DIY Home Improvements: What's the law?

AuthorSurtees, Jeff

Doing your own home renovations means understanding the legal requirements, such as permits, and the consequences of doing poor work.

You own your own home and decide to do some renovations. You get a couple of quotes from local contractors and are in shock over what it all adds up to. You think to yourself: "I'm not paying that. I've got some tools. It doesn't look too hard. I can do this myself. (That bird house I built back in school was perfect). Plus, there's a ton of stuff on YouTube to follow. What could possibly go wrong? I don't even think I'll bother with a permit. That sounds like a lot of hassle and is just a formality."

The Regulatory Framework

The Alberta government has the power to pass laws to make sure things are built safely. The Alberta Safety Codes Act is the starting point. This statute (written law) and its regulations:

* create a safety codes system that regulates the construction of buildings, elevators, amusement rides, ski lifts (and other rope systems), the installation of fire prevention, pressure and private sewage disposal systems, and how electrical, gas and plumbing work is to be done

* create a formal group of experts called the Safety Codes Counsel and give them duties, including figuring out what the standards should be in the areas of construction the Act applies to

* give owners, designers, manufacturers, contractors and sellers of property duties to make sure they comply with the Act

* create a system for inspection, enforcement and penalties to make sure the rules are followed, and allow the province to delegate much of this work to municipalities

Provincial statutes usually include a power to create regulations that will set out the details of how the work of the statute will get done. Those details often change, and the process for changing regulations is easier than the process for changing the statute. As of May 2022, there are over twenty regulations under the Safety Codes Act. Many of those regulations say that a set of standards developed by an expert group applies in Alberta. For example, section 1 of the Building Codes Regulation (one of the regulations under the Safety Codes Act) says "The National Building Code-2019 Alberta Edition, published by the National Research Council of Canada as amended or replaced from time to time, is declared in force with respect to buildings." That National Building Code is over 1,400 pages long and contains many rules regarding how buildings are to be built...

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