For Every Construction Project Comes the Question of When is it Safe for Occupancy

Raymond O’Brocki

July 12, 2022

There is a fundamental question asked every time a construction project draws closer to completion. Whether it’s a single-family dwelling or multi-story condo complex, the developer will begin wondering when residents can begin moving in.

It’s an understandable concern and question. After all, developers who have spent significant sums on land, design, materials, and labor will naturally feel a sense of urgency when a project nears the finish line.

But it’s also critical to understand the process and safety requirements before transitioning a project from construction to occupancy. This subject is fresh on the mind because I had the opportunity to speak about it during a panel discussion at the National Fire Protection Association’s 2022 Conference.

The quick answer is in most cases building codes allow for the issuance of an occupancy permit before construction is finished. The Construction Fire Safety Coalition offers the Alberta, Canada, occupancy checklist as an appropriate model and approach for code and fire safety officials.

In Alberta, an occupancy permit can be issued in several circumstances, including when buildings are constructed in phases and when additions or alterations to the building where the completed areas remain in use or are occupied.

The province requires that fire safety at construction sites adhere to the fire code, including the development of a fire safety plan. Officials also require consideration of the status and safety of all building services, including those for fire safety, elevators, gas and plumbing networks, mechanical and electrical services and more.

In any discussion of early occupancy, I like to refer to the checklist that Alberta has developed and made available to help guide developers and safety code officials in determining when it’s appropriate to make occupancy decisions. You can find the complete checklist here on our website.

The list is comprehensive, covers the full spectrum of safety requirements and concerns and can be a valuable tool to ensure nothing is overlooked. Are firefighting access routes provided and accessible? Have measures been taken to prevent access by unauthorized personnel to incomplete portions of the building? Are emergency power systems finished and operational? You get the point. One other factor to consider is that Alberta, and many other jurisdictions, make a distinction between residential and commercial occupancy, and in many cases separate permitting processes are in place for commercial operations.