Keeping up with building codes harder with older structures
Condemned Prescott apartment complex working to meet today’s standards
Updated as of Sunday, May 26, 2019 12:30 AM
It was just before Christmas 2018 when all the residents of Casa de Piños were forced to pack up their essential possessions and move into local hotels.
The senior living apartment complex located about a mile from downtown Prescott was no longer fit to live in.
A sprinkler system in the building’s attic had burst and caused a great deal of water damage, “to the point where it wasn’t safe to leave the residents in [the building],” City of Prescott Planning Manager George Worley said.
Floors and ceilings had collapsed, drywall was falling off and mold was a concern, Worley said.
Sixteen of the building’s 40 units had received direct damage, said Perry Glenn, director of Affordable Housing Operations for Retirement Housing Foundation, the company that owns and manages the complex.
“But because the water went to different electrical systems, it condemned the whole building,” Glenn said.
It has now been about five months, and repairs to the building remain ongoing.
Throughout that time, the owners of the complex have been paying about $4,000 a month to house the displaced residents at local hotels. They also have had security guards on the Casa de Piños property 24/7 to ensure no one enters the building due to safety and liability concerns.
If all goes well, Glenn expects some of the residents will be able to return to the apartment complex at the end of June, with everyone moved back in by August or early September.
Some of what has been dragging out the process is making sure everything is up to today’s codes.
“Once you have damage — and it is an older building — you have to build back to new codes, so there’s additional code upgrades that we need to do,” Glenn said.
Paul Macari, the City of Prescott’s chief building official, said it is the city’s responsibility to ensure these codes are met.
“Once we walk in there, we can’t just turn a blind eye if we see something that could cause a problem, because we deal with life-safety issues,” Macari said.
Such concerns are not unique to Casa de Piños. Many older buildings, whether they be residential or commercial, can face similar challenges as they require maintenance, are renovated or become accessible to code inspectors for one reason or the other, Macari said.
“If you open a wall, then it opens up areas that have to be brought up to standard,” he said.
MOST COMMON CODE VIOLATIONS
While building owners are free to paint their structures, install new carpeting in them and do a small amount of repairs without pulling a building permit, anything that may jeopardize the structural integrity or safety of a building is a different story. “If you get into beams and posts, we need to look at those,” Macari said.
Some of the most common code violations Macari sees are people who make small additions to their home or commercial property thinking the project is not big enough to involve city officials.
“It’s that simple enclosure on a patio or building a little deck,” he said. “Those are the kind of things that a lot of people don’t realize there’s a kind of safety concern with it.”
Other examples are replacing a water heater or adding an electrical outlet somewhere.
“We have a joke around here that you can build a dog house, but as soon as you put electricity into it, it needs a permit,” Macari said.
The best way to follow the rules and prioritize safety is to simply ask the city what you can and cannot do, Macari said.
“People can send us emails, call us, or bring us pictures of the thing they’re trying to make changes to and we can let them know what they need to do,” he said.