The building permit process, pt. 3: Why there should be no shantytowns
We’ve seen that the purpose of the building permit is to make sure new buildings respect the planning principles set out in subdivision and other planning regulations, protect public health by requiring attention to environmental health concerns, protect public safety by requiring that structures are properly designed and protect environmental sustainability by respecting zoning laws. We are also aware that, for these things to be effective, there must be monitoring of their applications. In other words, after a building permit is issued, how do we know the contractor will build according to the plans?
The answer is that there is a process that guarantees that everything in the plans related to the permit is delivered in the building. For the owner of a building to get public utilities and to legally occupy the building, there must be an occupancy certificate issued. And the basis for the issuance of an occupancy certificate is a record of inspections by the Building Control Department during the construction of the building.
From the setting out of the building on the site, to the final connection of the plumbing and electrical systems, to the public utilities, every stage of the building process is inspected by the Building Control inspectors.
The building size and location must be as designed, including the confirmation of the setbacks at the start of construction, starting the inspection process. The foundations are inspected for the proper placement of reinforcement, the first “fix” of the plumbing and electrical pipes and joints to be placed under the slab or through the foundations are checked for proper placement, size and schedule. As the building is built, the contractor is required to request the inspections at pre-agreed stages, after each of which he receives a copy of an inspection certificate. Hence, it should be impossible for a building to reach the occupancy stage to find that plumbing pipes or electrical wires are the wrong size, or that structural elements are not properly installed.
Many people think that the inspectors are responsible for the proper completion of the building. When they move in and find that water comes in under the front door or a window doesn’t close properly, they think it is because the inspectors missed something. Proper design of the building is the architect’s responsibility and proper installation of the building elements is the contractor’s responsibility. The quality of the building depends on more than the integrity of the safety systems. The inspectors are not responsible for the straightness of walls or floors, except for safety. The inspections by the architect and the selection of an experienced builder are the owner’s guaranty of a quality installation. The inspector’s role is to help the builder get to the end of the process with the required inspections completed and certified, so that the occupancy certificate can be issued. That way, both public health and safety and the owner’s interests are protected.
What happens when a building is built without a building permit? It is illegal to build without a permit. On finding such a building, in the interest of both public safety and health, the building is required to be demolished. At the discretion of the Building Control officer, it may be brought up to scratch with or without a fine, although questions like setbacks and other planning requirements are often not possible to be corrected after the fact. Therefore it is impossible to have shantytowns unless the Building Control Department is either not aware of the construction or are not responding to construction without a permit. In recent years there has been much discussion about these illegal groups of buildings. Perhaps for humanitarian reasons the public appears prepared to overlook the fact that building without a permit is illegal, and that demolishing a structure built without a permit is simply the enforcement of the law. Shantytowns are not a social problem. They are a building control problem.
The building permit system, part of the system designed to help create order in the built environment, is critical to the proper development of the nation’s built fabric. Building without a permit is both illegal and a threat to the environment.
- Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com and like its Facebook page. The firm’s mission is to help its clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.