Building Code Appeals

One of the best things about being a real estate lawyer is having the opportunity to learn about corners of the law and  government no one (or nearly no one) has ever heard about.  I recently discovered that there is an administrative board within the state Department of Public Safety whose job it is to promulgate and interpret the state building code (someone has to do that, right?).  This agency is known as the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) and it is charged with making all kinds of decisions about the building code (Chapter 780 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations).  For example, let’s say that you own an older building and want to convert it to affordable housing but the local building inspector interprets the code as requiring the installation of an elevator.  The inspector’s decision can be appealed to the BBRS.  Or, perhaps you have applied for a building permit and there is a problem with the local building department and you cannot get the permit in the usual course of business.  You can appeal the failure of the building official to issue the permit to the BBRS.

Here is the nifty thing about the BBRS:  in addition to interpreting the code, it can also issue variances from the requirements of the code. G.L. c. 143, sec. 100.  While the board typically will not grant variances because compliance with the code increases construction costs, if an applicant can demonstrate that health and safety concerns are adequately addressed, the BBRS has the explicit authority to vary the requirements of the code.  The BBRS would appear to be a viable, inexpensive alternative to disputes with local building departments about the code.  In some cases this could be critical in saving a good development project particularly when it involves rehabilitation of an older structure.

To find out more about the BBRS, you can go to the board’s website: