All Ideas

Understanding the three compliance methods of the new Rehab Code

2019 1112 Ideas Post
Nov 12, 2019
Spencer Blaney

A Rehabilitation Code is one of the new Chicago Construction Codes the city adopted this year. The Rehabilitation Code will be identified as Title 14R in the Municipal Code. It goes into full effect on August 1, 2020, and becomes optional for use starting December 1, 2019. This is the same timeline for the implementation of the building code. The rehab code will be used in tandem with the new Building Code to address projects at existing buildings.

Similar to how the Chicago Building Code is an amended adoption of the International Building Code (IBC), the Chicago Rehab Code is an amended adoption of its sister, the International Existing Building Code.


It is important to note the naming distinction between Chicago's codes and ICC's codes: Chicago's Rehabilitation Code is an adoption of the International Code Council's (ICC) International Existing Building Code (IEBC). Chicago's Existing Building Code is not an adoption of the IEBC. Chicago's Existing Building Code is similar in scope to ICC's Property Maintenance Code but is essentially a continuation of the Municipal Code of Chicago chapters 78 and 13-196.

Chicago’s Rehabilitation Code applies to anything with a scope of work that includes a repair, alteration, change of occupancy, addition, or relocation of an existing building. Chapter 2 of Title 14R defines each of those scopes of work.

Using the Rehab Code

The Rehabilitation Code allows for three methods of compliance.

  1. Prescriptive Compliance Method
  2. Work Area Method
  3. Performance Compliance Method

Each method is acceptable for any rehab project however the same compliance method must be used by the entire project team. For example, the architect cannot use the Prescriptive Compliance Method while the engineer uses the Work Area Method. The compliance method should be determined early on and with full understanding by the entire project team to avoid problems later on in the design and permitting process.

Prescriptive Compliance Method

As the name alludes to, the Prescriptive Compliance Method prescribes how a project must comply given a particular scope of work. This is the least ambiguous compliance method of the three as it provides direct instructions to achieve compliance. It does not require analysis by the design team other than accurately defining the scope. Similarly, it likely requires less analysis by reviewers. Therefore, once the city is fully transitioned to the new construction codes, this compliance method may provide shorter permitting review times on average because it addresses compliance through known and repeatable methods that reviewers will be familiar with seeing.

The downside to the Prescriptive method is it is often the most conservative compliance method. It does not allow for innovative or creative solutions that aren’t specifically detailed in the code to achieve compliance. This may result in less desirable designs, more expensive design solutions, and longer construction times.

Compliance requirements for the Prescriptive method are found in Title 14R Chapters 3 and 5.

Work Area Method

The Work Area Method is a proportionate method of compliance: The greater the rehab scope (based on type of work, and to a lesser extent, area of work), the more the project must be brought into compliance with the standards of new construction.

The Work Area Method requires the designer to classify the scope of work into one of six classifications: Alteration Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3, Change of Occupancy, Addition, or Historic Building. To determine which classification to use, compare the project’s scope to each scope of work delineated in Title 14R Chapter 6 for the six classifications.

Once the project has been classified based on scope, there are individual chapters for each classification that will provide the level of compliance that must be adhered to.

While the name “Work Area Method” seems to imply that scope classifications are based on certain square footage thresholds, that is rarely the case. Out of the six possible classifications, only Alteration Level 3 is classified based on the amount of work area being rehabbed. Alteration Level 3 applies where “the work area exceeds 50 percent of the building area during and consecutive 36-month period.” However, regardless of classification, the work area of all projects must be measured and identified on the construction documents as mandated in section 14R-6-601.2. The work area is what will be used to determine the permit fee.

Performance Compliance Method

The Performance Compliance Method allows the building’s existing standards of health, safety, and welfare to be maintained or improved upon without requiring full compliance with the Rehab Code. This is done by evaluating the proposed rehabilitation against a scoring system to show that the building will maintain or exceed the current level of safety in the building without necessarily adhering to the building code.

The scoring must be calculated by a registered design professional (licensed architect or structural engineer) through an investigation and evaluation of the existing building. The evaluation comprises three review categories: fire safety, means of egress, and general safety. Section 14R-13-1301.6 details the evaluation process the registered design professional must follow for calculating scores (one for each category).

Table 14R-13-1301.8 provides the minimum score thresholds needed to be met for each of the three categories to ensure a minimum level of safety. Lastly, the scores get summarized in Table 14R-13-1301.7 which is used in tandem with a structural analysis to submit as a report to the buildings department for a determination of compliance as proposed.

In essence, this report is seeking permission to use alternative design strategies to achieve code equivalence. It is similar in concept to an Alternative Code Approval Request (ACAR). The building official also has the authority to refer these reports to the Committee on Standards and Tests (14R-13-1301.4.4).

One key point to keep in mind is that a permit application will not be reviewed until the evaluation report has been accepted by the building official (14A-10-1004.4.4). Due to the linear review process and complexity of this compliance method, MAPS highly recommends meeting with an official at the buildings department prior to initiating this evaluation. We can set up these meetings and facilitate discussions with the Chicago Department of Buildings.

The Performance Compliance Method offers the most potential design options for achieving compliance. However, this also means there is a greater burden on the architect to prove to the city that a proposed design solution meets or exceeds the life safety requirements of the code.


The rehab code requires a project to follow one of three compliance methods. The Prescriptive Method dictates a straightforward manner of how to comply with the code but is the most conservative and cautious approach to life safety. The Work Area method allows the extent of compliance to be based on the scope of work. The Performance Method allows the most design freedom by evaluating safety without direct adherence to the code but is the most complex of the three methods and requires additional review and approval by the Chicago Department of Buildings.