Ohio law mandates that buildings are built to a high standard. Read on to learn more about the important Ohio laws that protect us while indoors.
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Most of us assume–perhaps without ever consciously thinking about it–that the buildings where we live and work will not fall down on us. Once in a while, though, we hear of a catastrophic event that makes us question how safe those buildings are, how we can be sure they’re safe, and who is responsible for ensuring their safety.
One of the most significant recent events was the collapse of a 13-story condominium tower in Surfside, Florida. 98 people were killed in the collapse. Just three survivors were rescued from the rubble.
In the wake of the tragedy, it emerged that engineers had warned of structural deterioration nearly three years before the building came down. Renovations were reportedly finally about to get underway when the tower fell. Understandably, this started many people wondering about the integrity of the buildings they frequent–especially those who live and work in multi-story buildings.
Ohio Building Codes Aim to Make and Keep Structures Safe
Building safety is governed by a combination of state and local laws and regulations. One thing many people don’t realize is that building codes can vary significantly from one area to another. That’s because different environments call for different precautions. For instance, here in Ohio, we don’t need our buildings to withstand hurricanes. In Southern Florida, they don’t have to plan for the possibility of heavy snow on rooftops.
In Ohio, state law empowers the Board of Building Standards to create standards for any building that may be used as a place of:
- Occupancy by the public
The authority also extends to all residential buildings and to “all other buildings or parts and appurtenances of those buildings erected within this state.”
These regulations take the form of:
- The Ohio Building Code
- The Ohio Mechanical Code
- The Ohio Plumbing Code
- The Residential Code of Ohio
Other divisions of the state government also create regulations that may apply to safe construction or maintenance of buildings. For example, the Ohio Fire Code is written by the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of State Fire Marshall.
These Codes are updated periodically. The Building, Mechanical, and Plumbing Codes are slated for an update in 2024, and the proposed new rules are available for viewing now. There will be a public hearing on June 23, 2023, prior to the approval of the updated codes.
What Happens When Building Codes and Other Rules are Violated?
Local governments can adopt state codes as their own, and the Board of Building Standards can empower municipalities to conduct inspections for state code inspection, so who you contact with concerns about building safety will vary depending on where you live. For example, in Cincinnati, the Department of Buildings and Inspections is responsible for both pre-construction permits, plan review and inspections, and code enforcement. If you’re unsure who to contact in your area, check your local city or county website.
An expert tip from Doug Mann
It’s important to note that code enforcement involves more than just dramatic structural issues like the ones that caused the Surfside collapse. Seemingly minor violations of safety codes, such as requirements for stair rails, fire escape routes, and other safety precautions, can be dangerous for individuals living, working, or doing business in the building. If you’re aware of unsafe conditions and your landlord won’t address them, consider reporting them to your local enforcement agency. In a work setting, you may also have other options, such as making a report to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
If the building is in sufficiently dangerous condition to be deemed a public nuisance, an Ohio court may issue an injunction requiring the property owner to take the necessary steps to return it to safe condition. If the owner fails or refuses to take those steps after a reasonable opportunity, the court may take other actions, including offering interested parties such as mortgagees the opportunity to abate the nuisance or appointing a receiver.
Liability for Unsafe Building Injuries
If someone is injured or killed as a result of unsafe building conditions, the injured party or surviving family members may be entitled to compensation from the property owner. This type of claim is similar to any other premises liability case, where the property owner failed to maintain the premises in reasonably safe condition for the tenant, shopper, or other person present on the premises.
In Ohio, violation of the Building Code or another code promulgated by a designated agency is not negligence per se. That is, the simple fact that the property owner or someone else involved in the construction and maintenance violated the Building Code is not in itself sufficient to establish negligence. However, it can be introduced as evidence that the owner or other party was negligent.
Other Possible Responsible Parties
The property owner is typically the first possible responsible party that comes to mind in a building-related injury case. Since the property owner does have an obligation to exercise care to keep the premises in safe condition, they typically will be at least partially responsible for an injury caused by unsafe building conditions. Still, there are a number of other possible responsible parties, including:
- An architect or engineer who provided faulty plans
- A manufacturer or supplier of defective materials
- A contractor who was negligent in construction, remodeling, or repairs
In some cases, parties even further removed may be wholly or partly responsible. For example, in the Surfside Condo case described above, 20 different parties contributed to the $1.2 billion settlement. These included the city of Surfside, the condominium association, the security company that managed safety systems, and the owner of a nearby development that plaintiffs asserted had caused or contributed to the structural instability.
Talk to an Ohio Injury Lawyer as Soon as Possible
If you’ve been injured due to unsafe conditions in a building, you should speak with an experienced Ohio injury attorney as soon as possible. Because there may be multiple possible responsible parties, it is in your best interest to consult an attorney who is experienced with a range of injury-related litigation, such as premises liability claims and product liability cases.
To learn more, call 937-222-2222 right now, or fill out the contact form on this site.
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