Grandfathering | Home Inspection | Building Code | Santa Clarita
Grandfathering as most of us understand it… is acknowledging that a building component is, for the most part, installed in a substandard manner. That is when compared to a newer more modern standard or requirement.
As a General Contractor and Residential inspector for over 25 years, it still amazes me to see local Santa Clarita Home Inspectors use the term “Grandfathered” so loosely. In many cases, not understanding how Grandfathering actually works, inspectors sometimes passing on the opportunity to warn a buyer of the potential hazards that may exist within an otherwise outdated system.
If there are two things you need to take from this, it’s first that building codes change in response to;
- Technological advances
- Industry pressures
Secondly, it’s unreasonable to assume that your house, because it may have been built to an older standard must be retrofitted to a newer standard. It does not.
The role of your home inspector
The home inspection business is not all about buying a flashlight, making a website and kissing up to as many realtors who you think will help propel your career. It is about protection. That is, protecting your clients.
If you’re going to be a home inspector the first thing that you need to acknowledge is that your only job is to protect your clients from danger. All the while understanding that there are no consequences for alerting your client to any possible hazards. Not warning your clients of hazards, on the other hand, could be considered by some professionals to be reckless, despite the fact that Grandfathering is likely correct.
There are some home inspectors who believe that their job is to inspect a house in its current state. Open some windows, check some plugs and turn on and off some sink faucets. That is, concentrate on the task in front of them not considering outdated “Grandfathered” hazardous conditions.
In this case, the term Grandfathered simply means, “it’s an older code, therefore it’s a non-issue”. Not true.
There are some, like us, who inspect a house with its current code cycle in mind and… with newer more stringent codes in mind. Why would we do this? Easy, as previously mentioned, code changes because tragedy happens.
Although we feel that while all buildings do not require to be retrofitted, the buyer should at least have the opportunity to understand what code changes represent a serious safety concern.
Let me illustrate this. Take swimming pool bonding for example. Years ago swimming pool bonding wasn’t even a thought. From that point to now, the standards for pool bonding has come full circle, in part due to the need to protect swimmers from possible hazardous voltages within a pool (which can injure or kill someone). Many home inspectors performing swimming pool inspections have no clue as to what swimming pool bonding is nor its associated issues.
Let’s look at the stairs
Some Santa Clarita Home Inspection companies or inspectors feel as if it’s not their position to unnecessarily scare buyers. With stairs, some inspectors call out the “guards” or balusters for example, on older houses as being too widely spaced apart when they are wider than 4”. This is the right thing to do.
There was a time when the spacing between the guards was up to 6” apart. Contrast that to today’s standards which is 4”.
The fact that an item was built to an older code does not minimize its ability to cause serious injury or death.
California Residential Code(CRC Sec.R312.1.3). Guards shall not have openings from the walking surface to the required guard height which allows passage of a sphere 4 inches in diameter.
California Existing Building code
3404.1 GeneralExcept as provided by Section 3401.4 of this section, alterations to any building or structure shall comply with the requirements of the code for new construction. Alterations shall be such that the existing building or structure is no less complying with the provisions of this code than the existing building or structure was prior to the alteration.
Exceptions1. An existing stairway shall not be required to comply with the requirements of Section 1009 where the existing space and construction do not allow a reduction in pitch or slope.
2. Handrails otherwise required to comply with Section 1009.12 shall not be required to comply with the requirements of Section 1012.6 regarding full extension of the handrails where such extensions would be hazardous due to plan configuration.
The building codes are meant to be both a starting and ending point for all things construction-related. There are not only local building codes such as the California Building, Fire, Residential, Plumbing, Mechanical and Electrical codes, but there are also others such as the NFPA for example.
The NFPA in and of itself, are hundreds of individual booklets (for a lack of better description) that pertain to very specific systems such as fireplaces, firewalls or fire doors for example.
A good Santa Clarita Local Home inspector should know these codes which apply to the field in which they practice i.e. Residential inspections, Commercial inspections, and even Swimming Pool inspections.
Building CodeEssentially, the Santa Clarita Valley building and Safety Department uses the California Code Set which derives from the IRC building code sets. California takes these building codes and more or less, changes them to fit, well, California. By adopting these codes the city of Santa Clarita building and Safety did not make the codes less stringent, but more stringent. There is free access to these codes online.
FACT: The term “Smoke Detector” is never mentioned in the building code.MAZZA
Required by law
Unbeknownst to many, there are building codes and laws which are required to be performed on a building when a house is sold.
