Enforcing Zoning, Building, and Other Ordinances

What authority does a city or county have in enforcing its zoning, building, and other ordinances with respect to temporary and permanent building on school property?

The question of how different governmental entities operating within one jurisdiction with respect to zoning and all other ordinances became settled law, or stare decisis, with the rulings for two court cases.

Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning vs. Bibb County School District – This case set the precedent that governmental entities – in this case a school district – can use their property for their governmental purposes. They are exempt from the rules of zoning so long as the property is used for their governmental purposes.

City of Decatur vs. DeKalb County – This case set the precedent that zoning powers and “supplementary powers” are two separate powers that can accrue to both cities and counties. While a governmental entity operates within the jurisdiction of another governmental entity, they are exempt from zoning but they are not exempt from the supplementary powers. Supplementary powers are those powers that a city or county can use to regulate building and maintenance on a property. This case set the precedent that governmental entities must follow all ordinances of the local jurisdiction outside of zoning.


Does OCGA exempt the school district from any other building regulations, codes and ordinances? Jennifer Hackemeyer was the General Counsel for the Georgia Department of Education for 10 years. She is currently the Chief Legal Officer for DeKalb Schools and helps us dig into this.

Jennifer Hackemeyer
Chief Legal Officer, DeKalb County School District

Based on the decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals in City of Decatur v. DeKalb County, the District is exempt from zoning ordinances but is subject to regulations regarding state fire safety standards (O.C.G.A. §25-2-12(a)(2)) and the Erosion and Sedimentation Act (O.C.G.A. §12-7-1 et. seq.). O.C.G.A. § 25-2-12 through 14 have specific requirements for fire safety for buildings used as school buildings.

In addition, Georgia’s education code requires that the GDOE common minimum facility requirements for each public schools that must include: those provisions of law or state board policy on matters that related to “fire and physical safety; sanitation and health, including temperature and ventilation; minimum space, size and configuration for the various components of the instructional program; and construction stability, quality and suitability for intended uses.” See O.C.G.A. §20-2-261(a).

Additionally, GDOE guidelines provide that temporary educational facilities must meet all applicable state and local building codes and must have a separate certificate of occupancy for each building.

The District is required to obtain building, electrical, and plumbing (if applicable) permits. Inspections are completed by the local authorities and the Fire Marshal’s Office, prior to obtaining a certificate of occupancy from the local municipality.

14 responses to “Enforcing Zoning, Building, and Other Ordinances

  1. allegra johnson

    Have been told that occupancy requirements for trailers only consider physical body count, space is not allotted for furniture such as desks. Is this still true?

  2. Stan Jester

    I believe there is a calculation and the intended use is part of that calculation. I’ll see if I can find out more.

  3. Kirk Lunde

    The district has never consistently followed any square footage requirements. Lots of exceptions every year despite what administrators say. Spoke with a CaryReynolds teacher with 28 first graders in a trailer for the 2015-16 school year.

    Now, I assume there is a waiver to exempt the district.

  4. Stan Jester

    You can get waives for class size, but I’m pretty sure you can’t get waivers for maximum building occupancy. To that point, these schools with over 120% enrollment and 20+ trailers have a set maximum occupancy for the main building. During a tornado, it can’t be safe for all these kids to be cramming into the main building at those schools.

  5. Stan Jester

    Allegra, Here is an article which generally explains how occupancy load is calculated.
    http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/08/maximum-occupancy-building-calculated/

    It is based on the number of exits and locations of exits and the intended use of the space (which indirectly takes into consideration the furniture). The local uniform building code or fire codes would provide a table outlining the number of people per sf of rooms base on the exits and the use. Use would be general office, restaurant, group assemble. Each use classification would have additional requires distant to the exits, number of exits, fire sprinklers.

  6. I think there was difficulty at Chamblee Charter High School in getting all of the students down to the the first or second floor and away from windows during a tornado warning this year. The building probably meets whatever codes are in place but actually fitting and monitoring 1600 (soon to be 2400!) teenagers and a staff of over 100 in a safe area for an extended weather event is tough.

    Next time CCHS will have to figure out how to get its trailer students inside safely. Oops – there is no entry on the end of the building near where DCSD put the trailers.

  7. Stan, How many students does the fire marshall allow in a standard trailer? The last number I heard given was 28. Even though that was the stated number, some schools were not adhering to those numbers. And those that do, skew your earlier data because the classes of the same grade level in the building have more students because the trailers have a cap – one of the reasons many teachers say they prefer a trailer:it limits the number of students they can have in their class!

  8. Ms. Hackemeyer refers to “Additionally, GDOE guidelines provide that temporary educational facilities must meet all applicable state and local building codes and must have a separate certificate of occupancy for each building.”

    1. Does anyone know if the City of Dunwoody has issued Certificates of Occupancy for the 48 trailers that already are in place at schools in the City of Dunwoody?

    2. Does SWSS status mean that DCSD can ignore this requirement?

  9. Nancy Jester

    Anonymous @1033pm
    1) My research has yielded only one CO from the city for one trailer at Vanderlyn. I have found no evidence of COs for any other trailer in the city.
    2) SWSS does not in anyway waive the requirements of building codes and ordinances of the city. The city is not a party to that agreement. The city code, with the exception of zoning, applies to the school district as it does to any other property owner in the city.
    I do wonder about the liability of both the school system and the city for allowing children to be in structures that have not been inspected and have no COs.

  10. Stan Jester

    Anonymous, Good question and the basis of my blog tomorrow morning. For weeks Nancy has gone back and forth with the City of Dunwoody asking that they enforce building codes and ordinances. Nancy published an open letter here – Enforcement of city ordinances/code.

    The city has shirked its responsibilities here and hundreds of children in Dunwoody are sitting in un-inspected trailers … and no COs.

  11. Stan Jester

    Here are all the COs for portable classrooms ever installed in Dunwoody. Look at the dates … many of these trailers are old and have been replaced. Most of the trailers installed over the last 7 years don’t have a CO.

  12. Dekalb Inside Out

    This can’t be legal. Why is the city letting these children in uninspected buildings?

  13. Dekalb Inside Out

    I just read Nancy’s letter. Councilman Terry Nall called the DeKalb County School District a “Sovereign Government” … I don’t think that means what he thinks that means.

  14. I just skimmed through the 17 Certificates of Occupancy for DCSD trailers in Dunwoody that Stan posted.

    Interesting that some trailers are required to have automatic sprinkler systems, and some are not. I wonder how the City of Dunwoody determines which trailers must have automatic sprinkler systems and which do not have this requirement?

    I would think that evacuation of a trailer in case of fire would be pretty quick and that automatic sprinklers wouldn’t be necessary. Also, I have never seen a trailer with a water supply, except for trailers with bathrooms. I believe that bathroom trailers are rare in DCSD.