September 29, 2023

Building Code Appeal – What is it?

stairs that make no sense need a building code appeal

In Portland, Oregon, we adhere to multiple codes covering everything from structural requirements, energy conservation, and building layout to life-safety, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical. However, sometimes a project cannot meet the code requirements. A Building Code Appeal allows us to formally ask for permission to proceed in a different way when meeting the code requirement is impossible.

For example, you are finishing your basement but cannot meet the head height requirement at the stairs. Requesting an appeal allows you to build your stair with reduced head height as long as you can show the Appeals Board that your proposal still meets the intent of the code provision you are appealing.

What does a Building Code Appeal apply to?

Not to be confused with zoning codes, appeals focus on building codes. They apply to all types of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. In addition, appeals can address building, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and floating structure codes.

Who reviews and approves a Building Code Appeal?

The Administrative Appeal Board handles the review and approval process. The board consists of Bureau of Development Services managers and senior staff from the Plan Review and Inspections divisions, as well as representatives from the Fire Bureau. Following an analysis and discussion of the submitted materials, decisions are reached by consensus, recorded, and posted on the Administrative Appeal Board website. The appellant also receives a copy of the decision via email or mail.

What is the Appeals Board looking for when reviewing a proposal?

The appeal must clearly illustrate, through a comprehensive set of documents, how the alternative approach meets the code intent, including health, accessibility, structural capacity, energy conservation, life safety, or fire protection considerations. It should include the existing code details, an explanation of the proposed modification or alternative, the proposed design details, and the reasoning behind the requested alternative solution.

What do I submit?

This part of the process requires detailed drawings—architectural plans with sufficient information illustrating the specific area of appeal and any additional spaces impacted. Stay focused on the designated area in question. Providing extra planning details for context may cause confusion and more harm than good. However, other drawings, such as elevations, sections, details, and specifications, provide valuable insights. Likewise, supplemental information, such as photographs, engineering analysis, and test data, may help clarify the appeal and support the argument.

What if they don’t approve my appeal?

Like it or not, the Board may request additional information or deny your proposal. In this case, there is a ‘reconsideration’ process. For example, if placed on hold for further information, you should follow up with the requested information. If ‘Denied,’ there are two options. Either provide new or revised details not previously submitted to address the specific board concerns, or request a referral to the Big Board.

Who is the Big Board?

Appellants not satisfied with the Administrative Board’s decision may request a hearing by the Board of Appeals, a volunteer board of qualified private sector individuals knowledgeable in the specific code area.

Scheduled on an as-needed basis, hearings before the Board of Appeals take approximately two weeks to schedule. The appellant must be present at this hearing to discuss the appeal with the Board. The information presented must be the originally submitted appeal, plans, and documentation.

There is no additional fee for a Big Board hearing. Most important, their decision is final.

How long does a Building Code Appeal take?

Appeals submitted by 9 a.m. on Thursdays are heard the following Wednesday. Decisions are available the next day.

How much does it cost?

As of September 2023, city fees for one and two-story family dwelling appeals cost $289. For commercial appeals, one to two items cost $604, and an additional $147 for each appeal item over two.

These fees do not include any time for consultation hours and the preparation of drawings or materials for submittal.

Can I submit more than one Building Code Appeal at a time?

Appeals for each specific code are processed separately, so a single appeal package may not contain items from different codes. However, if multiple appeals are submitted together, only the first is charged the full fee, with the others charged at a reduced rate.

Is approval guaranteed? 

No, unfortunately, there are no guarantees. 

How does Christie Architecture help with a Building Code Appeal?

We tap into our valuable network to troubleshoot. When considering an appeal, we consult with plan reviewers or inspectors prior to submitting. CA is FIR-certified, so in the case of residential projects, we contact our dedicated building inspector. Collaboratively, we delve into the code requirements and brainstorm possible alternative solutions worthy of approval.

We’ve done this many times and know the City’s hot code buttons. In short, we’re pretty good at this!

Codes require creative problem-solving.

Building codes often challenge the design process, but we see them as opportunities. Even when the building code says you can’t do something, we dig in to find the “yes, you can” option. Let’s tackle your project challenge. Call us.