ONE EXPENSIVE SENTENCE IN PROPOSED COUNTY CODE ENFORCEMENT
Page 7, lines 6-8 of Proposed Title V, Kitsap County Code New Code Enforcement Chapter 05142014 reads:
“The landowner shall be responsible for bringing property, structures and their uses into compliance with applicable County codes when purchasing or taking possession of property, structures and their uses.”
Comment: The issue as worded passes the responsibility for “code compliance” on to the purchaser of the property. There are several problems with this: a.) The seller does not have to disclose deficiencies with respect to code compliance. So property may be sold and the buyer could be totally unaware a problem exists until the code compliance officer comes a knocking. Then the new owner is responsible for fixing all code compliance issues if necessary ……….regardless of who created the mess. Alternatively, any proposed sale by a seller will be quashed because a buyer does not know what he or she is buying. Note: I just had such a conversation today with a man who knows he built without permits.
This sentence removes the protection of “grandfathering”, which means the rules under which a building was built no longer apply. The property must be brought up to current County code at time of sale and this could well cost each homeowner $100,000 or more.
Comment: As bad as it is that this provision calls in to question whether or not there is any grandfather rights of property owners, the worse implication is that DCD might wind up as the agency that has to approve every property sale in the County. Keep in mind they want a notice to title issued at the time of sale. Guess how that provision might be enforced.
Before 1975 there was no construction code in Kitsap County and most homes were built with 2” x 4” stud walls. Current code requires 2” x 6” stud walls with insulation to match. Roof truss design requirements have changed. In the very recent past Kitsap County adopted the International Building Code, including numerous items not previously required. All these and many additional requirements would have to be installed in the home by the buyer. As a result, some homes could only be demolished on sale, as updating would be cost prohibitive.
Comment: It is certainly true that prior to 1975 Kitsap County did not have a building code. There were however Health District requirements that had to be met, but even those were far less stringent than those of today. It is not necessarily true that only 2″ x 4″ studs were used prior to 1975. The important thing to stress is that 2″ x 6″ studs became the standard in the industry with the advent of the Washington State Energy Code which came into being in the early 1980s. These studs were used as the most economical building practice to go from an R-11 wall insulation requirement to an R-19 insulation standard(it is now R-22). Both R-19 and R-22 can fit within a 5 1/5″ space, but not a 31/2″ space, which worked well for R-11.
The biggest change that occurred with the advent of the International Building Code (IBC) is the provision for “proscriptive structural elements.” Often these are referred to as “brace wall panels.” Structures built prior to the year 2000, typically did not have these elements. So if you built an addition to your house, or a garage with a 2nd story without a permit you would likely have an expensive problem. Here is why, you would have to hire a structural engineer to evaluate your structure and make recommendations for how to bring your lets say 1990 building in compliance with the IBC. According to the rules now in effect (not the proposed Title V ones) you would have to hire someone to prepare code compliant building plans and the structural engineer. Just for an easy estimate, the building plans would cost about $1,500 and the structural engineer’s cost might be as low as $1,200, but more likely $3,500.00. On top of that you would have to pay double the building permit fee. The latter is based on a standard building construction value not what a homeowner might pay if the work was done without involving a contractor. Typically a building permit fee would range from $2,000 – $3,500. A client of mine paid that much for a new single-family house in 2009. A double permit fee would put the cost of the permit – $4,000 – $7,000. Adding all the costs #1,500 + $3,000 + $4,000 adds to about $8,500 (a likely minimum). This does not count the amount involved in bringing the structure into to compliance with the IBC. So even if there is a lower number for the plans, engineering and building permit fees, structural improvements in the building could be minor or significant. If the latter who knows what those costs might be, but likely (and this is just a guess) in the $5,000 – $15,000 range.
In 2005 Kitsap County updated the Critical Areas Ordinance, which restricts nearly every lot in the county. The typical building lot is encumbered by an average of five various critical area restrictions. These often include setbacks of 150 feet from streams and wetlands, steep slope setbacks, 200 foot setbacks from salt water shoreline, setbacks from eagle nests and heron rookeries, habitat management plans, geotechnical and geological reports and many others. Environmental studies, at a cost of often $5,000 per study would become required, with commensurate mitigations and restrictions of use of portions of the parcels. Depending on severity, the home may have to be relocated on the parcel, if a variance is arbitrarily no allowed.
