NYS UNIFORM FIRE PREVENTION AND BUILDING CODE:
WHAT ELECTED OFFICIALS NEED TO KNOW
A. The Uniform Code.
In 1981, New York State adopted a new Article 18 of the Executive Law providing for the development and implementation of a comprehensive building and fire code. Article 18, consisting of sections 370 through 383 of the Executive Law, sets forth the process by which the code is to be developed, maintained, administered, and enforced for the protection of all New Yorkers. Both State government and local government are participants in this process. The code, called the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code (the “Uniform Code”), took effect January 1, 1984 and prescribes minimum standards for both fire prevention and building construction. It is applicable in every municipality of the State (except the City of New York, which was permitted to retain its own code).
Responsibility for developing and maintaining the Uniform Code is vested in the State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council (the “Code Council”), a seventeen member body composed of State officials, local officials, and private individuals well versed in building construction and maintenance standards. The Code Council is part of the Department of State and the Secretary of State serves as its Chair. The Code Council is required to meet at least quarterly but additional meetings may be called by the Chair or by petition of five members of the Code Council.
Any individual or group may propose an amendment of the Uniform Code. Proposed amendments are typically submitted to the Department of State, and reviewed by technical subcommittees established for that purpose. The technical subcommittees guide and assist the Department of State in formulating the recommendations it makes to the Code Council. The technical subcommittees include Department of State staff, local code enforcement personnel, local fire prevention personnel, and other local government officials, as well as design professionals and others involved in the construction industry. The Department of State is particularly grateful for the valuable contributions made by all who serve on these subcommittees.
If the Code Council finds the proposed change to be necessary or advisable, it commences the rule making process set forth in the State Administrative Procedure Act. The rule making process formally begins with publication of a notice of proposed rule making in the State Register. Publication of a notice in the State Register commences a period for public comment upon any proposal. Article 18 of the Executive Law requires that the public comment period include at least one public hearing. Prior to adopting the amendment, the Code Council must assess any public comment it has received during the comment period or at the public hearing(s).
An individual city, town or village is not required to “adopt” the Uniform Code or to take any other affirmative step to make the Uniform Code effective within the municipality. The Uniform Code is automatically in effect in each municipality in the State (except New York City) by directive of the State Legislature. An individual city, town, or village cannot choose to exclude itself from all or any part of the Uniform Code.
B. Administration and Enforcement of the Uniform Code.
Executive Law § 381 requires every city, town and village to administer and enforce the Uniform Code within its boundaries. However, Executive Law § 381 permits a municipality to “opt out” of its administration and enforcement responsibilities by adopting a local law which provides that the municipality will not administer and enforce the Uniform Code. Any such local law must be enacted prior to July 1 in any year, and becomes effective on January 1 of the following year. If a municipality “opts out” of its administration and enforcement responsibilities by adopting such a local law, the responsibility for administering and enforcing the Uniform Code passes to the county in which the municipality is located.* Note, however, that even if a municipality “opts out” of its administration and enforcement responsibilities, the Uniform Code will remain in effect in the municipality.
* Executive Law § 381 also provides that a county may adopt a local law “opting out” of code administration and enforcement responsibilities. If a municipality “opts out,” and if the county in which that municipality is located also “opts out,” the responsibility for administering and enforcing the Uniform Code in that municipality passes to the Department of State.
Each municipality that has not “opted out” of its code administration and enforcement responsibilities must develop and implement a program for enforcement of the Uniform Code within its boundaries. Although fire prevention and building construction standards (i.e., the provisions of the Uniform Code) are uniform throughout the State, municipal programs for enforcing the code are not required to be uniform. Indeed, a municipal code enforcement program appropriate for a large city containing many apartment buildings and a downtown commercial core would almost certainly be unsuitable for a small rural town containing mostly single family homes. Each municipality is strongly encouraged to consider local needs and conditions when designing its local code enforcement program.
