How would your report the railing in the picture?

In a recent issue of handyman magazine one of the articles was 5 common code violations.

One of them pertained to railings with out returns.

I have never called out this as a safety concern. According to this article I should.

How are other inspectors reporting on this issue.

When was this a code?


railing (Small).jpg

I would report this handrail as satisfactory. Based on the photo, it is at the proper height, securely mounted, and able to be grasped to prevent trips and falls. I don’t think there would be any other considerations.

Here is what the article states.

Codes require handrails to have returns. Meaning they need to turn at the end at the wall.

Returns keep items such as sleeves and purse straps from getting caught on the ends causing a fall.

I can see it now. Some clod gets hurt I get sued.

railing 001 (Small).jpg

If you think it is a safety hazard (at this point, I don’t) for your client, write it up as such but I suggest staying away from using code.

The requirement for returns is a relatively recent addition to the building codes governing handrails, al least in some areas. The pictured handrail may have been perfectly legal when installed, and therefore cannot be considered a code violation.

This may be useful for you. It’s from the 2003 IRC.

2003 IRC;
311.5.6.2 Continuity.
Handrails for stairways shall be continuous for the full length of the flight, from a point directly above the top riser of the flight to a point directly above lowest riser of the flight. Handrail ends shall be returned or shall terminate in newel posts or safety terminals. Handrails adjacent to a wall shall have a space of not less than 1 1/2 inch (38 mm) between the wall and the handrails.


  1. Handrails shall be permitted to be interrupted by a newel post at the turn.

  2. The use of a volute, “TURNOUT”, starting easing or starting newel shall be allowed over the lowest tread.

I agree with Larry, if you think it’s a safety hazard call it out . . .

. . . and I agree with Richard, more than likely perfectly legal when installed . . . I would most likely call it out as a safety concern not hazard, and recommend installation of rail return . . . (in fact I should add this to my reports, thanks) . . . hope this helps.

I can’t quite see where a wall handrail return would be a safety hazard or concern in an existing home such as David has shown us.

I think the riser height and the tread width would concern me more especially with those metal nosing’s.

I have included an excerpt from a report as I note it.

The client is advised that all buildings older than brand new are likely to have building code violations. Numerous changes are made to codes every year, and the older the building, the greater the possibility of deviation from modern standards.

If one is more comfortable in noting the concern, so be it.

Concerns are one thing, but I would stay away from quoting Codes.

Marcel :slight_smile: :slight_smile:


[FONT=Arial][size=2]Residential handrails must return to the wall or terminate in a balluster or post at each end. But I don’t write these up. If some dim wit gets their sleeve caught onto one of these and gets injured in any way, good luck trying to sue me for not reporting it.



I would comment. Not so much about sleeves or purses, but I have seen these handrails terminate to an angle. An angle that is decorative at the adult viewing level. At a child’s level, it’s a sharp edge sometimes waiting for a brow to open.

The photo even seems to show an edge that a small child me ‘bonk’ themselves on. :wink:


I’d be more comfortable if the word “violations” were changed to something like “deviations”, because no code requires older buildings to be brought up to current standards except for a very few exceptions such as smoke detectors. They technically are not “violations”.

"The client is advised that older buildings may legally deviate from current building codes in some areas, and may therefore not meet modern standards. The older the building, the greater the likelihood of such deviations."

How’s that? I’m not exactly happy with it.

Thanks Richard;

The client is advised that all buildings older than brand new are likely to have building code violations.
Code violations here would be meant to compare with today’s new construction.

Numerous changes are made to codes every year, and the older the building, the greater the possibility of **deviation **from modern standards.

Marcel :slight_smile:

Just for your knowledge.


From the Stairway Manufacturer’s Association

There is no question that if the pictured handrail were built today, it would have required returns. However, it is highly likely that when the pictured handrail was built, it was completely legal. The requirement for returns is a fairly recent one. Many codes in many places in the past had no such requirement. Therefore, any use of the word “violation” is improper and inaccurate. Building codes are essentially not retroactive. The pictured handrail is in no way a “violation”. At most, from the standpoint of a house inspector, it is a “safety concern” and might be pointed out as such, and that would be best for the credibility of the inspector.

Wahey a three light ground tester! Must be a professional source!

I believe we all know how, what, and why, when it comes to handrails and guardrails.

My suggestion on saying that;
The client is advised that all buildings older than brand new are likely to have building code violations.

Is perceived to be taken as a fact of the existing conditions as would be compared to today’s standard or Code requirements of newer buildings.

It is in fact that an older building does not have to be brought up to Code unless a change of use is into play or the dwelling is going to be modified and renovated to more than 50%.
Most localities around here tend to revolve around that pretense.

So as an HI. you inspect an older home that is far from meeting the now established Codes of today, what do you do?

Tell the Client that this house in whole does not meet Code!

First you tell them that I will point out what it should be to today’s standard and point out the issues that would pertain to the safety of the occupants whether it is Code or not.

These particular items would be noted as a safety concern that needs to be corrected as soon as possible.

Any of the Code requirements of the IRC on stairs and railings,relating to older structures, would become an issue and a Violation in today’s new construction.

That is all I am trying to point out.

Ex. Trying to finish this $8,000,000 College addition and renovation.
Pointed out an existing condition of a baluster rail with spacings of 5".
Architect backed me up, but the owner or client said and called it an existing condition.
I told him it would not fly when the Fire Marshal walks through and replied he would just play dumb and fix it at that point.
I covered my you know what, and my Companies too. Left it at that.

We can not expect to have any of these old Dwellings to meet Code and what you will see and have already is that they would be in violation to todays standard Code requirements.

Marcel :slight_smile: :slight_smile:


A return consisting of mitered 45’s also presents a sharp edge, I just mention that the handrail does not meet today’s standards and the possibility of snagging a sleeve, purse strap, etc, could be reduced by the installation or returns.

Maybe the right way would be something like this.


Parts similar to this would normally be used for a typical wall return.

How would we respectfully right up a report on a house that is 50 - 100 years old with everything in sight that does not meet today’s standard?

If we are suppose to Inspect a Dwelling for it’s condition, does that also include all the ICC Codes of today?

That does not seem right.

Change is made over time not overnight.

Marcel :slight_smile: :smiley:


I do not write up every little issue that doesn’t meet todays standards.

I write up visible defects and all safety issues. If specific items are not installed according to todays standards and are causing obvious safety issues, I simply recommend upgrading for safety’s sake. If my client refuses to correct the items in my report and someone gets injured in the future, look at my report… I told you so.