Comments for Minor Work Changes

Read the following and add to and send to Kathleen Asher ASAP

October 3, 2017

Kathleen Asher

NJ Department of Community Affairs

P.O. Box 800

Trenton NJ  08625




Re:       PRN 2017-171


Dear Ms. Asher:


In response to the above-referenced proposal in the August 7, 2017, NJ Register, as Construction Official for the [                  ] I offer the following comments. I will list them from the more general to the specific:


GENERAL 1: The Department correctly states in its Summary that ordinary maintenance is construction work that does not require a construction permit and, therefore, is not inspected. The Summary goes on later to acknowledge that “construction work must comply with the UCC and permits and inspections are tools to ensure compliance”. The proposal is inherently misguided if the Department believes that the proposed uncontrolled construction work will still somehow magically comply with the UCC. Summit tracks the failure rates of its UCC inspections, and at about 17% with inspections, I can only wonder what level the lack of code compliance will diminish to without them.


GENERAL 2: Minor work, as most of the items in the proposal are currently classified, would allow the work to proceed on an owner’s schedule, but balances that activity with at least a prima facie inspection by the construction code officials wherein safety issues or other deficiencies are likely to be identified. Maintenance, on the other hand, is defined as “the process of maintaining or preserving someone or something, or the state of being maintained.”  It does not talk about or contemplate replacement. If the Department’s intent is to reduce the paperwork and inspection burdens on much of the scope of work categorized as ‘minor work’, they should propose to do so instead of attempting to achieve that by illogical re-categorization. That being said, portions of the proposal do make sense in terms of classification as ordinary maintenance.


SPECIFIC 1: [5:23-1.4 Definitions] The proposal seeks to remove any reference to a required prior approval as a disqualifying condition for proceeding as minor work. Regardless of whether or not UCC officials have been handling zoning matters on a de facto basis, the proposal if adopted would allow the replacement of a deck, a porch, or air conditioning condensor without prior review or permit even in the face of potentially contrary municipal zoning provisions. Absent any prior review or permit, the municipality is then faced with the awkward task of post-enforcement by violation. That is not an effective governmental mechanism, and places code officials in a very untenable position.


SPECIFIC 2: [5:23-2.7(c)1.ii.] Maintaining wall finishes, whether the repair of damage or minor restoration as a result of some other activity, has always been classified as such. The extent, however, has been appropriately limited to a portion of a room or space. By increasing the threshold to 25% of the total wall area of a dwelling, entire rooms can now be completely re-finished. New rooms will be created or subdivided where they did not exist prior, and with all new wall finishes permitted, the conditions will be unable to be evaluated for compliance.


Further, the codes often require very specific interior finishes, such as drywall, as a component of a fire-resistance rated assembly, i.e. a load-bearing partitions in large dwellings of Type VA construction. The gross area of  wall replacement would likely fall below the proposed threshold with no construction controls relative to maintaining the required rating.


SPECIFIC 3: [5:23-2.7(c)1.v.] The replacement of any window or door provision should include language similar to emergency escape windows but scoping replacement of safety glazing. Windows in UCC buildings required to have tempered glazing in hazardous locations are now of an age where windows are being replaced. There is typically no permit or inspections, but the regulations ought to be clear that any such exemption includes a requirement that windows required to have safety glazing at the time of installation be replaced only with safety glazing.


SPECIFIC 4: [5:23-2.7(c)] The replacement of a partition is a different matter than a partition railing or a cabinet. The issue of structural versus non-structural is one which plagues many small projects now wherein permits are required. The lack of any construction controls on the process will endanger unwitting residents in cases where inexperienced or disreputable contracting entities deliberately and falsely circumvent these controls by representing the replacements as being non-structural. Changing emphasis from permits and inspections being required to having to intervene on an enforcement basis if and only if the local construction office is able to identify work contrary to this proposed provision is dangerous and unsafe.


SPECIFIC 5: [5:23-2.7(c)1.vii.] I support the clarification of cabinets as ordinary maintenance, but I disagree that the exemption should be extended beyond one-and-two-family dwellings. Structural issues are but one concern; cabinets could be inappropriately installed in an egress corridor or element, affixed to a fire barrier potentially negating a fire-resistance rating. Additionally, the work could readily incorporate a sink or other plumbing fixture that an owner could easily allege was merely a ‘replacement’. In buildings other than one-and-two-family dwellings, this is better suited to minor work.


SPECIFIC 6: [5:23-2.7(c)1.viii. and ix.] I support both of these.


SPECIFIC 7: [5:23-2.7(c)1.x.]  Maintaining a roof could be construed and has been construed as replacing a portion of the roof covering as an interim step to an ultimate replacement. This approach saves the owner the potential expenses of removal of existing roof coverings or even a dead load analysis. There are, however, sound engineering bases for these code provisions upon complete roof replacement. Underlayment is also a consideration. Enhanced underlayment is a code requirement in cases involving very low average temperatures or low slopes. While not typically visible at final inspection, stipulating the requirements at permit time reinforces the requirement for both the owner and the contractor and increases the likelihood that the added protection will be installed if required. Omission of all construction controls will clearly degrade public confidence in the building safety system as it will unquestionably result in non-compliant construction and resultant premature failures. Without any access to the scope and nature of the Department inquiry on this matter, it is difficult to evaluate the reasoning behind the proposal.


