Big Changes in Seattle for Planning and Regulation of Buildings

Seattle News Headlines

In an article that appeared here in the Puget Sound Business Journal (as well as in a post from the Office of the Mayor, seen here), it seems that Seattle government will be re-structuring the Department of Planning and Development (DPD). DPD will be downsized and the City will create a new cabinet-level agency called the Office of Planning and Community Development, which will focus on integrated planning from across a number of city departments.

The regulatory functions previously performed by DPD (permits, code enforcement, and inspections) will now be located in a new, separate agency to be named later.


2013 California Building Code – Amendments Deadline Approaches

2013 California Building Code

The amendments to the 2013 California Building Code, known as the “2013 Intervening Code Adoption Cycle Supplement” will be in effect on July 1, 2015. The supplement can be found here on the California Building Standards Commission website. A free PDF of the 2013 California Building Code can be found here.

The supplement contains a number of notable revisions to the California Building Code that may affect the design and construction of a project. The Safranek Group highly recommends that individuals review the supplement to determine if these revisions will have an impact on their project.

Apartments and FHA Accessibility, THE Biggest Mistake Made


“My new apartment project isn’t receiving any Federal money, so we’re not required to comply with the Fair Housing Act (FHA).” This is one of the most common things I hear, when I mention to individuals that their new apartment project is subject to FHA requirements regarding accessibility. It represents one of the biggest misconceptions that can result in significantly increasing the projects exposure to an FHA complaint and a possible lawsuit.

FHA and Privately Funded Apartment Projects

For new, privately funded projects (with four or more units) that are NOT receiving a penny of Federal money or any kind of Federal “assistance”, they are still required to comply with the FHA requirements regarding accessibility. In the case of privately funded apartment projects, the purpose of the FHA is to prevent discrimination because of race, color, national origin, presence of children, sex, and disability for individuals renting housing. It has nothing to do with whether or not the project is receiving Federal money or assistance. The FHA is a Federal program to end discrimination in the entire, overall rental housing market.

How Many Apartment Units in a Project Must Comply?

For a new apartment project (with four or more units), this number will vary, given a number of factors, that are beyond the limits of this blog post to explain. The site layout, unit configuration, and use of elevators can result in a number of permutations with both units required to comply AND units NOT required to comply.

Here is a very general list of “dwelling unit” types (and portions thereof) that are NOT  “covered” by the FHA (hence the FHA term, “covered” units) and are exempt from complying with the FHA requirements for accessibility:

  • Unit: Townhomes (given several important caveats)
  • Unit: Carriage Houses (given an important caveat)
  • Unit: Multistory dwelling units (individual units, 2 stories or more), located in a building without elevators
  • Unit: Units on stories other than the ground floor, for buildings with some “covered” units on the ground floor and without elevators (given several important caveats)
  • Unit: Units claiming an exemption based on site impracticality
  • Unit: Units claiming an exemption based on a site with unusual characteristics (flood plain/coastal high hazard area, given several important caveats)
  • Portion of a Unit: Additional stories of a multistory dwelling unit that are NOT on the story of the primary entry to the unit, AND where the unit is located in a building with elevators (given several important caveats)
  • Portion of a Unit: The “loft” level or any sunken or raised area of a single-story dwelling unit (given a number of very important caveats)
  • Portion of a Unit: The garage for units with an attached garage where the garage is used by the resident of that unit (given several important caveats)

Units claiming exemption because of site impracticality (typically topography) should be particularly careful when making this assessment. The Fair Housing Act Design Manual provides information regarding the various tests that must be performed to verify and validate that the units, indeed meet the criteria for exemption. If you should need assistance with these tests, please contact the Safranek Group. We have expertise in administering these tests and are very familiar with the specific requirements and protocols.


For new apartment projects, just because your project isn’t receiving Federal “assistance” (READ: money), it doesn’t mean that your project doesn’t have to comply with the FHA requirements for accessibility. Yes, there are specific circumstances where compliance with these requirements is not necessary. Knowing where those circumstances occur, is critical, when claiming exemption from those FHA requirements.

If by now, you’re asking yourself, “Why should I care if my project complies with FHA or ADA?” See Part II (soon to follow) and learn more about some big myths regarding FHA and ADA compliance for new apartment projects (and other projects, in general).



Free PDFs – International Building Code, ADA, and More!

Clients often ask if there are free copies of the International Building Code (IBC) or other free building code/accessibility resources on the internet. The answer is yes, there are…but you have to know where to look.

Where are they available?

A significant source of free building codes and accessibility resources is the non-profit corporation of and their affiliated organization, They have accumulated, scanned, and posted to the internet, an immense cache of government documents. A concise list of some of the most commonly used building code and accessibility resources has been complied here, on the resources page of the Safranek Group website.

Feeling the pressure to make documents free, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has embarked on making their documents “free” with several caveats, including registration with their organization. Their documents are available for viewing, on-line, but cannot be printed or stored.

The International Code Council (ICC) also has a number of building codes available on their website. Unfortunately, the “model” codes, such as the International Building Code are provided in a format that limits the amount of text on the screen, and does not emulate a page format, like a PDF. ICC’s website also hosts codes for some municipalities and states as well. Fortunately, many of these codes are PDFs that are in an easy to read page format. Unfortunately these PDFs are typically secured and are unable to be edited or printed.

Why make it free?

Carl Malamud with Public has made it his mission to make government information readily available and transparent for all to see. His slogan of “Show me the manual” resounds with many individuals, who have suffered from “gotcha” requirements that suddenly materialized out of nowhere. For those caught in this circumstance, the all too common, after-the-fact refrain is …”If only I had known about it, I would have tried to comply with it”. It is this kind of exchange that has prompted Public to embark on making available to the general public, the laws, regulations and standards that are commonly enforced by cities and states across the country.

When is somebody going to shut them down?

Good question. In 2013, there was an attempt by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SMACNA) to stop Public from publishing safety standards (SMACNA’s being one of those) that had been incorporated into law. The Electronic Frontier Foundation stepped in to file a lawsuit on behalf of Public, at which point SMACNA withdrew their complaint. More can be read here.

But the assault on Public continues. On the heels of the SMACNA concession, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and several prominent organizations filed a lawsuit with a federal court in Washington, D.C., alleging “massive copyright infringement” by Public.Resource.Org for publishing codes and standards that have been incorporated into law. Once again, the Electronic Frontier Foundation stepped in to aid in defending Public More can be read here.

If you enjoy using the information that Public has made freely available, please go to their website and make a donation.

If you’re looking for a specific code or technical standard that can’t seem to be found, please contact me. I might just know where to find it.