building officials or persons initiating inquiries. If
any person initiating an inquiry does not wish the response to be sent to
the building official, staff is to advise the inquirer by telephone or
correspondence to deal with the authority having jurisdiction. 
It is clear that requests for code interpretations from other than
representatives of Class A members are not to be answered when specific
construction projects are involved. The reasons for this are fairly
straightforward and simple. 
First, the Conference staff is unaware of local amendments which may have
been adopted by the authority having jurisdiction and, thus, may influence
the appropriate response. Second, the authority having jurisdiction is the
individual charged with the responsibility for interpretation of the codes
as outlined in Section 202 (a) of the Uniform Building Code : "The building
official shall have the power to render interpretations of this code. . . ."

In addition, the details of specific projects are certainly understood by
the authority having jurisdiction because the authority is responsible for
the plan review process and familiar with the conditions and local
environment. To potentially place Conference staff in the middle of a
dispute is inappropriate. 
Our experience in responding to code interpretations over a period of many
years has not yielded a case where the authority having jurisdiction refused
to consult with the Conference staff when requested to do so by an
applicant. The Conference staff is to function as an advisor to the building
official, and this is best performed only in a relationship directly with
the authority having jurisdiction. 
Approximately half of the code interpretations by Conference staff currently
come from persons other than the authority having jurisdiction. The policy
specifically states the inquirer is to be advised that the response will be
sent to the building official and further discussion should take place
between the inquirer and the building official. Members of the Conference
other the representatives of Class A members have expressed a desire to
benefit directly from discussions with ICBO staff on code interpretation
issues. To offer such a service not other than Class A members would,
however, place the Conference staff in a position where they might be
offering advice on an issue involving state or local requirements of which
they are unaware and over which they do not have legal responsibility. The
benefit of the thinking of the ICBO staff must, therefore, be offered to
architects and engineers through a process that begins with the building
official of the authority having jurisdiction. 
In an effort to reduce the number of times that application of a code
provision is unclear to a code user, the Conference strives to provide
publications, education and training materials explaining the code
provisions. The Handbook to the Uniform Building Code, Uniform Building Code
Application/Interpretation Manual, Plan Review Manual, Building Standards
magazine and video training tapes are just a portion of the materials
intended to address the interpretation issue. The offerings will continue to
improve and will result in a better-informed individual whether he or she is
a code official, engineer, architect, contractor or building owner. 
One of the primary reasons for publishing this article on the Conference's
code interpretation policy is to ensure all members have a clear
understanding as to the specific board policy and the reasons for the
policy. Arguments for varying our approach on code interpretations can
certainly be put forth, but when considered within the legal authority,
specific job knowledge and potential misuse, the scales weigh heaviest
toward the present ICBO Board of Directors' position. Abuses of any policy
are always something one must consider, but experience has thus far shown
ICBO's policy to be in the best interest of the Conference and its