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Will Changes in Chicago's Building Code Impact the Market?

Apr 23, 2019 | Industry News

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This City Council recently updated Chicago’s building code. While this may not seem like very significant news, it’s the first time the code has been updated in 70 years. In many ways, the changes are more of an overhaul than an update. While the effects won’t be immediate, this action will certainly impact the real estate market in the city.

International Building Code

The IBC is updated every three years and widely used, even internationally. Chicago’s updates will include terminology and classifications from this code. This will make the code clearer and easier for architects and developers to work with.


What are the major changes we’ll see in this new code? In residential buildings of four or more units, sprinklers will be required. Ceiling requirements in basement and attic spaces will be reduced to better allow for ancillary dwellings. Seismic design features are also included in the update. Requirements for builders, developers, and rehabbers will look different as well.

Increase Efficiency

Chicago’s 70-year-old code wasn’t the easiest to interpret. The new code with the IBC language will mean architects won’t need to waste time interpreting an outdated code. In addition to using more current language, the new code will also save time and resources by streamlining interactions between the city and developers. With the old code, modern materials and techniques were sometimes allowed, but they often required special approval. Now, builders won’t need to pause their work to wait for word from the city. This will apply to the use of glass in larger buildings and to the use of new materials for roof repairs and certain plastics in certain home projects.

Easier Rehab

Chicago has been operating under the “prescriptive method” when it comes to rehabs. This means that rehabbers and developers were required to stick to the letter of the code. These strict regulations made rehabbing old properties a tedious feat. With the new code, the city will adopt a “performative method”, allowing for significantly more flexibility. This will help Chicago take advantage of its older homes, opening up more residential real estate.



The overhaul of the building code should also make housing development cheaper. With a more efficient permitting process and fewer restrictions on new construction methods and materials, it should be easier and more cost effective for new development to take place. Brian Bernardoni, local government affairs director for the Illinois Association of Realtors, explains, “We won’t have an affordable city until we have an affordable building code,” he said. “We’re making strides in that direction”.

Where Will We See an Impact?

This is a massive update that will touch all types of real estate. High-rise construction will see some changes, and single-family and small-scale development will especially get a boost. Paul Colgan, government affairs director for the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago, explains, “We’re building a lot of multifamily but not a lot of single-family or two flats. These [changes] could help construct some of the housing types that are needed in the neighborhood.” This is good news for the residential market.


The building code book will be published in October, and developers in an invitation-only pilot program will be allowed to build using the new rules. The code will go into effect gradually, allowing any problems to be addressed as they arise. By August of 2020, these new regulations will be mandatory.

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