For example, within the city of Los Angeles, there minimum requirements that must be fulfilled prior to selling your home. In other words, the homeowner is obligated to improve these items before you close escrow. Although your home may have been built to an earlier standard, still, grandfathering will not apply here.
- Water Conservation Devices
- Smoke Detectors
- At least one operable window or door approved for emergency escape
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Impact Glazing/Approved Film for sliding glass panels of sliding-type doors
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2010
Despite what many believe, carbon monoxide detectors are not required in single-family homes to close an escrow, by state law. Carbon Monoxide alarms are not a precondition of the sale, unlike smoke alarms and water heater bracing. It’s merely treated as a transfer disclosure item. Take a look at the law…
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2010 HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE
17926(a) An owner of a dwelling unit intended for human occupancy shall install a carbon monoxide device, approved and listed by the State Fire Marshal pursuant to Section 13263, in each existing dwelling unit having a fossil fuel burning heater or appliance, fireplace, or an attached garage, within the earliest applicable time period as follows:
(1) For all existing single-family dwelling units intended for human occupancy on or before July 1, 2011.
(2) For all other existing dwelling units intended for human occupancy on or before January 1, 2013.
(b) With respect to the number and placement of carbon monoxide devices, an owner shall install the devices in a manner consistent with building standards applicable to new construction for the relevant type of occupancy or with the manufacturer’s instructions, if it is technically feasible to do so.
(c) (1) Notwithstanding Section 17995, and except as provided in paragraph (2), a violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a maximum fine of two hundred dollars ($200) for each offense.
(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), a property owner shall receive a 30-day notice to correct. If an owner receiving notice fails to correct within that time period, the owner may be assessed the fine pursuant to paragraph (2).
(d) No transfer of title shall be invalidated on the basis of a failure to comply with this section, and the exclusive remedy for the failure to comply with this section is an award of actual damages not to exceed one hundred dollars ($100), exclusive of any court costs and attorney’s fees. This subdivision is not intended to affect any duties, rights, or remedies otherwise available at law.
Let’s see what the California residential code says regarding Carbon Monoxide Alarms…
California Residential Building Code R315.2
Where required. Carbon monoxide alarms shall be provided in accordance with Sections R315.2.1 and R315.2.2.
Pursuant to Health and Safety Code Section 17926, carbon monoxide devices shall be installed in all existing dwelling units as required in this section.
2016 CALIFORNIA RESIDENTIAL CODE 103
R315.2.1Existing buildings and new construction. For existing buildings and new construction, carbon monoxide alarms shall be provided in dwelling units where either or both of the following conditions exist
1. The dwelling unit contains a fuel-fired appliance or fireplace.
2. The dwelling unit has an attached garage with an opening that communicates with the dwelling unit.
R315.2.2Alterations, repairs, and additions. Where an addition is made to an existing dwelling, or a fuel-burning heater, appliance, or fireplace is added to an existing dwelling, not previously required to be provided with carbon monoxide alarms, new carbon monoxide alarms shall be installed in accordance with Section R315.
Smoke Alarms And Water Heater StrappingOn the other hand, smoke alarm installation and water heater strapping are actually required by law prior to the close of an escrow as seen in these laws below.
HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE – HSC
C13113.8(a) On and after January 1, 1986, every single-family dwelling and factory-built housing, as defined in Section 19971, which is sold shall have an operable smoke alarm. At the time of installation, the alarm shall be approved and listed by the State Fire Marshal and installed in accordance with the State Fire Marshal’s regulations. Unless prohibited by local rules, regulations, or ordinances, a battery-operated smoke alarm that met the standards adopted pursuant to Section 13114 for smoke alarms at the time of installation shall be deemed to satisfy the requirements of this section.
(b) On and after January 1, 1986, the transferor of any real property containing a single-family dwelling, as described in subdivision (a), whether the transfer is made by sale, exchange, or real property sales contract, as defined in Section 2985 of the Civil Code, shall deliver to the transferee a written statement indicating that the transferor is in compliance with this section
Smoke alarms are, however, required by law to be installed prior to the close of your transaction. Not only are they required in a home sale, but also when you improve your home by adding a room, remodeling, adding a swimming pool or other various repairs.
No matter if your home was built in 1920 or 1999, it’s nevertheless required. Just a piece of trivia… the term “Smoke Detector” is never mentioned in the building code.
Let’s see what the California residential building code says regarding Smoke Alarms…
Just a piece of trivia… the term “Smoke Detector” is never mentioned in the building code.
R314.2.2Alterations, repairs, and additions. Where alterations, repairs or additions requiring a permit occur, or where one or more sleeping rooms are added or created in existing dwellings, the individual dwelling unit shall be equipped with smoke alarms located as required for new dwellings.
