Ontario Construction News staff writer
On April 24, the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) co-ordinated two conference calls between members and representatives of the city’s Building Code Services (BCS) department.
Here is a distillation of the questions and answers published by the association. While this information specifically focuses on Ottawa-area residential contractors, both for new home and renovation projects, the answers may provide insights for contractors elsewhere wondering how the inspection process will work and how the permitting process will be handled under current emergency regulations and once they are lifted.
Building officials included chief building official Frank Bidin, John Buck, manager and deputy chief building official, Building Inspection and Enforcement, and manager, permit approvals Richard Ashe.
Q: What kind of timeline/delays should members be expecting with applications they are filing now?
A: The volume of applications BCS is receiving has slowed. Numbers are less than expected at this time of year, so application processing has caught up on the backlog that existed prior to April 4th. We are taking in applications currently – couriered or mailed.
Q: Are permits currently being processed to the point where they are ready for pick-up?
A: The invoice summary is being sent to applicants once applications are completed. Cannot fully process without the billing component – which we don’t want to enable due to the unknown timeline of distribution. No new permits will be issued, they will be held until restrictions are lifted.
Q: How are you planning on managing the distribution of permits that will need to occur once the held back permits are issued?
A: We will be looking to expedite these permits once restrictions are lifted. We will be working with industry to find solutions based on what exists in the system to distribute. We are actively looking at the best way to handle that – there is nothing that is not on the table.
Q: Are you currently providing permit revisions to permits issued prior to April 4th?
A: Yes, we are honouring those revisions including submission revisions and process revisions and reissuing permits where applicable Master Plan Reviews are being taken through the process and issued back to the builder
Q: Can you share the direction/expectations from Building Code Services to inspectors on their approach to inspections during the Covid-19 pandemic?
A: Overall, the industry and BCS on the same page, with health and safety being a number one priority for both groups. We are not entering occupied dwellings (residential/health care). Partially occupied multi-unit buildings can provide challenges, and industry and inspectors need to work together to find creative ways to do these inspections using technology with proper documentation to substitute in-person interaction when possible. As a note, City of Ottawa staff have to go through a daily declaration prior to reporting the work daily (virtual and physical) Other messaging to inspectors include:
- social/physical distancing – 6 ft.
- More frequent hand washing
- Minimizing contact with people
- Get creative as required when it comes to checking in – phoning ahead of time etc.
- Expectations are lack of crowding on site, yards or parking lots
- Abide by site specific rules
Feedback from inspectors on construction sites: There have been few reports of cases where social distancing, has not been respected on sites, but overall we feel the inspection process is going well on sites.
Q: How are you planning to manage the glut of inspections that will need to occur once the held back permits are issued?
- Right now are inspection volumes are down – and with our overall healthy workforce in relation to Covid-19, we will move resources where we need them.
Q: Exterior finals – How is this going to be managed this year?
A: Now is a very good time to deal with this – because inspection volumes are down. Have discussions with your inspectors and program managers.
Q: Can site servicing proceed if there are no building permits issued?
A: Legislation is being interpreted as that the only type of servicing that can take place has to be in relation to issued permits in order to be compliant. BCS is looking for more clarity from the Ministry.
Q: Is landscaping permitted?
A: Bylaw services issued a municipal notice re: property maintenance to provide clarity on what was permitted, as it was recognized there is a need to allow grass to be maintained by private companies, which can now continue as of May 1st. This only applies to property maintenance – not hard landscaping activities. However, if landscaping work needs to take place as a result of a building permit: construction of a deck for an egress, finish grading, retaining walls, laying sod to ensure proper drainage – it is permitted to take place, and inspections in relation to these activities will happen.
Q: Due to material shortages in relation to the pandemic – will occupancy inspections be more lenient? Ex. Missing an interior door?
A: So long as it’s code compliant. There is no latitude in the Building Code – so if it’s not met, we can’t approve it.
Q: Is there any way that BCS would issue the currently held back permits with the understanding that work will not commence until government restrictions are lifted?
A: We feel that issuing permits now would send mixed messages as permits give you permission to build. We are very much aware of the upcoming surge, and are preparing to manage this effectively.
Q: Will you have enough staff to process the payments once permits are invoiced?
A: We will redeploy staff as required in terms of administration, permits and inspections to meet industry need. Have staff available to take duties where there is peak demand.