Stormwater regulations include a 5,000(?) square foot exemption, including roofs and driveways before restrictions apply. This will result in either removal of many driveways or very expensive retention ponds.
Comment: The 5,000 S.F. exemption is only for rural areas. Inside an Urban Growth Area it is 2,500 S.F. The square footage requirement does not tell the whole story. Under current rules, if you have a driveway that is now gravel and you wish to pave it, the paving is counted as new impervious surface area for which a storm drainage plan is required. One can “maintain” and existing gravel driveway and avoid triggering the storm drainage plan and detention requirements, but as the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club just found out, you cannot increase the graveled area even by the smallest of margins without triggering the storm drainage requirements.
Gravity septic systems would no longer be allowed, requiring replacement with “modern” pressure systems which include annual inspections.
Comment: It is still possible to utilize a “gravity” septic system. However, one has to have a depth of sandy soil, read percable soil of about 4-5 feet. Very few building sites have this soil condition. Therefore some sort of pressure system is called for. Typically the costs range from $16,000 – $24,000. Gravity systems by contrast can be installed in the $8,000 – $10,000 range. Anything but a gravity system will have an annual inspection requirement. Code compliance will be triggered, primarily by a failed system or upon investigation an existing system designed for say a 3-bedroom house and the homeowner has four.
There are many additional impacts the purchaser would be required to bear. From the proposed language, it is unclear how this ordinance would be implemented, but likely every sale could be “red tagged”, preventing occupancy until all the requirements of current County code have been met.
Since the result would be a dramatic reduction in the sale price of properties, the assessed values of parcels in the County would drop radically, resulting in a major shift of property tax burden to parcels in the four cities.
Likely, the sale of property will become very difficult.
Page 8, lines 26 through 38 “RIGHT OF ENTRY”, reads:
“Where it is necessary to make an inspection to enforce the provisions of this title, or were the Code Compliance Officer, other authorized County staff, or County agents has a reasonable cause to believe that there exists in a structure or upon a premises a condition which is contrary to or in violation if this title, the Code Compliance Officer, other authorized County staff, or County agents are authorized to enter the structure or premises at reasonable times to inspect or perform the duties imposed by this title, provided that if such structure or premises be occupied that credentials be presented to the occupant and entry requested.” … “If entry is refused, Kitsap County shall have recourse to the remedies by law to secure entry.”
Comment: This provision is totally unacceptable! No citizen can or should be forced to give up their rights under both the State and Federal Constitution! Either the County employee comes to inspect your property with a warrant signed by a judge of a court of competent jurisdiction or he or she is to be refused entry, no ifs or buts!
Since virtually all buildings in the County were built prior to the updating of at least one of the 22 County ordinances, County officials would automatically have reasonable cause to believe there must be at least one violation of current County code, thus guaranteeing inspection of every building at time of sale to ensure compliance.
Comment: To get a warrant, a county employee or sheriff must prove to the court that there is more than reasonable evidence that a code violation exists on the property.
The County Allowable Use table, Title 17 contains 5,012 specific allowed uses of properties, in addition to 83 footnotes and a variety of specific use comments. If the allowed use of your property has changed since you put it in service, that operation would not be allowed to continue.
County ordinances are modified on a regular schedule, so a property developed in good faith with ordinances in effect when it was built could easily become in violation without your knowledge.
Our County Commissioners will be the ones who will approve or disapprove this ordinance, and you should ask them several questions during this election season:
What is the problem being solved?
Who is benefiting from this ordinance – County staff? This ordinance will generate a significant increase in their workload, while much of the cost will be borne by the property owners?
Is there proven harm from not approving the ordinance? Keep in mind, Kitsap County has never done a study to determine the effectiveness of its environmental regulations, although these studies have been requested.
What will this ordinance cost me?