R314.4Interconnection. Where more than one smoke alarm is required to be installed within an individual dwelling or sleeping unit, the smoke alarms shall be interconnected in such a manner that the activation of one alarm will activate all of the alarms in the individual unit. The alarm shall be clearly audible in all bedrooms over background noise levels with all intervening doors closed.
1. Interconnection is not required in buildings that are not undergoing alterations, repairs or construction of any kind.
Water Heater strapping
In many older homes, water heaters were never required to be seismically strapped. The first thing to remember about water heater strapping is that it’s not there to hold up your tank. Once again, there is no Grandfathering for this.
On the contrary, as a homeowner, you really want these straps. Especially if you’re lucky enough to have experienced an earthquake of significant magnitude.
Water Heater straps are actually in place to resist seismic movement, mostly lateral movement. Moreover, the plumbing code actually stipulates the strap locations.
Take a look…
Code Reference CPC 508.2“Strapping shall be at a point within the upper 1/3 and the lower 1/3 of the water heater’s vertical dimensions. At the lower point, a minimum distance of four (4) inches shall be maintained above the controls to the strap.”
HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE – HSC
ARTICLE 8. Water Heater Strapping and Installation [19210 – 19217]
(a) Notwithstanding Section 19100, all new and replacement water heaters, and all existing residential water heaters, shall be braced, anchored, or strapped to resist falling or horizontal displacement due to earthquake motion. At a minimum, any water heater shall be secured in accordance with the California Plumbing Code, or modifications made thereto by a city, county, or city and county pursuant to Section 17958.5.
(b) The seller of any real property containing a water heater shall certify to the prospective purchaser that this section has been complied with. This certification shall be made in writing and may be included in existing transactional documents, including, but not limited to, the Homeowner’s Guide to Earthquake Safety published pursuant to Section 10149 of the Business and Professions Code, a real estate sales contract or receipt for the deposit, or a transfer disclosure statement pursuant to Section 1102.6 or 1102.6a of the Civil Code.
Swimming Pool BarrierAnother important component to the home purchase but has little to do with Grandfathering but does, in fact, have a lot more to do with how laws and thus building code changes for better protection of life is the home inspectors role in observing such safety regulations as seen here in the law SB 442.
SB 442(2) In connection with the transfer, as defined in subdivision (e), of real property with a swimming pool or spa, an inspector shall include a noninvasive physical examination of the pool or spa and dwelling for the purpose of identifying which, if any, of the seven drowning prevention safety features listed in subdivision (a) of Section 115922 of the Health and Safety Code the pool or spa is equipped.
(a) When a building permit is issued for the construction of a new swimming pool or spa or the remodeling of an existing swimming pool or spa at a private single-family home, the respective swimming pool or spa shall be equipped with at least two of the following seven drowning prevention safety features…
Not required by lawIt’s unreasonable to consider that every house is built to a newer building code or required to be retroactively retrofitted to a newer building code when a house is sold. As a matter of fact, the building code even supports this idea.
2016 CRC R102.7 Existing structuresThe legal occupancy of any structure existing on the date of adoption of this code shall be permitted to continue without change, except as is specifically covered in this code, the International Property Maintenance Code or the California Fire Code, or as is deemed necessary by the building official for the general safety and welfare of the occupants and the public.
Buildings that exist legally at the time the code is adopted are allowed to have their existing use and occupancy continued if the use or occupancy of the structure was also legally in existence. This means that as long as a structure or building remains in a safe and sanitary condition it need not be upgraded to meet the more current standards. However, any new construction, addition or remodeling will require such work to conform to the requirements of the new code. A change of occupancy of the building also will force the building to conform to the new standards.
The existence of a building prior to the adoption of a new edition of the code does not grant it the status of legal existence. A building is thought of as being “Grandfathered” under prior rules and not needing to be brought up to current requirements when there are records to show that it was constructed to meet the regulations of the jurisdiction in force at the time it was built.
The most common way to demonstrate legal compliance with the construction codes of a community is through public records. Copies of past building permits can be researched at the jurisdictional archives. Upon discovery that a building does not have a legal existence, corrective actions will be needed in order to bring the structure into compliance with the regulations of the jurisdiction at the time the building was built.
2016 Existing building code 401.2.2
New and replacement materials
Except as otherwise required or permitted by this code, materials permitted by the applicable code for new construction shall be used. Like materials shall be permitted for repairs and alterations, provided no hazard to life, health or property is created. Hazardous materials shall not be used where the code for new construction would not permit their use in buildings of similar occupancy, purpose, and location.
