Ontario Building E-permitting – 2018 Update
© by Alek Antoniuk, OAAJuly 9, 2018
In 2017, Ontario municipalities received over 180,000 building permit applications. The vast majority of these applications were made in person, where the permit applicant traveled to the building department, waited in line to be served, waited for the counter clerk to review the application, paid the permit fee, and then traveled back to the office or home.
If it took an average of 2 hours for an applicant to travel to the building department and apply for a building permit, at a minimum wage salary of $15/hr., the lost productivity for Ontario is $5 million every single year. Many people have told me that $15/hr. is an unrealistically low salary for the design and construction industry: agreed! – let’s double the salary! – then Ontario’s lost productivity becomes over $10 million a year.
That $10 million a year will buy more than 20 brand new detached houses in Belleville this year, next year, and thereafter. What would you rather choose: drive to the building department and wait in line to apply for a permit; OR enable the Ontario economy to provide those 20 brand new detached houses in Belleville for young families next year and thereafter?
How do we make this happen?
In its report, titled "Streamlining the Development and Building Approvals Process in Ontario", released on July 4, 2018, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) proposed a building e-permitting pilot project to transition the current antiquated Ontario system to a state-of-the-art system.
Some Ontario municipalities have attempted to build their own building e-permitting systems and the results have not been pretty:
From the user’s point of view, it is preferable to have one, uniform user e-permitting interface for the entire province. After all, Ontario already has one, common permit application form, as well as one Building Code for the entire province.
Municipal building departments have invested millions of dollars in their individual data bases (such as Amanda) and processes. They would resist any changes that would render their current systems obsolete. Therefore, it would be prudent to design a building e-permitting system that has a common user interface but the system would have “back-end” connections to the existing “legacy” municipal systems.
Who would administer the Ontario Building E-permitting Interface?
In view of the new Ontario government's need to contain costs, this may be a good time to move the Building and Development Branch's code development, production, and regulatory functions into a designated administrative authority, in order to eliminate these costs from the government's financial books. The Building and Development Branch would become a 3 person policy shop funded by the taxpayer whereas the Building Code Designated Administrative Authority would manage the Ontario Building E-permitting Interface and the code development, production, and administrative functions.
Since annual building permit
fees in Ontario are about $200 million, a 1% - 3% surcharge on building permit
fees would support a streamlined designated administrative authority and free
up some cash for the provincial government that is currently being spent to
fund the Building and Development Branch.
A 3% permit surcharge would enable the Building Code Designated
Administrative Authority to produce and distribute the electronic version of
the entire 2-volume Ontario Building Code for FREE to all college and university students, designers, builders,
and anyone else who wants one.
Richard Lyall, RESCON President, provided some useful insights about the e-permitting recommendations as follows:
"This is low-hanging fruit for Premier Doug Ford and the new Ontario government. One of their platform planks was to cut red tape to help industry thrive – we recommend they start here."
Download a .pdf copy of the above Article.
What will the Ontario Building Code require for electric vehicle charging stations, beginning on January 1, 2018 .......?by Alek Antoniuk, OAA
November 15, 2017
Professional Design and Review of Buildings in Ontario . . . Unfinished Business
by Alek Antoniuk, OAA
August 31, 2017
In 1984, the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) and the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) essentially divided up the professional design “pie” so that PEO licence holders and architects gained the exclusive right to design and conduct general reviews of significant buildings in Ontario. This exclusivity is shared in a carefully negotiated arrangement between professional engineers and architects that is set out in complementary provisions of the Professional Engineers Act, 1984 and the Architects Act, 1984. Both statutes were enacted in 1984. A Joint Practice Board of the two professions is supposed to help avoid confusion and conflicts between them.
In 1984, the Ontario Building Code, a regulation made pursuant to the Building Code Act, was amended to reflect the division of the design and general review “pie” between professional engineers and architects. The Ontario Building Code contained a Design and General Review Table, which reflected the design and general review divisions embedded in the Professional Engineers Act, 1984 and the Architects Act, 1984. Where an application was made for a building permit, a municipal building official would check the drawings to ensure that the design was prepared in accordance with the Ontario Building Code’s Design and General Review Table. For 22 years, between 1984 and 2007, this arrangement worked very well because municipal building officials would not issue building permits if the design drawings contravened the Design and General Review Table.
