About Code Enforcement

The Department of Buildings is responsible for the administration and enforcement of all local codes, state codes and zoning laws of the city. The division is under direct control of the Fire Chief and supervised by the Deputy Fire Chief of Fire Prevention.

The City of Olean Code of Ordinances is a local law made up of a compilation of codes (municipal regulations). The Code of Ordinances houses 27 chapters with Chapters 6 (Building Regulations and Fire Prevention) and 12 (Housing Code) the main enforceable chapters of the code. Various other chapters are enforced by this division such as, snow removal, under Streets and Sidewalks, Flood Damage Prevention, Plumbing regulations, under Water and Sewers, etc. The complete Code of Ordinances is available as a link in this website.

It is important to understand what a "Code" is. The definition of "Code" is "Criteria or requirements set forth and enforced by a state or local agency for the protection of public health and safety". Codes provide minimum standards to protect the safety and health of individuals in the built environment, both residential and commercial. They include anything that addresses health, life safety, welfare of buildings, and building construction. Codes and Zoning Regulations are very complex issues and are not unique to our community, however, unique circumstances do contribute to the misconceptions by the public for the "codes" to be all encompassing.

Many of the debatable issues regarding codes involve "aesthetic nuisances" for one and two-family dwellings and have nothing to do with public safety and health. Roots of the aesthetic regulation problem are imbedded in the common-law nuisance cases, which posed the question whether an owner of real property could be denied the unsightly use of his or her premises. The right of a landowner to use his or her land is an important incident of his or her ownership. It is an interest highly regarded by the community, carefully protected by constitutional limitations and vigorously affirmed by the courts.

Many of the complaints received by the public involve some type of nuisance or aesthetic significance and although there may be some code language found in a law, it is typically a chameleon-hued term calculated to inspire misunderstandings. A life safety code that deals with health, safety, and welfare of its community is a solid set of codes, rules, and regulations. These codes are the foundation and reason why code enforcement exists so that everyone in the community can be confident that the buildings, grounds, and facilities provide a safe environment.

The City Code of Ordinances is actually a very small document that regulates property maintenance, buildings, and facilities within the city. It does however reference the Codes of the State of New York to be used as if they were their own.

The New York State Codes are actually 8 separate documents (soon to be 10) which is known as the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code. This original document is relatively new to the State, originally adopted in 1984. In January of 2001, the State adopted the new code, referred to as the International Family of Codes published by the International Code Council (ICC). These 8 documents make up the International Family of Codes and are enforced as if they were the City’s own code. The codes were adopted by the State from the 2000 version of the ICC with New York State enhancements and modifications. The documents that make up the "Family" of codes are:

  • The Building Code of New York State (IBC) which regulates multiple family dwellings and all commercial/industrial buildings.
  • The Residential Code of New York State (IRC) which regulates construction of one and two-family dwellings including accessory buildings (garages).
  • The Fire Code of New York State (IFC) which is the fire prevention code and regulates all existing buildings, facilities, and fire safety systems.
  • The Plumbing Code of New York State (IPC) which regulates all plumbing.
  • The Mechanical Code of New York State (IMC) which regulates all HVAC systems.
  • The Fuel Gas Code of New York State (IFGC) which regulates all fuel-fired appliances.
  • The Energy Conservation and Construction Code of New York State (ICCC) which regulates energy conservation.
  • The Property Maintenance Code of New York State (IPMC) which regulates the maintenance of all buildings, equipment, and facilities.

The two new versions of the code which are scheduled for adoption sometime in 2006 are they Existing Buildings Code of New York State (IEBC) which will regulate the conversion, alteration, addition, and renovations to all existing buildings. The other is the Performance Code of New York State (IPBC) which will allow the design professional to design buildings using a performance based design concept which is not found in the prescriptive text of the existing codes.

New York State was one of the first states in the country to adopt the International Model Codes which allows design professionals, builders, and developers from any where in the world the ability to build in New York State. Some of the major changes found in the newly adopted codes versus the old code is the plumbing requirements and the energy codes.

The Plumbing Code allows the use of several brands of plastic pipe in virtually all aspects of development. This was an absolute "no-no" for many years in NYS. In fact, shortly after the new codes were adopted the Governor was persuaded to sign a Bill which outlawed the use of plastic pipe in NYS. This was a Labor Law regulated by the Dept. of Labor and caused many problems in the State over the past few years. This Bill expired at the end of 2004 and the Governor vetoed its renewal in 2005. The Plumbing Code of NYS now is the only law that regulates plumbing materials in NY and plastic is once again an approved material. It is important to understand that certain applications require certain materials so it is important to check with the plumbing inspector prior to conducting any plumbing work in the city.

We receive many questions regarding the newly adopted energy code and the required insulation (R-Values) for dwellings and buildings. It is important to understand that the new codes allow several compliance scenarios when dealing with many design applications. The codes are generally "prescriptive" in nature meaning what the codes says you must do and this is not always the case. We receive many concerned calls from homeowners and contractor that they simply cannot meet the strict insulation values assigned in the new code. There are compliance alternatives such as software models and trade-offs that may allow substantially reduced R-Values from the prescriptive requirements. The computer models are available on the State web-site and they are known as MecCheck and ResCheck for commercial and residential respectively. The web-site can be accessed at www.dos.state.ny.us and then to the code enforcement and administration link. The software is downloadable however it is somewhat complex to understand and use. We always use the software when reviewing a building plan for an insulation compliance alternative, so if you have trouble using the software – just have us do it for you.