Idaho Town Embroiled in Bizarre Building Code Rebellion

Photo: Loren Benoit, Cour D'Alene Press

A perfect storm of State law, local growth and regulatory distrust has some citizens calling for a no-code approach to building.

The State of Idaho requires that municipalities adopt the same version of the International Building Code as the one accepted at the State level. However, County Commissioners back in December voted 2 to 1 NOT to adopt the State’s update of the refuse to accept the update of the International Building Code and the International Energy Conservation Code. That puts Kootenai County in a legal jam, and to break the jam, they have offered four possible “solutions” to citizens:

Here’s an excerpt from local reporter Brian Walker, from the Cour D’Alene Press:

The four options county commissioners will consider after the public hearing include:
1.  adoption of building codes with opt-out provisions allowed for residential and accessory
structures on parcels of 5 acres or larger (proposed by Commissioner Bob Bingham);
2.  repeal of the building code ordinance, adoption of building location permit requirements and
procedures and adoption of a voluntary building code permit program (proposed by
Commissioner Marc Eberlein);
3.  adoption of the updated building codes (proposed by Commissioner Chris Fillios); and
4.  repeal of the building code ordinance.

According to reports from County officials, “The vast majority of them are a form letter from Realtors requesting the board to maintain the building codes,” but at least 16 comments “either do not want any building codes or
prefer the Eberlein option of opting in for permits and inspections.”

Local architect Mark Latham told the Cour d’Alene Press that “a ‘perfect storm’ of high construction volume, escalating land, material and labor prices and a backlog at review agencies has led to the building code debate. “Complaints have been frequent to county commissioners, and the answer for some was to do away with bureaucracy and eliminate the building (permit) process,” he said. “The real answer is to look at the fundamental problems and come up with real concrete solutions.”

In a strange twist, some critics of the building code see it as a conspiracy that only benefits builders and construction professionals, and that without codes, more citizens will choose to build their own homes without having to hire a general contractor. The irony is that builder organizations such as the NAHB have fought for decades against stricter building codes.

It’s unlikely—but not impossible—that the County will “abolish” the building code entirely, but the very fact that this option is on the table should raise some red flags. While such anti-regulatory sentiment represents the minority viewpoint, it’s rooted in the same narrative that put Donald Trump in the White House. But it’s a narrative that simply doesn’t hold up in the real world. The idea that homes will be built safely and efficiently without the parameters set by building codes is one that has been proven false time and again. If you have any doubt, compare the performance of homes built in Florida before the adoption of the State’s new code, and after.

Full versions of each Kootenai County code proposals are at www.kcgov.us.

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