SPECIFIC 8: [5:23-2.7(c)1.xi.]   Siding falls into essentially the same category as re-roofing, except that the issues are more fire-related than structural. The Code has limits on exterior wall finishes based upon fire separation distance. Exterior walls in close proximity to property lines may well have higher minimum fire and flame spread requirements than those that are further away. It will be very easy for the siding contracting community to omit these higher-cost elements when there no obligation to the customer or the neighboring owner in terms of a permit, and little or no chance of the unacceptable condition being discovered prior to completion. A companion concern centers around polypropylene siding materials. While excluded from this proposal as ordinary maintenance, it is difficult if not impossible for a local agency to effectively screen this small sub-category of work out of a much larger overall pool of siding work. To simply say the Department emphasizes “that compliance with the UCC is still required” is not going to somehow magically result in voluntary adherence to the regulations.


SPECIFIC 9: [5:23-2.7(c)1.xiii.]   To proffer that a deck is similar to a stoop demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of construction, and to simply delete a part of’ changes the impact of the entire paragraph. Maintenance could certainly include re-pointing, replacing stone treads or rails, applying a brick or adhered stone veneer. As the proposal is worded, replacing an entire stoop raises issues of foundation support, guardrails, handrails and dimensional uniformity. Replacing a framed porch or deck adds even more potential failure points to the project: proper sized foundations, support beams and framing members, proper attachment and hangers, including corrosion resistance, and so on. Merely because the walking surface is 30” or less only reduces the severity of the potential failure, not the likelihood of failure.


There are still serious impacts and furthermore, the public has a right to expect a building code enforcement program to protect against these impacts no matter how high above grade. Further comments appear in the prior approval section; but to expand, if replacement as proposed is classified as ordinary maintenance, this will routinely lead to deck expansions. The local agency, without benefit of prior knowledge or review, will be increasingly placed in the unenviable position of having to be an enforcer against violators rather than an administrator of building safety and codes.


SPECIFIC 10: [5:23-2.7(c)2.iv. and vii. and x.]   The primary concern regarding both unlimited leak repair and valve and fixture replacement as proposed relates to the abuse of the provision by owners and contractors seeking to avoid or circumvent either a permit, inspections, or both. Local agencies are confronted daily with ‘emergency’ work done without permit that turns out to be far less than so in actuality. My experience tells me that plumbing contractors will abuse these permissions to perform plumbing installations far in excess of a repair or valve replacement leaving the burden on the local agency to discover such work and attempt to sort out actual repairs from new installations. Combine leak repair, valve replacement and fixture replacement into ordinary repair, and entire new kitchen and bath layouts can and will occur without permits as the ‘replacement’ is not even restricted by the proposed language to the same location.





SPECIFIC 11: [5:23-2.7(c)3.v.]   I wholeheartedly support the performance standard approach to domestic kitchen hood replacement in concept. I would recommend the proposal be clarified further such that replacement of any domestic kitchen hood with a hood that vents to the exterior as a result of the replacement be classified as minor work or an alteration. As makeup air is required for those with capacity above 400 cfm, the time to incorporate that is during the design phase not after the substandard installation is complete. Integral hood/filter fixtures neither vent to the exterior nor reach the airflow capacity triggering other code provisions


SPECIFIC 12: [5:23-2.14(b)8.]  I concur that a 200 square foot permit threshold for detached sheds with no utilities is appropriate.


SPECIFIC 13: [5:23-2.17A(b)1.]  I take no issue with updating the notification options available to a party desiring to proceed under the minor work provision. The local enforcing agency should be required to provide the electronic means and address of such notifications, and all such notifications should be required to include: the address where the work will be taking place, the precise scope of work, and the responsible party and contact information. Far too many minor work projects fail to follow up with an actual application until or unless pursued by the local agency.


SPECIFIC 14:  [5:23-2.17A(c)1.i.]      This is a very dangerous proposal; see comments in #9.


SPECIFIC 15:  [5:23-2.17A(c)1.iii.]      Repair and replacement of partitions are discussed in Item #4 above; the inclusion of new partitions without prior review of plans creates the potential for severe health and safety consequences. Summit, like many communities, faces an ongoing struggle with illegal and unsafe housing conditions. Basements, attics, living spaces…..they are often reconfigured (without permits or approvals) to create maximum sleeping inventory. These spaces often have inadequate egress, ventilation, a lack of fire detection, and often simply fail to meet basic housing habitability standards.


When considered as a whole, including the subsequent proposed changes at 5:23-2.17A(c)4. for added electrical work scope, i.e. fishing of new conductors, and plumbing ‘leak repairs’ and valve ‘replacement’, entire new rooms and spaces can and will be created without the need for prior permit or review. No rough inspections will occur to see that concealed plumbing and electrical work has been done safely and without deficient splices, fireblocking, appropriate materials, nailing plates, etc. The post-completion inspection will be largely useless.


SPECIFIC 16:  [5:23-2.17A(d)]     The rationale given for reducing the inspection timeframe for minor work from the current 30 days to a proposed 3 days is ‘reflecting the concern for safety inherent in the inspection requirements”.   The true concern for safety requirements lies in the current permit/plan approval and inspection program. A post-construction inspection program, coupled with such broad work scope allowed without plans or progress inspections, places the local agency in the untenable position of certifying that the work “substantially complies with the UCC.” That certification is largely baseless if the project cannot be evaluated beforehand for code compliance, and progress inspections of utility and framing work does not occur.


In my [        ] years of code administration, I believe this is the most fundamentally flawed UCC proposal I have ever encountered. It is a poor attempt to simply remove permit and inspection requirements for a broad scope of work by pooling them with legitimate, long-standing minor work categories. I recommend in the strongest terms that the entire proposal be withdrawn and a much more focused, hazard-driven limited analysis take place