GOVERNMENT RELATIONS: COVID-19 changes municipal practices for permits, building inspections and e-permitting
Nadia Todorova, Paul De Berardis and Michael de Lint / RESCON
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing recently held a phone-in roundtable to discuss several issues affecting construction services as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These included the issuance of building permits, building inspections and e-permitting.
The call included municipal building representatives from Toronto, Vaughan, Pickering, Cambridge and London, as well as industry associations including RESCON, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, Ontario Building Officials Association and the Large Municipalities Chief Building Officials (LMCBO).). The goal of the call was to discuss how the Province can ensure that municipalities can maintain operations amidst the new COVID-19 environment to support service levels for construction.
The meeting started off in the spirit of collaboration between government and industry as Ministry representatives acknowledged construction is vital to Ontario’s economy as well as its eventual recovery, and highlighted the importance of the role of municipal building officials in making sure that this can continue. The continuation of the issuance of building permits was identified as a current key objective for the Ministry.
Grateful for the acknowledgement, industry representatives discussed whether there are existing provisions in the Ontario Building Code (OBC) and Building Code Act that could enable municipal building officials to deliver services through alternate means or methods.
Generally, there was stakeholder consensus on the following:
- Not all permits are equal. For example, a new home permit application would be viewed as higher priority then a deck or shed permit application.
- The Province should consider guidance directives for prioritizing permit applications that mirror essential workplaces designations (as determined by the Province).
- The Province should consider expanding the role of qualified professionals to fill in certain gaps for municipal building services.
- Allowances could be created for alternative means of inspections (e.g., photographs, live streams, qualified professional inspection reports, etc.).
- There was a recognition that final and occupancy permits were a priority, particularly as people are waiting to move into their homes.
During the call, it was suggested that there inconsistencies across Ontario’s 444 municipalities on how new building permit applications are being handled:
- Some have existing electronical submission process.
- Some have a mail-in/drop-off process.
- Some are not accepting any new applications as they are currently fully shut down.
Some municipalities are processing permits through couriers, but are not meeting review timelines.
In terms of inspections, it was noted by municipal representatives that open-air inspections were considered generally OK but building inspections are of higher concern. Other points raised included:
- Many municipalities are working to figure out how to keep service levels going while safeguarding their employees.
- Municipalities are focusing on new construction inspections, while inspections of occupied buildings (additions and renovations) are generally on hold.
- Certain municipalities are allowing builders to hire registered professionals to do progress inspections, submit them to building departments with supporting documentation to confirm compliance to the Ontario Building Code and approved specifications. Critical projects have been identified as those that are ready for occupancy and need a prioritized process.
On the subject of e-permitting, while some municipalities have already gone to paperless e-submission or full e-permitting systems, this does not represent the norm. Other municipalities are allowing digital PDF drawings to be submitted by e-mail to the building department.
Several Ontario municipalities, including Windsor, are also transitioning to an e-permitting system. In addition, some municipalities are relying on video conferencing to allow for remote inspections by municipal building officials.
In the discussion, a grace period for all municipal service level timelines was suggested as it was agreed that once the current pandemic subsides, there will be a surge or new applications and inspections required but there will be a lag as services are being resumed.
In terms of next steps, the Ministry representatives emphasized that they are taking in ideas now and looking at different avenues that can be used to solve current challenges through policy means (e.g., regulations, directive, legislation, etc.) in the coming weeks.
Nadia Todorova is RESCON's senior director of government relations. Email her at email@example.com. Paul De Berardis is RESCON’s director of building science and innovation. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael de Lint is RESCON’s director of building regulatory reform and technical standards. Email him at email@example.com.
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