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Blog :: 05-2011

Public Buildings and Fire Marshall Inspections

Any residential multi-unit building in Vermont is considered a "Public Building" and subject to Vermont's Public Building Regulations. Multi-unit buildings are any residential building other than a single family detached home. Thus, a duplex, a condominium unit, an attached townhouse and apartment buildings are all subject to the Public Building regulations in Vermont.

Over the past 3 years, attorneys have developed a belief and standard of practice for Public Buildings. Attorneys have begun requiring that every seller of a Public Building, including a condominium unit, provide either a current Public Building Certificate of Occupancy or have an inspection performed by a Fire Marshall proving that the building meets current life safety codes.

Despite the best of intentions of attorneys to protect their clients, this new system created by attorneys is a nightmare for anyone selling an apartment building or condominium building in Vermont.

Prior to attorneys insisting upon inspections, sellers of a condominium units and apartment buildings did not have to conduct inspections because the Public Building Regulations specifically allowed existing buildings to remain in use unless they were deemed an imminent threat to human safety.

Under the new system, the current owner becomes solely responsible for bringing their building or unit into compliance with current codes even if the building or unit complied with the code that existed at the time that the current owner purchased it. For instance, many condominium buildings were built in the 1980's in Chittenden County. Many of these buildings have windows that met 1980's egress standards but do not meet 2011 egress standards. If the owner of one of these units wants to sell, they will have to replace the windows to meet current egress standards. For many owners who are simply trying to break even on the sale these days, the extra expense for new windows is often cost prohibitive.

In addition to the additional costs to sellers, the new inspection requirement has created a bureaucratic mess. The State Fire Marshall's office was never consulted on this new inspection requirement. The system was created by lawyers to protect their own liability. As a result, the State Fire Marshall's office does not have the resources to conduct the number of inspections required.

I recently had a client who called the Fire Marshall's office to schedule inspection. The client called three times over a two week period and left messages. He finally received a call back. The inspection was scheduled for the following week (3 weeks from the initial call). At the inspection, the Fire Marshall told my client that he would get the report to him as quickly as possible. My client did not receive the report for 3 weeks. So in total, it took 6 weeks to simply receive the report.

Upon receiving the report, there were errors in it. In order to rectify the situation my client had to get in touch with the Fire Marshall to get a corrected report. Additionally, although the building was built in 1900, the Fire Marshall required the building to be brought up to 2011 standards. In order to bring the property into compliance, my client had to obtain a variance for certain items and spend approximately $5,000 to rectify other issues.

The whole inspection process delayed the closing and put the entire transaction in jeopardy.

I do not have a problem ensuring that buildings are safe, but laws provide for "grandfathering" for a reason. To place the entire financial burden on the existing owner even if the building has been considered safe for more than 100 years seems absurd. Furthermore, to have a system that takes 6-10 weeks when most parties want to close within 45 days of the contract being signed, places a tremendous obstacle on an already battered real estate market.

Flat Fee takes pride inadheringto regulatorybuilding safety codes. We do everything we can to make our properties safe for all who may enhabit them. Questions? Concerns? Contact us here... or leave a comment below!

Comments

  1. Yanan Shang on

    Can I not sell my condo (1/2 of a house) until I have a Firemarshall inspection? We live in Colchester near Mallets Bay. Thanks
    • Tom Cull on

      From my experience as a first time home buyer, make sure that the Fire Inspection happens as soon as you have made an offer. The seller may not be aware if they are FSBO and bought years ago, when it might have been up to code. Egress windows are no drop in the ocean to install and the seller may or may not be willing to pay for it or at least split the cost. It's so easy to market a property as 'finished living space' but a seller needs to be cautious if that's really not the case. Very interesting post!
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