Buyers Beware: Little Known Pittsburgh Building Code Ordinance Can Present Expensive Problems
Commercial property buyers, landlords and tenants should be aware that a little known City of Pittsburgh ordinance requires building owners to conduct periodic inspections of building façade exteriors in the City. Many building owners may not be aware of this ordinance or in compliance with the mandated five-year inspection plan.
Like many other cities such as Philadelphia and Harrisburg, the City of Pittsburgh adopted the Uniform Construction Code and its family of codes including the International Property Maintenance Code ("IPMC"). The City of Pittsburgh's Building Code ("Code") specifically adopts the IPMC 2003 edition with modifications that, among other things, require regular building façade inspections by a licensed engineer or architect:
304.1.1 Required Inspections: All buildings and structures except [residential buildings], shall be inspected by a licensed professional engineer or registered architect to determine the structural soundness of items covered in Sections 304.8, 304.9 and 304.11, and their reports shall bear their signature and seal. All inspections made prior to the adoption of this code shall continue on their previous schedule at five year intervals. All new inspections shall be completed within one year of the adoption of this code and successive inspections shall be made every fifth year after the date of the original inspection.
Code of Ordinances, City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania § 1004.02 (Ord. 9-2004, eff. 6-8-04). The inspection items covered in IPMC Sections 304.8, 304.9 and 304.11 include a building's decorative features (cornices, belt courses, terra cotta trim, etc.), overhang extensions (canopies, marquees, signs, metal awning, fire escapes, etc.), chimneys, cooling towers and smoke stacks. The Code's façade ordinance does not specify the required contents of the engineer or architect's inspection or report and there is no apparent requirement to submit the reports to Pittsburgh's Bureau of Building Inspection. Monetary fines may be imposed upon conviction for noncompliance, with $1,000 fines for each offense computed daily. Id. § 1001.10.
If buying a commercial building in the City of Pittsburgh, a prospective buyer should consider requiring the seller to represent in the sales agreement that the seller is in compliance with the Code's façade ordinance and with other local inspection requirements. In the leasing context, commercial landlords and tenants may benefit from clarifying in their leases whether maintenance of the façade features covered by the Code's façade ordinance is the landlord or tenant's responsibility and who is responsible for the inspection costs.