Building Codes

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 5, 2010

County building codes a vote away after two years of study

By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors this week made final changes to building code regulations, capping a process that has crept along for more than two years.

The codes will regulate new residential construction, and residential renovations and additions.

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Commercial construction and renovations are exempt from the county ordinance.

The county board is expected to vote March 1 to implement the International Building Code, or IBC, with a kick-off date in the spring.

The International Building Code, a mammoth set of regulations, is relied on for minimum standards of  construction practices. Panola County will also follow the International Fire Code.

The suggestion of building codes originated from the county land development commission, which formally recommended codes last fall after 20 months of study and discussion.   

A county permit will cost $320 for a 1,000-square-foot home. The permit cost increases $10 per 100 square feet.

Supervisors set the re-inspection fee at $100.

A permit for a home addition or renovation will also begin at $320.

Building codes and on-site inspections are common in municipalities, where a city inspector scrutinizes the step-by-step construction of residential and commercial property.

Building codes are less common in rural counties, but Panola County will join neighboring counties Tate, Coahoma, Tunica and Marshall that have introduced the codes.

After they recessed Monday from their regular meeting, supervisors reconvened Monday afternoon for what they billed as a “roundtable discussion.” At the more informal meeting, the county board fine-tuned the International Building Code to suit rural Panola County.

Some revisions made by the county board, like exempting workshops, tool sheds and other outbuildings, have been suggested but not formally adopted until Monday.

Swimming pools, which often fall under safety regulations in municipalities, were also exempted from county scrutiny.

“What do y’all want to do with that?” asked board president Gary Thompson, referring to pools.

“Stay out of it,” answered Supervisor James Birge. And they did.

The board moved through nine topics all together, aided by suggestions from county code inspector Michael Purdy, Panola EMA director Daniel Cole, and health inspector Field Dew, a Mississippi Department of Health employee who cooperates with county government.

Among the weightiest topics were state license requirements for contractors. Supervisors set a one-year deadline, when the codes are implemented, for contractors to be grandfathered. One stipulation for being grandfathered is to produce two letters from two satisfied customers.  

The county board also agreed to require contractors to maintain a $5,000 bond if they don’t carry insurance.

In a related topic, homeowners who build their own home, or add on to the house, are not required to obtain a contractor license, supervisors agreed.

Thompson had told The Panolian in previous months, speaking about public opposition, that most complaints were coming from homeowners who objected to obtaining a trade license.  

The county also set more criteria for homeowners: they are permitted to build two homes within five years, or be considered a contractor, and they must obtain a permit and build according to IBC standards.

Left unchanged at the meeting was a lack of regulations for mobile homes, the original topic that spurred discussion of adopting building codes.  

Supervisor Kelly Morris, as the meeting drew to a close, asked his colleagues if they intended to include any mobile home regulations when the county adopts the IBC.  

Birge suggested that Panola County should require a secure foundation for mobile homes. He said Tate and Marshall counties already require piers to anchor mobile homes.  

Dew, the health inspector, said new mobile homes do follow one guideline in Panola County: to gain county approval, a land deed must show the mobile home is located on at least one acre of property.

“That’s because the acre of land is often worth more than the mobile home,” Dew told supervisors.  

He said Tate County requires several acres to ensure that the county maintains some tax base as the mobile home depreciates in value.

Thompson said any rules for mobile homes should be handled separately and at a later date.  

Late county supervisor Robert Avant had sought stricter rules on mobile homes after Panola County recorded seven fire-related deaths – a state record – in 2007. At the time, he voiced support for adopting building codes with the expectation that any codes would include a crackdown on dilapidated mobile homes.

Avant, then the board president, had stated his support of building codes in an interview he gave to The Panolian in December 2007. His comment motivated the county land commission to move forward with a topic that had been shelved, for fear of public backlash, for almost a decade.   

Commissioners mentioned Avant’s interview, and began discussing building codes, at their January 2008 meeting.  

The land commission also took up Avant’s issue of mobile homes. Some commissioners voiced support for stronger regulations, but the issue was dropped for fear that public backlash would jeopardize passage of building codes.

A Tunica County building inspector, speaking to the commission in 2008, urged the county to inspect the wiring of older mobile homes.

Avant’s widow, Supervisor Vernice Avant, suggested Monday that county government should ensure that mobile home renters are living in safe homes.

Cole disclosed that landlords are required by Mississippi law to have working smoke detectors in rental homes. But the law is often overlooked and not enforced, he said.