Reviewed Date: 11/09/2022
1. Do Tennessee towns and cities have to adopt a building or fire code?
No. There is no state law that requires a city to adopt a building or fire code. However, if a city or town decides it does not want codes to be enforced in the town, it must apply for an exemption or strictly follow an “opt-out” process as described in T.C.A. § 68-120-101. If a city or town wants to have codes enforced for residential homes but does not want to do it itself, the State Fire Marshal’s Office will enforce codes for those buildings. If you adopt a code, you must apply for a Local Government Residential Exemption Authorization. The form is available on the State of Tennessee website.
2. Is there a need to adopt building or fire codes?
Yes. Public safety is the best reason to adopt codes. Citizens need protection from others and sometimes even from themselves to prevent them from building an unsafe home. The entire model code development process is based on tragedies that have occurred in the past.
3. What does my city charter say about codes?
Most city charters say nothing except that you can adopt building and fire codes if you want. State law, at T.C.A. § 6-54-501 et al., authorizes all municipalities in the state to adopt them by reference codes published by technical trade organizations. This includes building, plumbing, electrical, and other codes.
4. Has my town or city already adopted a fire or building code?
Review your codified municipal code to find this answer. You should also look for ordinances adopted on the topic which have not yet been added to your code.
5. If we have adopted a building or fire code, what code and what year should it be?
State law requires the building or fire model code you have adopted to be no more than seven years older than the date of the latest published edition of the code adopted unless otherwise approved by the state fire marshal. The International Code Council publishes a new edition of its model codes every three years, and the most current published edition is the 2021 edition. Therefore, your city or town could adopt the 2021, 2018, or 2015 editions of an ICC model code. The state has adopted the 2012 edition of most of the international codes, so that edition of the fire, building, mechanical, plumbing, property maintenance, and existing building code is approved by the state fire marshal and may also be adopted by a city. The exception is the International Residential Code, for which the State has adopted the 2018 edition. Your city or town may adopt newer versions that are substantially equal to, or more stringent than, the state-adopted versions. Your city or town cannot adopt a code that is less stringent than the state code. T.C.A. § 68-120-101(b)(4)(A)
If your town or city has not adopted a code, you have a choice. You can choose to not adopt any codes, or you can adopt a building and/or fire code.
6. Why should a town or city adopt codes?
Code enforcement is a valuable tool for guarding the public safety, and protects people from injury or death caused by unsafe buildings and preventable fires. If your city adopts codes, the city can enforce them locally. If the city does not adopt codes, the state fire marshal has the final enforcement power.
7. What codes should we adopt? When should we adopt them?
Building: International Building Code, an edition within seven (7) years of the latest published edition. A city may also adopt the 2012 edition, as that is the edition adopted by the state.
Fire: International Fire Code, an edition within seven (7) years of the latest published edition, or the NFPA Uniform Fire Code, an edition within seven (7) years of the latest published edition. A city may also adopt the 2012 edition, as that is the edition adopted by the state.
Other: There are other codes such as mechanical codes you can adopt as needed for plumbing, gas, etc.
You can find the current list of adopted codes on the State of Tennessee website: https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/commerce/documents/fire_prevention/posts/2019-10-25_sfmo-code-adoption-and-history.pdf
8. Why should my town or city adopt a different code than the state?
Your town or city should not necessarily adopt a different code than the state. Architects, engineers, and contractors are using them, and the building and fire codes work better together. You can adopt codes that are substantially equal to, or more stringent than, the state’s codes if you feel that the needs of your city would be better served by a different code. You cannot adopt a code that is less stringent than the state’s codes.
9. Why do some towns and cities adopt codes, then not enforce them?
It is claimed by some that a few cities adopt codes only in order to collect permit fees, but enforcement should be part of the process. Some cities may have difficulty retaining and paying a certified code inspector.
10. What building code does the state use?
Effective August 4, 2016, the State of Tennessee adopted the 2012 editions of the International Building Code, International Fire Code, International Fuel Gas Code, International Mechanical Code, International Plumbing Code, International Property Maintenance Code, International Energy Conservation Code, International Existing Building Code, and the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. Effective November 12, 2019, the State adopted the 2018 edition of the International Residential Code. Some of these codes were adopted with amendments. More information on the state’s adopted codes are available on the State of Tennessee website.