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Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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10 Simple Questions on Code Adoption

Reference Number: MTAS-1226
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: November 10, 2016
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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 at

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.  Check your charter to determine your authority to adopt and enforce codes.  T.C.A. § 6-54-501 et al. authorize all municipalities in the state to adopt 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.

5.     If we have adopted a building or fire code, what code and what year should it be?

State law requires the code you have adopted to be no more than seven years older than the date of the latest published edition of the code adopted.  The International Code Council, for example, publishes a new edition of its model codes every three years, and the most current published edition is the 2015 edition.  Therefore, your city or town could adopt the 2015, 2012, or 2009 edition of an ICC model code.  The state has adopted the 2012 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 or fire code.

6.     Why should a town or city adopt codes?

If you adopt codes, you can enforce them locally.  If you do 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.

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.

Other:  There are other codes you can adopt as needed for plumbing, gas, etc.

You can find the current list of codes adopted by the state at this link:

8.     Why should my town or city adopt a different code than the state’s?

Your town or city should not necessarily adopt a different code than the state’s.  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?

Some cities sell permits just to raise revenue, which is not a good idea and is risky from a liability standpoint.  Why should you adopt any codes if you do not intend to enforce them?

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.  Some of these codes were adopted with amendments.  This link have more information on the state’s adopted codes: