Chicago buildings, real estate lawyer

The Chicago City Council revised the city’s building code for the first time in more than seventy years, bringing it in line with the International Building Code (IBC) construction and use practices. These changes affect property owners, buyers, and developers.

What Changed

Construction technology has evolved over the years. The new building code reflects improved construction methods, modern materials, and enhanced safety and environmental controls. Because it is based on established IBC standards, the new code also makes it easier for architects, developers, and contractors to comply.

What the Changes Mean

The purpose of the building code is to provide a set of uniform standards for new construction, renovations, repairs, and demolition of structures. Some new provisions, like the energy conservation code, took effect on June 1, 2019. Others will be phased in over the next year. By August 2020, compliance with the revised code will be mandatory.

Following are some of the more significant changes that will impact current and planned projects:

Fire Prevention

New residential construction will require the installation of fire sprinkler systems in structures with more than three flats. To help offset the cost of this requirement for real estate developers, the code also increases the building height and density limits.

Construction Materials

The use of modern materials such as structural glass and plastics are now included in the code. This will eliminate the time consuming and costly practice of submitting plans that incorporate these materials for special review and approval.


The revised code is also less prescriptive. Now, the performance of a material or construction practice in meeting the code requirements now satisfies the intent of the code. Previously, compliance required the implementation of an exact technique or use of a specified material although equally performing materials and techniques may have been available. The new performance-based code provides offers greater flexibility for design, development, and rehabilitation of structures.

Enhanced Development and Affordability

While some code provisions, such as the residential fire sprinkler requirements may increase construction costs, standardization and increased flexibility in complying with the building code should offset and reduce development costs. The flexibility of a performance-based code and implementation of current IBC standards will also reduce the need for extensive plan modifications. The intended result is to enhance real estate development and affordability in the Chicago area.