International Existing Building CodeExamples taken from the IEBC demonstrate how this code can allow certain specific conditions to exist, even though repairs or modifications are taking place.
That said, however, it’s always up to the authority having jurisdiction to make the final determination.
Additionally, individual city building codes can always change the model ICC building codes to make them more stringent but never less stringent.
About the IEBC
“The work shall not make the building less complying than before the repair was undertaken.”
22.214.171.124 Repairs for less than structural damage“For damage less than substantial structural damage, the damaged elements shall be permitted to be restored to their pre-damaged condition.”
Santa Clarita Municipal Code- Additions, alterations or repairs
The state does have the authority to enforce improvements onto your building if your building is deemed a hazard.MAZZA
18.11.030 Subsection R102.7.1 Is Amended Section R102.7.1 is amended to read as follows:
R102.7.1 Additions, Alterations, or RepairsAdditions, alterations, or repairs to any structure shall conform to the requirements for a new structure without requiring the existing structure to comply with all of the requirements of this code except as outlined in subsections R126.96.36.199 and R188.8.131.52. Additions, alterations, repairs, or relocations shall not cause an existing structure to become unsafe or adversely affect the performance of the building.
R184.108.40.206 Substantial ImprovementWhere the proposed work includes any demolition, alteration, repair, or relocation of more than 50% of the existing building or component of the building, the remaining portion of the building or building component shall be upgraded to comply with the structural provisions, as well as fire and life safety provisions of this code in such cases where it is determined by the Building Official that the existing portions of the building are substantially deficient or pose a significant hazard.
International Residential Code R102.7 Existing structuresThe legal occupancy of any structure existing on the date of adoption of this code shall be permitted to continue without change, except as is specifically covered in this code, the International Property Maintenance Code or the International Fire Code, or as is deemed necessary by the building official for the general safety and welfare of the occupants and the public.
CCan the City really force me to improve my building?
Most people including myself would consider it unreasonable to assume that the city municipality can enforce repairs, improvements or/and financial burdens onto a property owner, but they actually can. Not only can they force this upon you as a homeowner, but they can also enforce fines or sanctions against the property owner. Obviously the city of Los Angeles or Santa Clarita is not in the business of harassing its occupants.
But if a condition arises which is deemed a risk to human life they will, however, act. In summary, the state does have the authority to enforce improvements onto your building if your building is deemed a hazard.
In my own personal experiences as a General Contractor here in Santa Clarita, I can recall a number of instances where we took on a project to replace most if not all of the existing windows in a house (which had sill heights above 44″ from the floor) with the new nail in windows and the Building department required us to re-frame the opening to accommodate the Egress code. Which is to say, the homeowner was forced (if he wanted nail-in windows) to take on this financial burden.
I can’t say whether or not this would have been the same requirement if we did less than half of the windows however, it doesn’t look as if Grandfathering even matters in this situation. From my perspective, it appears that safety trumps Grandfathering.
Santa Clarita Municipal Code
These following examples were taken from the Santa Clarita Municipal Code which can be located on-line. It appears that there is a consistency with the lack of Grandfathering as it would have otherwise been assumed.
118.3.4 Exterior windows and doors of existing buildingsWhere exterior windows and/or doors of an existing building are being replaced with new windows and/or doors, and where the number of windows and/or doors being replaced is greater than 50 percent of the total number of windows and/or doors on the building, all windows and/or doors on the building shall comply with Section 708A or Section R337.8 of this code. The provisions of this subsection shall be cumulative over any one-year period.
1511.3.2 Roof replacement over spaced sheathingWhere spaced sheathing was originally installed as the supporting material, new solid sheathing shall be added prior to the installation of the new roofing material.
1511.4 Roof recoveringWhere the application of a new roof covering is proposed over wood shingle or shake roofs, the entire existing surface roofing material including all layers of wood shingle or shake shall first be removed.
Not everything requires a building permit in Santa Clarita. As a matter of fact, there are many different things one can add to a house, lot or improvements to a house or lot which do not require permits. This information is located in the Santa Clarita Municipal Code or even the California Residential Code.
Not requiring a permit…
105.2 Work Exempt from PermitExemptions from permit requirements of this code shall not be deemed to grant authorization for any work to be done in any manner in violation of the provisions of this code or any other laws or ordinances of the City of Santa Clarita…..
From the Santa Clarita Muni Code…” Replacement of panes of glass within existing frames provided the provisions of this code for safety glazing are met..”
