Tricks Of The Trade: Who Is Responsible For Code Violations?

By James C. Elledge, IFMA Fellow, CFM, FMA, RPA, RIAQM
Published in the September 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Q Who is held accountable if a building or a leased space within a building is out of compliance with building codes? Is it the building owner? The property management company? The facility manager? The tenant leasing the space? Combination of X and Y? All of the above?

Joe Rousseu
Data Center Consultant
Wright Line
Worcester, MA

A This is a really great question. The first answer that comes to mind is, in most jurisdictions, the building owner will be served with any building code violations or non-compliance issues. Putting the property owner on notice is the primary way the code enforcement department can be assured that the owner is aware of the violation and will take steps to correct any issues.

Now, who is responsible for the non-compliant problems? This really depends on the type of violation.

If a tenant causes the violation, such as storing paper in the electrical closet, cluttering corridors with boxes, or allowing space heaters in buildings which ban them, then I would say the facility manager would be responsible for allowing these violations to occur. But if the building has exit signs which are not properly illuminated, then the property manager would be responsible for correcting the violation.

The true deciding factor regarding ultimate responsibility would be the lease document. Here you will find all of the “shall and shall nots” for corrections of any and all code violations. Just keep in mind, landlords will try to pass on as much blame as they can, while tenants will try to eliminate any responsibilities outside of their demised premises.

One rule of thumb, if the violation is associated with a permanent part of the building, the landlord should make the correction. If it is only within the leased space, then it is more than likely the tenant’s responsibility to address the violation.
However, many leases are set up for the landlord to take ultimate responsibility if the tenant ignores or delays any attempts to correct the code violation. In these instances, the landlord will then bill the tenant for the work performed.

Since code violations target the property owner, any potential buyers should perform their due process and contact the local code office to see if any outstanding violations exist. Just because the building changes ownership does not mean outstanding code violations and/or possible fines have been removed.

Elledge,facility/office services manager for Dallas, TX-based Summit AllianceCompanies, is the recipient of the Distinguished Author Award from theInternational Facility Management Association (IFMA), is an IFMA Fellow, and isa member of TFM’sEditorial Advisory Board. All questions have been submitted via the “Ask TheExpert” portion of the magazine’s web site. To pose a question, visit this link.