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Which Code or Regulation Applies During the Course of a Project?

Janis Kent, FAIA CASp © June, 2015

Generally when we design a project, we know what codes and regulations apply. But what happens if the project was shelved for a while and suddenly comes alive? Or for that matter what happens if the project is under construction during the transition from the 1991 ADA to the 2010 ADA and it is an ADA requirement that was not previously regulated.


Most local codes are relatively clear. If the project was already in plan check or had the permit pulled you would not be required to update drawings to meet mid-code cycle changes unless there were multiple permits for phased projects. There are exceptions to this of course, and we have seen where we are asked to update specific elements. Years ago I was involved in a project where the AHJ had us install the current fire life safety system requirements as well as the one that were going to be implemented during the calendar time frame of construction even though it was redundant. If the permit was already pulled and the project stopped, the owner could apply for an extension. Different jurisdictions have differing limitations on the time frame for extensions. If permits expired or were never procured and the project was shelved then when later dusted off, you would typically be required to update the project to current codes and regulations.

ADA has a slightly different criteria. The last application date of the building permit certified to be complete or permit extension certified to be complete by the issuing public agency, or if there is no certification, then the date when officially received by the public agency, would be the date for compliance whether for the 1991 or the 2010 ADAS. If no permits were required, then which version of the ADAS would depend on the date for start of construction or alteration. The definition of construction is not when demolition starts nor ceremonial ground breaking but actual construction or site preparation. If a project was newly constructed or altered after ADA went into effect, and did not meet the requirements of the 1991 ADAS before March 15, 2012 (or UFAS if a public building) then it would be required to meet the 2010 ADAS regardless of when permits were issued or construction started. This would not be considered barrier removal or program accommodation but rather it would be a mandatory requirement since the building is in non-compliance. Do note the difference between local public Building and Safety and planning agencies which typically use the plan check submittal date as the benchmark for which building codes apply, whereas ADAS stipulates the completion of the building permit. In the latter case, whether the benchmark date is when the permit is approved to be pulled or whether it is actually the date it is paid for and pulled is not entirely clear.

So some examples. Per the 2013 California Building Code (CBC) and the 2010 ADAS, baby changing stations (bcs) can be placed in the accessible stall as long as there is additional space so the bcs does not interfere with the stall maneuvering space and clearances in both the open and closed positions, although this is not recommended. With the CBC supplement that will become effective July 1, 2015 bcs can no longer be placed within the stall. If the building permit has already been issued before this implementation date, generally this would not be required to be modified, although sometimes inspectors have required items to be changed in the field.

Another example would be a swimming pool. Prior to March 15, 2012 one would follow local codes, although for the year and a half prior to that date you had the option of following the 2010 ADAS as well. If the permit was already officially issued before March 15, 2012, you would have only been required to follow local codes, but in this case since it is a new ADA requirement you would not receive safe harbor and would then have the obligation of removing barriers that are readily achievable for places of public accommodation or to provide program access for public buildings. In my opinion, if the element has not yet been constructed or just started, it might be easier and less costly in the long run to just revise it to meet the 2010 ADAS requirements and for the most part this provides for greater access.

If the item was regulated per the 1991 ADAS and the 2010 ADAS changed the requirements, if the permit, or permit extension fell prior to March 15, 2012 and you met the 1991 ADAS, there are no requirements to modify the element until that item is actually being altered. So be aware of the public agency approval date to understand which version of the ADA applies. Also be aware that if the item does not have Safe Harbor it would be worth considering revising that element if not yet constructed due to Barrier Removal or Program Access obligations.

Thanks to Nathan W. for the topic request. If you have a topic you’d like to request, please email me.

Be aware that your local City or County may have additional requirements that are more restrictive than the State or Federal requirements. Also, this article is an interpretation and opinion of the writer. It is meant as a summary – current original regulations should always be reviewed when making any decisions.

© Janis Kent, Architect, FAIA, CASp 2015