Client Alert

On March 25, New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) released written guidance and direction to local building code departments pertaining to its review of ongoing construction projects in the wake of COVID-19. The department also issued an emergency rule temporarily relaxing and modifying certain provisions of the Uniform Construction Code (UCC), N.J.A.C. 5:23, concerning minor work (N.J.A.C. 5:23-17A), inspections (N.J.A.C. 5:23-2.18) and certificate requirements (N.J.A.C. 5:23-2.23) in order to ensure continuity of construction without a detriment to the public welfare during the pandemic.

Municipalities are advised that they cannot restrict code officials from performing their obligations under the UCC and are encouraged to employ creative solutions, such as video conferencing via internet platforms like FaceTime and Skype, whenever possible to conduct inspections of projects. The DCA document orders the following:

  1. All required inspections for new construction and any work on the exterior or outside of any occupied building should be performed as usual.
  2. Rough inspections for new additions should be performed, provided that no entry to the occupied home or building is required or that appropriate social distancing is in effect.
  3. Contractors may report construction activity, such as rough inspections, in existing occupied buildings with photos or other documentation for the time being.
  4. Items listed as minor work require only a final inspection. This includes inspections of replacement items, such as a residential heater, air conditioner and/or water heaters. These inspections may be deferred to a later date. The contractor should report construction activity as indicated in item 3 above.

In addition, there is guidance for construction offices that have closed due to executive orders related to COVID-19 or other unforeseen events, such as the quarantine of all staff members. For situations where a permit was issued before the closure of the construction office and the building has previously been issued a certificate of occupancy (CO), certificate of continued occupancy (CCO) inspections shall be performed by the construction officials when the construction office reopens. The documentation for a CCO inspection shall, at a minimum, include (1) a report describing the work completed during the time when no inspections were available; (2) information establishing that the design professional associated with the project oversaw, approved and documented the portions of the project where no inspections were performed; (3) documentation of the work of licensed/registered tradesmen in accordance with inspection procedures of the UCC; and (4) before, during and after pictures and/or video.

CCO inspections are limited to portions of the building that are visible at the time of the inspection, and destructive inspections should be performed only if there is reason to believe that a life-safety violation exists. Similarly, where a permit was issued for a building that had not previously been issued a CO and the construction office closed before completing inspections, a temporary certificate of occupancy (TCO) may be issued to allow occupancy of the building until a CO can be issued upon reopening of the construction office, site inspection and review of the construction report and documentation described above. Finally, for situations where a permit was not issued and there is office closure because of an executive order or other instances, such as a quarantine resulting from the spread of COVID-19, plan review may be placed on hold for new projects unless the project is critical to combating COVID-19.

Given the above, it is important that each project have clear, organized and well-catalogued documentation for all phases of construction. DCA advises that the more documents provided, the better, for confirming the progress under the UCC for a CCO or TCO. To view the DCA Guidance, click here.