Lorain County, Ohio, Considers County-Wide Building Department

When you're a contractor working in cities and larger towns, you're used to dealing with building departments. In fact, you might like the fact that you've got a central place to go for all permitting on a project.

When the location of your construction is in a more rural area, things can get complicated. Without a city building department, it's often unclear what the building requirements are – or if there are any at all. There is no central place to go for permitting, and you may not know the fee schedule up front.

In the unincorporated towns of rural Lorain County, Ohio, this has been a particular problem. Since about 2016, the county building department has been cobbled together with semi-retired staff and a part-time administrative assistant. The department does not have an online presence, and covers only eight communities in the county, two of which recently announced their withdrawal.

The result was that contractors often didn't know what permits were required or where to go to apply for them. County Administrator James Cordes described the building department as "voluntarily used" and said "For various reasons, it didn't really work very well."

As a result, the Lorain County Commissioners have begun exploring the idea of bringing back a centralized building department. It would handle most of the unincorporated communities in the county, increasing the number of covered areas from eight to 18. Public hearings on the topic were held in late August 2019 and early October 2019.

As expected, there was some controversy and discussion about the ideas. Leaders from some of the small communities called the idea bureaucratic overreach. Mark McConnell, a Trustee of one township that would be impacted by the change, said "It’s pretty much viewed as another government intrusion in our lives, babysitting if you want to call it that."

County Commissioner Matt Lundy disagreed. He says the county just wants to make sure people are protected. "I don't want somebody losing a family God forbid, in the middle of the night, if somebody didn't do electrical right, or whatever it may have been. So this is this is a big, big consumer issue and a big safety issue," he said.

Lorain County is the ninth largest county in Ohio, so it might be surprising that it doesn't already have a county-wide department. However, they are not alone. Many rural counties and communities across the United States do not.

As rural areas throughout the United States continue to see growth and new construction, building departments covering those communities will become even more important.

For contractors, the benefit of a centralized building department is obvious. There is one place to go to determine applicable codes, one place for submitting permit applications, and a clear fee schedule. In addition, building standards help protect contractors from lawsuits and higher insurance costs. In fact, according to the EESI, "Studies have consistently shown the benefits of up-to-date building codes outweigh the increase in construction costs."

For the residents and tenants of new or remodeled construction, the benefits are event more important. Building codes, especially those that follow national industry standards such as those from the ICC, help to protect consumers. Without a building department to enforce such standards, consumers face both physical and financial risks from shoddy construction, faulty wiring, unregulated materials, and more. The inspections required as part of the permitting process help ensure the safety and reliability of construction.

At Express Permits, we believe in the value of building codes and the permit process. However, we also know that the work of applying for and managing construction permits can be cumbersome. That's why we offer outsourced permit management services to handle the entire process for you.

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