Learn About Being a Code Enforcement Officer

overgrown lawn with mower
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Cities and counties adopt building codes and to keep people safe and to keep their jurisdictions appealing places to live. Building codes set the minimum standards for construction and renovation of buildings. Land use ordinances set forth regulations on what sorts of buildings can be on pieces of land and the standards for maintaining the land and structures. Code enforcement officers make sure building codes and land use ordinances are obeyed.

When a citizen takes out a permit, chances are a code enforcement officer will look into the project a time or two while the project is in progress and again once it is done. The code enforcement officer ensures the project meets building codes. This gives the property owner a good degree of confidence the contractor has done the project correctly and safely.

In addition to construction projects, code enforcement officers make sure property owners follow land use ordinances. For instance, code enforcement officers investigate when someone makes a complaint about a lawn or vacant lot that hasn’t been mowed for several weeks. Many cities have ordinances about how tall grass can be before it becomes an eyesore to the community.

A career as a code enforcement officer requires the abilities to learn ordinances, to apply those ordinances to real-life situations, to explain decisions and to communicate tactfully in difficult situations.

With these abilities, code enforcement officers can handle just about any work problem thrown their way.

The Selection Process

Code enforcement officers are hired using the normal government hiring process. Many jurisdictions require code enforcement officers to have some sort of certification or license related to building inspection.

This makes sense because they often check the work of licensed tradesmen like plumbers and electricians. A license or certification gives a code enforcement officer de facto credibility with the workers whose work they verify is done up to standards.

The Education and Experience You'll Need

To be considered for a code enforcement job, most organizations require a high school education and some experience in the construction industry. Some require a college degree in a field related to the position.

Again, code enforcement officers inspect and approve the work of licensed tradesmen, so they need to be able to communicate with these experts in a professional setting. As has been mentioned before, many organizations require some sort of licensure.

What You'll Do

Code enforcement officers are important local government professionals who play a vital role in keeping a community safe and appealing. They keep it safe by ensuring buildings are built and remodeled so the structures will stay standing and will function properly.

Not only will the roof stay up, but also the electricity won’t cause a fire, the plumbing won’t leak, the walls will be appropriately insulated, and mold won’t accumulate in hidden nooks and crannies.

Code enforcement officers help retain the community’s appeal by enforcing land use ordinances. They make sure zoning laws are followed, graffiti is quickly abated and unkempt properties are maintained by their owners.

Doing this job well requires several abilities. First, code enforcement officers must learn and apply the building codes and ordinances they are charged with enforcing. They need a strong working knowledge of these rules and must be able to tell the difference when these rules are followed and when they are not.

Second, code enforcement officers must be able to explain their decisions. When they say something isn’t up to snuff, the people who are supposed to bring the project or property into compliance need to understand what is deficient and how that deficiency should be remedied.

It isn't enough to point out errors. Officers help people come into compliance.

Third, code enforcement officers must be able to communicate tactfully in difficult situations. Many times, citizens are not going to be happy about a code enforcement officer’s decision. An officer’s decision could delay a construction project which will cost the contractor or the property owner money -- perhaps lots of money.

When money is involved, things can get heated quickly. It is absolutely vital that code enforcement officers retain their cool in these situations. As a government agent, the officer must retain a professional demeanor, de-escalate situations when possible and know when to walk away from someone who won’t have a reasonable interaction.

What You'll Earn

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not keep data specifically on code enforcement officers; however, it does keep data on construction and building inspectors and compliance officers. A code enforcement officer position is a hybrid of these two jobs. In 2014, the average salary for construction and building inspectors was $58,430. At the same time, the average salary for compliance officers was $68,000.

As with any government job, experience plays a large role in determining an employee's salary. New code enforcement officers can expect to make below average salaries whereas those with a bit of tenure can get closer to the mean. Those nearing retirement tend to make the most money.