In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, municipalities have limited their operations generally, which affect their ability to approve building permits and construction inspections within the normal timelines. Governor Sununu passed Emergency Order 23 to “keep New Hampshire construction projects, vital to the economy, active and progressing during these extraordinary times.” The order allows for a temporary modification of municipal and local government statutory requirements in response to these limitations.
Emergency Order 23 allows for continued construction without a permit or inspection, but requires the developer to obtain inspections and documentation after the municipality reopens. Here is the full text of EO 23.
First, contractors must submit all permit applications and inspection requests to the “Building Official via first class mail, drop box, if provided, or by electronic submission such as email where available.”
Second, contractors must keep a record of attempts to communicate with local officials, and should keep a record of all attempts to comply with whatever new procedures the municipality offers. (Check the website.)
Third, if a municipality is not able, or refuses, to issue a permit due to these limited operations within the timeframes otherwise provided by RSA 676:13,III (30 or 60 days – check the statute), a contractor may continue construction without a permit or inspection following ten days prior written notice to the Building Official.
NOTE: to proceed, a contractor must have written approval from the client demonstrating the client understands:
• the contractor is proceeding without a review or preapproval by a town official;
• the plans will not be reviewed or preapproved by a town building official; and
• he or she will be charged for any remedial work necessary upon ultimate inspection.
This approval must be on a document separate from the contractor’s standard contract, and be in 10-point bold font.
Fourth, if construction inspection is refused or cannot be offered within five (5) working days, construction may continue pursuant to issued permits after the contractor documents completed work and materials using photographic and/or video methods to preserve evidence for subsequent review. Work should be left unconcealed and visible for later inspection to the greatest extent practicable. Should the photographic or video documenting not show all necessary aspects of the inspection process needed to demonstrate code compliance, the Building Official may take all necessary actions to verify compliance with the applicable code.
Finally, once a municipality resumes operations, a contractor must provide updates on the status of commenced or progressed construction, and obtain after-the-fact inspections and/or documentation of the same.
The municipality still may take any steps necessary to ensure compliance with building codes and, in continuing construction, the contractor assumes the risk that changes will have to be made to remain compliant.
Emergency Order 23 does not replace the need for proper inspections and documentation after the municipality resumes normal operations and has provided guidance on the additional documentation needed to take advantage of the ability to proceed without a properly issued permit.
The full order is not long and is fairly clear, so readers are encouraged to read the order.