Specifications for building a sukkah are quite detailed from foundation to roof, yet even if a sukkah is certifiably kosher, there is nothing in the Ohio Building Code regulating the temporary structures.
In Bexley, sukkot fall under the jurisdiction of David Hrdlicka, code enforcement officer for the city. About 20% of Bexley’s residents are Jewish.
“I suspect that a fairly high percentage of them erect the sukkahs for the holiday,” Hrdlicka said.
“It does not have to conform to our zoning code or the Ohio Building Code as a temporary religious structure,” he said. “There’s provisions in even the fire code for religious structures during weddings and other ceremonies. In such cases, you can actually bypass certain sections of the code to allow for certain (items), mostly candles, to be used in religious ceremonies.
But as far as our building code and our zoning code goes, they’re considered a temporary accessory structure that we just don’t make people pull a zoning permit for. It’d be the same as a tent for a graduation party.”
Hrdlicka said he has occasionally received complaints from neighbors when sukkot are standing after the eight days of the festival, which this year begins on Oct. 13.
“If I need to make a quick phone call or knock on the door, once again, I’m not approaching it in some sort of gross property maintenance violation, something along those lines,” he said. “I’m going to treat it very, very pleasantly. The enforcement side of it is on the down low. I’ll just be as nice as I can about approaching the homeowner and suggesting.”
In Beachwood, a suburb of Cleveland, the building code regulates temporary structures, but the sukkah fits into none of the categories. The temporary booths with skach roofs are not, after all, tents, portable on-demand storage devices, storage shed/trailers, construction dumpsters or construction trailers.
“I don’t know that they ‘fit into the building code’ (of) their unusual nature and temporary existence as it were, obviously during the holidays,” said William Griswold, Beachwood building commissioner. “When you talk about the building code, the state of Ohio does not have sukkahs as a specific item, as you can imagine.”
Griswold said he was not aware of any incidents involving sukkot in his tenure, which is more than 25 years.
“Sometimes they’re arranged in a cupola or like arbor-type arrangement,” said James McReynolds, building commissioner in University Heights, another Cleveland suburb. “Something like that, which is permanent in the ground, we would want to make sure that it has a permit, just to make sure it’s within the property lines – it’s not so tall as to be overbearing. But outside of that, we try to stay hands off. ”
He said he has never cited a sukkah for a building code violation.
“That would be kind of distasteful for us to do that,” he said. “We would try to not infringe on that as a part of religious institutions, so we’re pretty much hands off.”
McReynolds is aware residents use sukkot differently.
“I’ve talked to many of the residents about their habits within the sukkah,” he said. “They differ. Some people want to stay out there completely and sleep out there, and others just go out and have their dinner. It’s a very individual type of practice.”
Like Griswold, McReynolds said he would only be involved if there were structural elements in need of replacement.
In 2018, a tornado touched down in Bexley, blowing down many of the temporary structures.
“Personally, I’m a Catholic kid from Cleveland,” Hrdlicka said. “I’ve gained some religious education here as far as Jewish holidays go in my process of inspecting synagogues for fire inspections and things like that. I’ve picked up things, but I’m still learning, so we try to be as sensitive as we can about things.”