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As the Building Official for the City of Minot, Mitch Flanagan is a firm believer in the need for building permits and inspections, for one simple reason: Safety.
“You take it for granted nowadays that buildings you walk into are safe. That’s the positive effect of building codes,” Flanagan said. “They are here to protect consumers, too, when they build or buy a home or a commercial building.”
Flanagan and those in his office are tasked with reviewing and approving building permits, and conducting on-site inspections of new homes, commercial buildings, and other structures being built in the city.
For the average project in Minot, the process is pretty straightforward. An application is filled out, and two sets of plans must be submitted to the building department; one that includes the floor plan, truss plan, elevations and other structural information, including a site plan with setbacks and location of any existing buildings. If all the information is provided correctly, this process takes a maximum of two weeks for his office to approve a permit, but most permits are completed in less time than that.
“We try to make it as simple as possible. We’ve got a good staff here and we keep it pretty straightforward,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan said the average new home will see a minimum of four inspections for each category, including building, mechanical, plumbing and electrical, some houses receive as many as seven or eight inspections in each category.
Fees for building permits are determined through a formula that includes the estimated valuation of the project and the square footage of the structure to be built. Typically, a building permit for the average 2,000 square foot home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a double garage, and a deck would cost approximately $1,000.
“I think what we do is provide a service, not simply act as a regulatory office,” Flanagan said. “The intent of building permits and inspections is simple: To make sure builders follow the appropriate building codes. If everyone plays by the rules, the system works well and it protects everyone involved.”
Not all projects require a building permit. Replacing your kitchen sink and cabinets? You don’t need a permit. Installing new carpet? Painting rooms? Installing new siding? Don’t need a permit. But if you are replacing permanent portions of the plumbing system in your home, you need a permit. Adding a garage or shed more than 120 square feet in size? You need a permit. If you aren’t sure, Flanagan advises you to contact his office at 857-4102, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the City of Minot’s website at http://www.minotnd.org/163/Inspections.
“Most contractors and homeowners welcome building inspections and permits because it will prevent problems in the future,” he said. “We can help avoid issues that would be harder to fix later. Once concrete is poured and walls are up, it can be awfully hard to fix some issues. I look at this process as a public/private partnership.”
Flanagan understands there is a feeling among some residents – not just in Minot, but nationally – that municipal governments should not be involved in what someone is doing with their own property. But, again, Flanagan stresses the need for building codes and inspections.
“I think there are those who feel like building codes of any kind are an infringement on their individual rights as a citizen to do as they please with their private property, and I understand that feeling,” Flanagan said. “But the codes are here to ensure that buildings are constructed with the proper safety in mind. Building safety is the No. 1 concern.”
That wasn’t always the case in the United States. “For instance, in the old days, there were no codes regulating staircases, so they were often one long set of stairs, with no intermediate landings or handrails. If someone fell down the stairs, they fell down ALL the stairs and sometimes died,” he said.
Historically, the Chicago fire of 1871 helped changed the construction industry in the United States. The fire destroyed more than 17,000 buildings and caused millions in property damage. Following the catastrophe, building standards were created to prevent similar disasters in the future.
“Building codes to me are fascinating, and I think they can say a lot about our society,” Flanagan said. “There’s a reason for building codes, and throughout history it’s often been related to tragic incidents. Safety is the No. 1 reason for building codes and inspections.”