The installation of replacement window units were installed within existing frames and where no stucco or siding is removed, provided the following conditions are met:a. The net opening area of the existing window(s) is not reduced to less than that required by this code for light and ventilation
b. Any required egress (emergency escape) window is replaced with an egress (emergency escape) window complying with this code.
c. The provisions of this code for safety glazing are met.
And yet there are examples of where improvements to your house may actually require you to spend money and time.
R311.1 Means of egressDwellings shall be provided with a means of egress in accordance with this section. The means of egress shall provide a continuous and unobstructed path of vertical and horizontal egress travel from all portions of the dwelling to the required egress door without requiring travel through a garage. The required egress door shall open directly into a public way or to a yard or court that opens to a public way.
R310.2.2 Window sill height.
Where a window is provided as the emergency escape and rescue opening, it shall have the bottom of the clear opening not greater than 44 inches (1118 mm) measured from the floor; where the sill height is below grade, it shall be provided with a window well in accordance with Section R310.2.3.
It’s worth noting that there are no exceptions to this code, such as existing….
Santa Clarita Code enforcementThe Code Enforcement function maintains and preserves the integrity of buildings, properties, and neighborhoods in the community.
They accomplish this through education and enforcement of State and City and municipal codes and regulations. Here is how the City of Santa Clarita responds to their Administrative citation appeals process…
Under general supervision, performs a variety of technical duties in support of the City’s local code enforcement program; monitors and enforces a variety of applicable ordinances, codes, and regulations related to zoning, land use, nuisance housing, building codes, health and safety, blight, graffiti, water waste, and other matters of public concern.
Additionally, code enforcement serves as a resource and provides information on City regulations to property owners, residents, businesses, the general public, and other City departments and divisions.
Conduct field investigations
Inspect properties for violations;
- Attempt to make contact at the residence or business in order to resolve violation; issue and post warning notices, notices of violation, corrective notices, orders to comply, and related documentation for code violations.
- Schedule and perform all follow-up functions to gain compliance including letters, inspections, calls, meetings, discussions, and negotiations to ensure compliance with appropriate codes and ordinances.
- Issue administrative and parking citations and notices of violation as necessary.
In most cases, the code enforcement officer isn’t actively driving around looking for problems in housing, although they can. The majority of their work derives from complaints filed with their respective city or jurisdiction.
That said, however, there is case law that supports the claim that a city municipality can, in fact, impose repairs or financial burdens onto a property owner if the building is deemed a hazard or public nuisance. Even if the building was built to an earlier building code or a less stringent code.
An example of this can be seen here in this case law of the City of Bakersfield v. Miller where the local jurisdiction requires the building owner to comply retroactively with a building code that wasn’t even in existence at the time the building was constructed.
Bakersfield v. Miller
“ It is undisputed that conditions within the Hotel Padre violate provisions of the Uniform Building Code which have been adopted by the City of Bakersfield. The substantive provisions of the code deprive the defendant of no right protected by the Constitution, and it is clearly within the statutory powers of the city to declare that buildings violating the ordinance in ways that directly affect the health and safety of the public are public nuisances. Therefore, the trial court did not err in ordering that the nuisance is abated.”
“All buildings or structures which are structurally unsafe or not provided with adequate egress, or which constitute a fire hazard, or are otherwise dangerous to human life, or which in relation to existing use constitute a hazard to safety or health, or public welfare, by reason of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence, or abandonment, as specified in this Code or any other effective ordinance, are, for the purposes of this Section, unsafe buildings. All such unsafe buildings are hereby declared to be public nuisances. …” (Italics added.)
“The fact that a building was constructed in accordance with all existing statutes does not immunize it from subsequent abatement as a public nuisance.”
In closing, homebuyers should be aware that when making a home purchase, the discovery period is by far, in my opinion, the most crucial part of the transaction. Without it, one could easily make a terrible mistake.
Moreover, it’s the duty of a buyer to choose a realtor and home Santa Clarita home inspector who has their best interest in mind. Home inspectors are typically considered generalists. As such, some may never even mention any connection to the term so widely used in real estate, Grandfathering.
The end result could cost you thousands in improvements should you choose to remodel or otherwise undertake a project in which the city has the right to impose more stringent standards.
Mazza Inspection group is a building diagnostics company. More specifically, we are a specialist, not generalists. You will find that almost all home inspectors in Santa Clarita are Certified inspectors and not specialists and are also contractors. Our specialty is essentially all things construction-related. We perform a variety of specialized inspections including;
Unlike most other companies, we are not a discount home inspection firm. We do not work with realtor referrals so you can rest assured that we are truly an unbiased neutral third party inspection firm. Our prices are reasonable for the product we provide.
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