However, in designing its code enforcement program, municipal officials must be aware that the Article 18 of the Executive Law directs the Secretary of State to promulgate regulations prescribing minimum standards for administration and enforcement of the Uniform Code. The Secretary has adopted such regulations in 19 NYCRR Part 1203 (Uniform Code: Minimum Standards for Administration and Enforcement). Any municipal program for administration and enforcement of the Uniform Code must conform with the requirements of Part 1203, and must include the following features:
* Executive Law § 381(1), as amended by Chapter 159 of the Laws of 2007, provides that the Part 1203 rules adopted by the Secretary of State shall not “require or be construed to require regular, periodic inspections of (A) owner-occupied one and two-family dwellings, or (B) agricultural buildings used directly and solely for agricultural purposes, provided, however that this shall not be a limitation on inspections conducted at the invitation of the owner or where conditions on the premises threaten or present a hazard to public health, safety, or welfare.”
In establishing minimum standards set forth in Part 1203, the Secretary of State has sought to provide sufficient flexibility to allow each municipality to establish a program for administration and enforcement of the Uniform Code which is appropriate for local conditions, and to provide local government official with wide discretion in the design and implementation of the program. While the minimum standards set forth in Part 1203 must be satisfied, local needs and circumstances should be considered when designing a municipal code enforcement program. Members of the staff of the Codes Division in the Department of State are available to answer questions regarding the process of administering and enforcing the code.
Municipal officials should also be aware of the requirements regarding training and certification of code enforcement officers. Pursuant to 10 NYCRR Part 434 (Minimum Standards for Code Enforcement Personnel in the State of New York) and 19 NYCRR Part 1208 (Uniform Code: Training of Staff), all local code enforcement personnel must complete a prescribed program of minimum basic code enforcement training, and must receive annual in-service training. The Department of State maintains a list of municipal code enforcement personnel who have successfully fulfilled the training requirements for Code Enforcement Officials pursuant to 19 NYCRR Parts 434 and 1208. This list is posted on the Department’s website at
Article 18 of the Executive Law also directs the Secretary of State to promulgate regulations establishing procedures whereby provisions or requirements of the Uniform Code may be varied or modified in cases where strict compliance with the provision or requirement would entail practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship or would otherwise be unwarranted. The Secretary has adopted 19 NYCRR Part 1205 (Uniform Code: Variance Procedures) which establishes a dual process for obtaining variances from Uniform Code provisions. Cases which involve a de minimus variance or a modification which does not substantially affect the code’s provisions for health, safety or security are classified as routine cases and are processed administratively by the Department of State. More substantial variance requests are reviewed and decided by regional boards of review.
D. More Restrictive Local Standards.
Executive Law § 379 provides that a municipality may enact or adopt a local law or ordinance imposing standards for construction in the municipality that are “higher or more restrictive” than the corresponding standards in the Uniform Code. If a municipality enacts or adopts such a standard (often referred to as a “more restrictive local standard” or “MRLS”), the municipality must, within 30 days after the enactment or adoption, notify the Code Council and petition the Code Council for approval of the MRLS. If the Code Council finds that (1) the MRLS is, in fact, higher or more restrictive than the corresponding provision of the Uniform Code, and (2) the MRLS is reasonably necessary because of special conditions prevailing within the municipality, and (3) the MRLS conforms with accepted engineering and fire prevention practices and the purposes of Article 18 of the Executive Law, the Code Council will approve (or “adopt”) such MRLS, in whole or part. The Code Council has the power to limit the term or duration of the MRLS, to impose conditions in connection with the adoption of the MRLS, and to terminate the MRLS at such times, and in such manner as the Code Council may deem necessary, desirable or proper.
E. Functions of the Department of State.
The functions of the Department of State associated with the Uniform Code and the Code Council are performed by the Department of State’s Division of Code Enforcement and Administration. The Division’s functions are performed by the following Units: