Electrical panel issue in rental

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I had the old fuse panel in my rental unit (triplex) upgraded and the electrician needed to install a new meter box, which included relocating it. (Note, there were multiple places to relocate it to.)

The work was done a few months ago without me being able to see it since I'm not in the area. It was signed off by the city and I thought things were good. Now, I had a tenant want to move out and found that where they placed the new meter box significantly blocks the entrance to the unit.

The doorway wasn't terribly wide before, but with the meter box there is only about 14-15 in. to pass through. My tenant found she is trapped as she can't move any furniture or larger items through the 14-15 in. gap.

First, I called the electrician and they said to get lost because the city signed off on it. I then called the city and they claim it's fully to code and there is nothing they will do. He said it needs 36" in front and 36" to the left of the box and the fact that it's right there in a doorway doesn't matter.

I'd like to get input from some online experts if possible. It doesn't seem reasonable that they could sign off on blocking the only entrance to a building in such a manner. It also defies common sense to d this.

I've included some pics of the issue. Sorry for the quality, but I had someone living there with a cell phone send them to me.

Member Summary
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You don't seriously think that the electrician is going to move it for free, do you? OP was charged for moving box to c... (more)

Mickie3 (Dec. 22, 2012 @ 9:30a) |

I think the op will have to pay for the work and if he threatens he will not get any help or even a price break. He can... (more)

jcharger (Dec. 22, 2012 @ 11:21a) |

I disagree that it is a viable egress.

I am stuck

SS7Man (Dec. 22, 2012 @ 4:20p) |

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MariahJ said:   I'd like to get input from some online experts if possible. It doesn't seem reasonable that they could sign off on blocking the only entrance to a building in such a manner. It also defies common sense to d this.
It defies common sense that you would have a utility meter relocated without specifying where you wanted it relocated to. Plus, it was months ago - its kind of late to be claiming it wasnt done right.

And frankly, your pictures dont look bad - more an inconvenience of making sure you dont damage the meter heads when going in/out than anything else. I also really enjoy the illusion being attempted with the measuring tape.

looks like a lot more than 14-15 inches of actual clearance...to me anyway. still, not much for recliners, etc...

i think it's pretty simple. tenant signed lease accepting apartment as is, having been there to ispect it. the apartment is to code. ergonomic issues like this are not your problem.

if you start losing tenants because of it...well, then you have a decision to make. i would probably widen the doorway before i relocated those panels.

Seems to me you're SOL on this one. Gonna have to pay to get it moved.

Who authorized the install?

The pictures are not great and it is difficult to see anyting - including the tape measure. Are you sure your tenant is not just trying to get some free storage by claiming she can't get her stuff out? If the meter is 36" from the door, that is at least as wide as the door. Even if you are talking about a couch, it can be rotated upwards as it clears the door so it is standing on edge. I just moved a 7' long reclining couch through a 30" door, into a 32" hallway, rotated 90 degrees and through another 30" door to another bedroom - by myself. The secret is standing it on end to rotate in tight spaces.

SOL.

Pay to get it moved if it bugs you that much. Don't make the mistake of doing things sight unseen again.

Is the tenant supposed to be moving their stuff down the stair-well pictured and then out the brown doorway by the electrical meter or out the white doorway perpendicular to the stairway ? It's a new obstacle, but it still looks relatively open at the bottom of the meter and seems like something that could be worked around. Maybe they would like you to "help" hire professional movers who would laugh at that being an obstacle.

Long term, it wouldn't be too bad if that brown doorway was replaced with a door that's wider.

My neck!!!

Eek. I disagree with others here. That is BAD and I see your tenant's point.

I don't think the code issue is electrical - I think it is egress. By blocking a portion of the doorway you are impeding egress during a fire, etc. I am willing to bet that this is still a code violation, but you need to find someone other than an electrical inspector at the city to verify.

The problem is, even if the city confirms it's a code issue, the onus is probably still on you to move it. You could try and get the electrician to do it but I don't know if you'll have much luck.

EDIT:
Confirmed, at least in the 2006 Residential Building Code for New Jersey, available here:
http://www2.iccsafe.org/states/newjersey/NJ_Building/PDFs/NJ_Bld...

Look at Section 1003.3 - General Means of Egress - Protruding Objects
1003.3.3 - Horizontal Projections
"Structural elements, fixtures or furnishings shall not project horizontally from either side more than 4 inches over any walking surface between the heights of 27 inches and 80 inches above the walking surface.
1003.3.4 - Clear Width
"Protruding objects shall not reduce the minimum clear width of accessible routes as required in Section 1104"

Obviously your city will be different, but this is based off the 2006 International Building Code, which is widely used by many municipalities as a model.

The problem is that it's clearly impossible to move a stove, a fridge, a couch, a recliner, a bathtub, and similar sized objects through the doorway, so something has to be done. Before paying to fix it, I want to ensure it's not a code violation.

As for placement of relocated boxes, it's not up to the owner. The city inspector and electrician determine where it can be placed and they didn't offer options, they just did it. I just had another electrician look at it and found there were better options they could have used.

I don't really believe the inspector that it fully meets code and just want to make sure. He claims all it needs 36" on either the right *or* the left. There is only about 1" clearance on the right (next to the entrance), but there is 36" off to the left. That's fine, but there might be another code that it doesn't meet. I could buy the electrical code book and study it, but I thought some FWF members might have some tips. Also, I'm not clear if the electrician needed to get sign-off by a building inspector as well as the electrical inspector for something like this. Someone could try to move a metal object by there, knocked off a meter, and electrocute themselves. I'm nervous about getting a building inspector involved in case it's a Pandora's box.

If there is nothing else to do, the best option is probably to install a new door, but it's not trivial since I think it's a load-bearing wall with a concrete/brick foundation coming a couple feet off the ground. Then, even with a new door, the entrance is still significantly blocked by a live electrical panel.

Is this a basement unit? Isn't there another entrance as well? That can't be the only one for all the units.

MariahJ said:   The problem is that it's clearly impossible to move a stove, a fridge, a couch, a recliner, a bathtub, and similar sized objects through the doorway, so something has to be done. Before paying to fix it, I want to ensure it's not a code violation.

As for placement of relocated boxes, it's not up to the owner. The city inspector and electrician determine where it can be placed and they didn't offer options, they just did it. I just had another electrician look at it and found there were better options they could have used.

I don't really believe the inspector that it fully meets code and just want to make sure. He claims all it needs 36" on either the right *or* the left. There is only about 1" clearance on the right (next to the entrance), but there is 36" off to the left. That's fine, but there might be another code that it doesn't meet. I could buy the electrical code book and study it, but I thought some FWF members might have some tips. Also, I'm not clear if the electrician needed to get sign-off by a building inspector as well as the electrical inspector for something like this. Someone could try to move a metal object by there, knocked off a meter, and electrocute themselves. I'm nervous about getting a building inspector involved in case it's a Pandora's box.

If there is nothing else to do, the best option is probably to install a new door, but it's not trivial since I think it's a load-bearing wall with a concrete/brick foundation coming a couple feet off the ground. Then, even with a new door, the entrance is still significantly blocked by a live electrical panel.


See my post above - this isn't an electrical code issue, it's a building code issue. You shouldn't need to have a building inspector actually come out - you just need to find your local code and use that to support your case.

What state are you in? Building codes differ by state. I wouldn't necessarily assume this fails code.

sfvera said:   Is this a basement unit? Isn't there another entrance as well? That can't be the only one for all the units.

This is the only entrance to the basement unit. The others have separate entrances.

jerosen said:   What state are you in? Building codes differ by state. I wouldn't necessarily assume this fails code.

South Dakota.

MariahJ said:   
As for placement of relocated boxes, it's not up to the owner. The city inspector and electrician determine where it can be placed and they didn't offer options, they just did it. I just had another electrician look at it and found there were better options they could have used.


Yes it is up to the owner.
The electrical inspectors job is to approve or deny the work.
The electrician just does the work.
The owner is ultimatly responsible.

Again, who actually authorised the work?
That's who is responsible.

have the fire marshall come out and say its a safety issue because people would be blocked from getting out in a fire, then take that info and sue the electrical contractor

The placement of the electrical panel is shocking!

I can't believe the electrician didn't consult with you before insalling it. Maybe a cell phone picture would have helped back then.

Squeezer99 said:   have the fire marshall come out and say its a safety issue because people would be blocked from getting out in a fire, then take that info and sue the electrical contractor
Then he will ask about the second point of egress that you must have in a basement rental.

Can of worms.....

woowoo2 said:   Squeezer99 said:   have the fire marshall come out and say its a safety issue because people would be blocked from getting out in a fire, then take that info and sue the electrical contractor
Then he will ask about the second point of egress that you must have in a basement rental.

Can of worms.....


What makes you think there's not a window? A window can be valid egress.

tadr said:   woowoo2 said:   Squeezer99 said:   have the fire marshall come out and say its a safety issue because people would be blocked from getting out in a fire, then take that info and sue the electrical contractor
Then he will ask about the second point of egress that you must have in a basement rental.

Can of worms.....


What makes you think there's not a window? A window can be valid egress.

A normal window, nope.
The OP mentioned only one way in or out.

