Sometimes it’s easier to do a tear-down or to let an existing building stand empty rather than jump through the hoops required by complicated, out-of-date local building codes.
At a time when communities are concerned about sprawl and the lack of affordable housing is approaching crisis levels, a number of states and cities are adopting “smart codes” designed to encourage remodeling, renovation and adaptive reuse.
The smart code movement has been growing since 1997, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development published the Nationally Applicable Recommended Rehabilitation Provisions — tested on Professional Remodeler’s 1998 Model reModel project.
The next year, New Jersey adopted the New Jersey Uniform Construc-tion Code — Rehabilitation Subcode. According to the state, rehabilitation investment has increased by 83% in Jersey City, 60% in Newark and 40% in Trenton.
More recently, Wichita, Kan., has developed the Wichita Rehabilitation Code, and Maryland adopted the Maryland Building Rehabilitation Code, effective June 2001. The latter integrated 10 state codes governing existing buildings, and Maryland offers financial incentives for localities that don’t amend the MBRC.
Other jurisdictions with rehab codes in the works are New York state, Rhode Island and Kansas City, Mo.
What’s the appeal? For one thing, the new rehab codes and their requirements are separate and distinct from those for new construction. In addition, instead of classifying remodeling work into just three categories, rehab codes get more specific, allowing code requirements to be proportional to the type and extent of the work being performed.
For more information on smart codes and on advocating for them in your community, visit the Publica-tions section of the HUD Web site at www.huduser.org  and download Smart Codes in Your Community: A Guide to Building Rehabilitation Codes.