Bill 124, the Building Code Statute Law Amendment Act, 2002, proclaimed on July 25, 2003, amended the Building Code Act to require all building officials and all designers submitting designs for the purpose of obtaining a building permit to be qualified and registered by the government, effective January 1, 2006. Needless to say, this upset a lot of professional engineers and architects, since they already considered themselves to be qualified to design buildings and they did not appreciate more government red tape.
The PEO, supported by the OAA, challenged the Ontario government’s authority to regulate the practice of the province’s professional engineers under the Building Code Act. The PEO) applied for a judicial review of Bill 124 to clarify the exclusive jurisdiction of self-regulating professions. In 2007, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice confirmed the exclusive jurisdiction of the PEO and the OAA to regulate the practice of engineering and architecture, respectively. The Court declared that the professional qualification and registration requirements of the Building Code Act and Ontario Building Code do not apply to any holder of any licence or certificate issued under the Professional Engineers Act. That was the good news.
Unfortunately, the Court also found that the Building Code Act did not provide sufficient authority to allocate responsibility for the design of buildings between members of the professional engineering and architectural professions in the Ontario Building Code. The effect of this decision was to invalidate the Ontario Building Code’s Design and General Review Table. In other words, the proverbial “baby was thrown out with the bath water”.
In December, 2007, the PEO and the OAA recognized the
mess that was created and issued a joint bulletin, entitled “Design and General
Review Requirements for Buildings in the Province of Ontario”, which
encapsulated the scopes of practice contained in their legislation. This joint bulletin was sent to all Ontario
chief building officials on January 3, 2008 to be used as a guide. Although the joint bulletin was useful
because it contained a table that could be easily referenced to determine
whether professional design was required for a building permit application, it
was unenforceable by municipal building officials.
After the 2007 Ontario Superior Court of
Justice decision, municipal building officials could no longer demand that
certain buildings had to be designed by professional engineers and architects. Indeed, a building official could not refuse
to issue a permit for a 20 storey residential condominium building where a
non-professional designer, who was qualified and registered under Bill 124,
prepared the design.
The simple solution to this absurdity would have been to amend the Building Code Act to reinstate the Ontario Building Code’s Design and General Review Table. The OAA and the building officials’ organizations supported this simple solution. Of course, the PEO would not permit this. The PEO had won the court case and there was no way they would back off on this point.
Although municipal building officials continued to have the authority to refer plans to the PEO and the OAA for enforcement of the Professional Engineers Act and the Architects Act, municipal building officials had no authority to enforce those statutes.
Neither of the two main Ontario associations representing building officials took part in the2007 judicial review. The Ontario Superior Court judges had to rely only on the arguments presented by the PEO, the OAA, and the Ontario government. Had the Ontario Building Officials Association or the Large Municipalities Chief Building Officials been involved, one can only speculate that the outcome of the case would have been different.
In response to the Court’s decisions, the 2012 Ontario
Building Code (O. Reg. 332/12), which came into effect on January 1, 2014, deleted
the “professional design table” from Section 1.2.1., “Design”, of Division
C. A version of this table was relocated
to Section 1.2.2., “General Review”, of Division C of the 2012 Ontario Building
Code to apply only to general review requirements, since the 2007 Ontario
Superior Court of Justice decision did not address general review.
The 2012 Ontario Building Code is silent on when professional design is required for a building. All references to an “architect” or a “professional engineer” have been replaced by a “suitably qualified and experienced person”.
Finally, 7 years after the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision, the Ontario Legislature passed the Building Opportunity and Securing Our Future Act (Budget Measures), 2014 and the Act received Royal Assent on July 24, 2014. Schedule 3 of the Act amended the Building Code Act, 1992 to establish the requirement for professional design of buildings.
