The Building Act: What You Need to Know

Legislation about building standards would ordinarily warrant, at most, a ‘break-out’ session at a local government law seminar; in ordinary circumstances, only a few local government staff members would be interested in, or prodded by their supervisors to attend, such a session. British Columbia’s new Building Act is different, insofar as it has potential consequences for staff members working in just about any department or division through which a local government delivers its services or administers local regulations. Thus the “you” in the title of this paper could be just about anyone in local government administration.

As to the “what”, a few minor aspects of the Building Act amount to a re-enactment of existing legislation dealing with building standards to consolidate it into a single statute and create a more logical structure. For example, the authority of a minister of the provincial government to enact a provincial building code and other building regulations has sensibly been relocated from local government enabling legislation to the new Building Act. These aspects of the Act would be in the “nice to know” category for local government officials, rather than “need to know”, and won’t be mentioned further.

The “need to know” aspects are twofold: local building official qualifications, and local building requirements.

We sometimes advise in our client seminars that we cannot field questions as to the “why” of new legislation. In the case of the Building Act, there is no need to do so since the provincial government has articulated its objectives quite clearly: competency, consistency and, less convincingly, innovation. The provisions dealing with local building officials have been enacted to establish a basic level of competency across the province for officials who administer building standards. The provisions dealing with local building requirements have been enacted to increase the consistency of building standards across the province, a matter that the provincial government started to address with the enactment of the Community Charter in 2004. The path to consistency that the Province has chosen is to exercise exclusive jurisdiction with regard to technical building requirements, which necessitates taking jurisdiction back from local governments.

As to innovation, it may be a matter of opinion whether innovation in building standards is more likely to occur when local governments have authority to initiate or accommodate it, or when a provincial government agency has to approve each innovation that a designer or builder might wish to propose, as the Building Act requires. Time will tell. For now, it suffices to say that the Building Act contains provisions under which a local government or a designer or builder will be able to apply to the Province for a local variation to the BC Building Code, and pay a fee to the Province to enable it to engage consultants to examine and evaluate the proposal and make recommendations as to whether the local variation ought to be allowed.

This is a more elaborate version of the ministerial approval routine with which local governments have been living since the Buildings and Other Structures Bylaws Regulation under s.9 of the Community Charter was enacted. The “local variation” approval process is outside the scope of this paper.

The paper references publications that are available on the provincial government’s Building Act website https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/construction-industry/building-codes-standards/building-act which, local governments should check periodically for information on the administration of the new regime, including changes in “unrestricted matters” discussed later in the paper. Government interpretations of its own legislation are not legally binding, and seem in some cases to focus on the government’s intentions with the legislation as much as its actual effect, so these publications should be treated with caution.

Nothing in the Building Act affects the City of Vancouver.

Download pdf: The Building Act: What You Need to Know

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