It was 13 years ago that the city of Mexico last updated its building code standards for new residential properties, renovations or additions to existing residential properties in 2006. The city is four code cycles behind on updates which has affected its ranking with Insurance Services Office.

The Mexico City Council started the process in a work session Monday to rectify the downgraded ranking and update building codes.

"Last November, the ISO organization that represents insurance ratings came and reviewed our building code adoption, enforcement, training, certification,” Mexico Building Official Matt Kreyling said. “...We got a letter back in early January that informed us that the results of that would downgrade us ... to a 10, which is the equivalent of essentially not having a building department or a code to enforce,"

Building designers and owners already developing buildings are working in the 2012 or 2015 code structure, Kreyling said. Contractors must obtain special permission from the city to work within those code structures for certain construction elements. Building codes and enforcement apply during the construction process. Once a certificate of occupancy is issued, that structure falls within property maintenance code, Kreyling said. The only time the building codes would apply again is if the owner was renovating, constructing an addition or building a new structure.

Kreyling asked the council to begin the consideration process for adopting the 2015 codes. This way the city can go back to the insurance organization to let it know the updating process has begun and the city's ranking can improve.

The 2015 code updates for new residential, renovation or additions apply mostly to health and safety upgrades, such as span length between floor joists, fire protection for floor joists, electrical arc prevention and tamper resistant wall outlets, sprinkler systems, and more.

"We're the eyes and ears. We get to see how something goes together and make sure it goes together right for those future users of a building," Kreyling said. "In 2018, we had 520 residential projects and only had 83 commercial projects. By far the (largest) number of projects we're addressing are residential projects."

Guidance for installing residential storm shelters was added to the codes since 2006 and became more common since the devastating 2011 Joplin tornado. "The code introduces a section that references storm shelter codes,” Kreyling said. “Right now, I have no way to regulate how they're built.”

Until the city updates its building codes, Kreyling also has no power to enforce solar panels installation standards and has to defer to energy companies or cooperatives. Guidance parameters for in-ground pools, or gray water storage for irrigation purposes were also included in the 2015 code updates. Gray water comes from sink drains, other than the kitchen, bathtub and/or shower and laundry drains.

The biggest area of contention Monday night was a code requirement of a sprinkler system in all new residential construction. This requirement would not apply to existing structures.

"The code requires them in new residences,” Kreyling said. “It doesn't require them in additions to existing residences that don't have sprinkler systems.”

The city could lawfully adopt the 2015 building codes without the recommended sprinkler requirement, he said. If it is written out, sprinkler systems could be requested by homeowners during the construction process under an unrequired guideline in the codes.

Council member Ayanna Shivers said her fellow members seemed to agree that it should not require sprinkler systems.

The city has until March 4 to submit a plan to ISO on how it will improve the city's assessment. This includes city council approving the city to move forward with exploring the implementation of the 2015 codes, which the council provided. This does not mean the city will now operate its building requirements under the 2015 codes, but the city can now work toward later introducing a proposed ordinance to implement the 2015 codes.