Squeezer99 said:   have the fire marshall come out and say its a safety issue because people would be blocked from getting out in a fire, then take that info and sue the electrical contractorAnd in the meantime he's paying for a hotel suite for his tenant who is not able to occupy the apartment.

What's up with trying to blame everyone but the OP? OP owns the property, OP presumably hired the electrician, the electrician did the job he was hired to do. If OP didn't specify location or left it up to the electrician's discretion, it's placement is noone's fault but the OP's

woowoo2 said:   tadr said:   woowoo2 said:   Squeezer99 said:   have the fire marshall come out and say its a safety issue because people would be blocked from getting out in a fire, then take that info and sue the electrical contractor
Then he will ask about the second point of egress that you must have in a basement rental.

Can of worms.....


What makes you think there's not a window? A window can be valid egress.

A normal window, nope.
The OP mentioned only one way in or out.


Ding ding ding. Do you have egress windows in the bedrooms? Is a carbon monoxide detector present? Is the basement unit permitted, is the kitchen in the basement unit permitted? If so does the basement kitchen meet code?

You bring a building code inspector out to verify that violates code only to find out your entire basement apartment violates it and you really got yourself into a bundle of shit. Your best option is probably to relocate that panel. If it only needs 36" to one side then make them move it 36" away from the door, shouldn't cost more than $1500. Hard to tell from the pics if you have enough space to move it sideways. If you have to relocate the entire panel you should get bids from a GC on the door or creating a new door, might be cheaper than the electrical.

tadr said:   Eek. I disagree with others here. That is BAD and I see your tenant's point.

I don't think the code issue is electrical - I think it is egress. By blocking a portion of the doorway you are impeding egress during a fire, etc. I am willing to bet that this is still a code violation, but you need to find someone other than an electrical inspector at the city to verify.

The problem is, even if the city confirms it's a code issue, the onus is probably still on you to move it. You could try and get the electrician to do it but I don't know if you'll have much luck.

EDIT:
Confirmed, at least in the 2006 Residential Building Code for New Jersey, available here:
http://www2.iccsafe.org/states/newjersey/NJ_Building/PDFs/NJ_Bld...

Look at Section 1003.3 - General Means of Egress - Protruding Objects
1003.3.3 - Horizontal Projections
"Structural elements, fixtures or furnishings shall not project horizontally from either side more than 4 inches over any walking surface between the heights of 27 inches and 80 inches above the walking surface.
1003.3.4 - Clear Width
"Protruding objects shall not reduce the minimum clear width of accessible routes as required in Section 1104"

Obviously your city will be different, but this is based off the 2006 International Building Code, which is widely used by many municipalities as a model.


Thank you for the very helpful post. I looked up the SD code and it is almost word for word the same. It looks like the city inspector recommended a location that violates egress code.

The unit has egress windows and is up to code by all other standards. The city inspector looks at all of that when you apply for a work permit.

If its a triplex, why do you have three boxes with what appears 7 meters.. I had a 4 meter box replaced and it was replaced in existing location, why was it relocated and not just replaced? Pic of box 3 looks as though it may effect resale, on aesthetics.

JaxFL said:   If its a triplex, why do you have three boxes with what appears 7 meters.. I had a 4 meter box replaced and it was replaced in existing location, why was it relocated and not just replaced?are you referring to the three pictures he posted of the same box?

Glitch99 said:   JaxFL said:   If its a triplex, why do you have three boxes with what appears 7 meters.. I had a 4 meter box replaced and it was replaced in existing location, why was it relocated and not just replaced?are you referring to the three pictures he posted of the same box? 2 and 3 may be same, but appears different with siding, but still looks like 4 meters. But yeah, likely the same.

JaxFL said:   Glitch99 said:   JaxFL said:   If its a triplex, why do you have three boxes with what appears 7 meters.. I had a 4 meter box replaced and it was replaced in existing location, why was it relocated and not just replaced?are you referring to the three pictures he posted of the same box? 2 and 3 may be same, but appears different with siding, but still looks like 4 meters. But yeah, likely the same.Pic 1 is just a close up of the bottom one of the 3 meters....

Comcast did something kind of similar to us.....they put their junction box by the side of our home where we have a gate.....the guy opened up the gate, installed the box and left......didn't matter that the gate could not be closed anymore because the box protruded into the swing path of it. We got it fixed that day, though. You may be SOL since this is months ago.

Also agree that your pictures are intentionally deceptive. The one with the tape measure is basically the same kind of picture I'd get if I held my thumb and forefinger an inch apart and photographed a mountain between them. 75% of the people in this country couldn't get into a door that was 14" wide.

This is probably going to cost you $500 +/- to fix assuming you have a better location within a couple feet of this doorway.