Schedule 3 amended the Building Code Act to update the list of conditions under which chief building officials may refuse to issue building permits. Schedule 3 of the amendment permits chief building officials to refuse to issue permits where “the Architects Act or the Professional Engineers Act requires that the proposed construction of the building be designed by an architect or a professional engineer or a combination of both and the proposed construction is not so designed.”
The effect of this amendment to the Building Code Act is that a municipal building official has to read the Architects Act or the Professional Engineers Act in order to determine whether to issue a building permit. Plus ça change! Now, instead of consulting the old Design and General Review Table, a municipal building official has to interpret the professional design Acts!
In the meantime, the PEO continues to maintain its long held view that building officials are not authorized to adjudicate between professional engineers and architects with respect to which professional designer is required to be involved in the design of a building. Clearly, this is an unresolved issue that was not addressed by the 2014 amendments to the Building Code Act.
Following the 2003 Ontario general election, which was won by the Ontario Liberal Party, led by Dalton McGuinty, Ontario's civil servants were tasked with dismantling the Common Sense Revolution championed by Premier Mike Harris. By 2006, civil servants in the Building and Development Branch were given instructions to remove all PERCEIVED barriers to "certain green technologies" in the Ontario Building Code. At that time, I was the Manager for the technical development of the Ontario Building Code and, as a civil servant, it was my duty to obey the orders of the Central Committee Cabinet.
The Code Development Unit staff produced a list of changes that could be implemented to fulfill the wishes of the respresentatives elected by the people of Ontario. Although I did not recommend any of the proposed changes that our Unit drafted, the policy and political wonks accepted all of them. The most ill-advised change that was accepted was to permit combustible solar collectors on roofs of buildings required to be of noncombustible construction:
184.108.40.206. Combustible Solar Collector Systems
(1) A combustible solar collector system is permitted to be installed above the roof of a building required to be of noncombustible construction.
All of the changes were incorporated into Ontario Regulation 349/06, which amended the 1997 Ontario Building Code. So there you have it - in the name of making Ontario green, the code change increased the fire hazard of buildings in Ontario. The permission to install combustible solar collectors applies to roofs of high rise buildings as well as low rise buildings. There is no height limit.......!
The U.K.'s Express reported on July 9, 2017 that:
block of flats in Bethnal Green, east London, caught fire last Sunday
with around 80 firefighters attending the scene and initial suggestions
are that the solar panels appear to have caught fire."
If it can happen in Bethnal Green, it can just as easily happen in Ontario.
When the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) published the 2005 edition of the National Building Code (NBC), one of the most significant changes was to permit combustible components in the cladding of tall sprinklered buildings of unlimited height.
Following the changes to the 2005 NBC, there was pressure on Ontario to follow the lead of the CCBFC. Ontario’s Chief Building Official and Director of the Building and Development Branch, David Brezer, P. Eng. and the Branch’s Code Development Manager, Alek Antoniuk, OAA reviewed the NBC changes and were not convinced that the combustible cladding changes were proven to be safe. Branch staff recommended that the Ontario government not proceed to change Ontario’s Building Code to permit combustible cladding in buildings of unlimited height. It was deemed prudent to refrain from amending the Ontario Building Code for at least one code cycle in order to see the experience of other jurisdictions that had implemented the change.
Therefore, Ontario kept a height restriction of 6 storeys for sprinklered buildings and 3 storeys for unsprinklered buildings in Sentence 220.127.116.11.(1) of Div. B of the Ontario Building Code. Ontario remained one of the few jurisdictions in North America with restrictions on the height of buildings with combustible cladding.
Ontario’s caution was justified as a significant number of buildings around the world have experienced cladding fires. Although these buildings are protected by automatic sprinkler systems, standard sprinkler systems are ineffective against fires on the exterior of buildings. Ontario’s 6 storey limit is based on the ability of emergency responders to use fire hoses on the exterior of the building to control cladding fires.
It will be interesting to see whether other jurisdictions will align their building codes to match Ontario’s wise choice made over a decade ago.