I agree with bobbybore and squeezer99... no reputable electrician should put a panel in that location without getting directed by the owner. You will probably be successful in getting the fire inspector to disallow it.

However... when they disallow it, you will also get a violation. This will probably require you to rectify the situation within x days or they revoke the certificate of occupancy. This means you will not be able to have tenant live there until its fixed. This is a hassle.

If you sue, will take a while... and if you fix it with some other elecrician to get it done quickly, you will have to rely on expert testimony that it was no good in the first place. Might not be worth it.

Personally, I would talk to the electrician who did the work and explain the issue... and the fact that you might have to sue, but do not want to, as long as you can come to some agreement on a reduced price to move the panel. He will most likely want to solve this without legal issues, so he may make you a deal.

Then, never ever leave anything up to the contractor in the future!

Good Luck!
SteveG

MariahJ said:   ... without me being able to see it since I'm not in the area.

SO you don't live local to the property? Who runs it for you? DO you have a property manager?

Squeezer99 said:   have the fire marshall come out and say its a safety issue because people would be blocked from getting out in a fire, then take that info and sue the electrical contractor

Idiotic. No way a thinking landlord would do this.
You don't want to have building code violations on your property, esp. ones that make an apartment uninhabitable.

This is reason #287 why long-distance property ownership is expensive and a hassle. Had the owner been there - even not knowing anything about electricity at all - he could have easily said, "put the meter here OR there" or "I can't fit through with the meter in this place, please move it elsewehre." and the problem would have been immediately solved.

OP's big mistake was expecting the city codes inspector to inspect the quality of the work. He even called the buildings department to complain! The building inspector's job is NOT to monitor the quality of work or the competence of the contractor or to weigh in on the best sites to place an electric meter. His job is simply to see that it is up to code. And believe me, you don't want to complain about a city buildings inspector signing off on your house. Would you prefer he had done the opposite, not sign off? Then you'd have a housing violation, be subject to fines, remediation notices, possible lien on your property, and be unable to legally rent the apartment at all until he came back, possibly months later.

In my experience as a sometime long-distance landlord is that you must have a GREAT property manager in place and you must be VERY SPECIFIC anytime work is being done. If you are not VERY SPECIFIC you can bet that whatever happens will be either more expensive or done in way other than what you wanted. Yes, it's happened to me - I've paid the price and learned the lesson.

Yes... The fact that it had to be relocated should have been notice enough for op to to have a written specific location/diagram in place, as part of the contract. That was the time for more involvement.

I'm looking at pic 3 right now........Yup, that's a bit@h.

OP, getting the city involved is a double edged sword. Others have already covered the risks involved.

I do have a practical suggestion, although I don't know if it's enough to make a difference.

The glass encased meters sticking out plug in similar to an electric cord plugging into an outlet. They can be unplugged and plugged back in. Easy to do yourself, but I would highly recommend doing it legally which would involve the electric company coming up to turn off the boxes, lock them out, unplug the meters, replug them, reseal the boxes, then turn the boxes back on.

Not necessarily cheap, but may be cheaper than relocating the boxes. Again, while it is easy to do yourself, it is also very easy to screw up since the contacts behind the meter are capable of supplying well in excess of hundreds of amps of electricity at 110 plus volts.

Don't know if it provides enough clearance, but it could be a cheaper alternative.

Somebody needs to run a broom in that foyer. Dirty as tenants.

City code guy signed off on it, all you can do is move it and call the city guy again.

cristinaaaron said:   Comcast did something kind of similar to us.....they put their junction box by the side of our home where we have a gate.....the guy opened up the gate, installed the box and left......didn't matter that the gate could not be closed anymore because the box protruded into the swing path of it. We got it fixed that day, though. You may be SOL since this is months ago.

Also agree that your pictures are intentionally deceptive. The one with the tape measure is basically the same kind of picture I'd get if I held my thumb and forefinger an inch apart and photographed a mountain between them. 75% of the people in this country couldn't get into a door that was 14" wide.

This is probably going to cost you $500 +/- to fix assuming you have a better location within a couple feet of this doorway.


Depends on the rate of the electrician. If it's just a few feet, it sounds like just a junction box for the wires and the cost of the wires and whatever the hourly rate would be.

Skipping 30 Messages...
stopsignhank said:   It does look much different when the picture is rotated. I hate to tell you, but IMO this meets code as far as a fire exit. I am sure if you measure on a diagonal from the corner of the panel to the door there is 36 inches, or whatever is needed for a residential fire escape. Once the person is out of the house there is obvious room for them to keep going and escape.

Now if you had a wall along that sidewalk this would be a different story.


I disagree that it is a viable egress.

I am stuck



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