Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Pace University
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 18 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Author: Abigail Dove [*]

The Pandemic Plan for Healthy Buildings

COVID-19 and its many variants are a continuing threat to low-carbon living in urban areas. In many metropolitan areas, tenants of residential and commercial buildings are considering moving out or have moved out of low carbon neighborhoods, threatening their financial viability and relatively low per capita carbon footprint. An alarming number of urban residents are buying homes in less dense suburbs or are working from home rather than in office buildings in urban areas.  This blog proposes, describes, and illustrates the use of a Healthy Building Checklist to be implemented by local land use agencies to encourage and incentivize building owners to adopt needed physical and operational changes, making buildings less susceptible to the spread of viral diseases.

The building codes enforced by municipalities are created and amended by the International Codes Council (ICC), adopted and adapted to regional conditions by state building code agencies, and then passed along to local governments to be enforced as part of the land use building review and approval process. In most states, building codes cannot be amended by local law, even to respond to pandemics and other emergencies that threaten public health. This calls for a new approach.


The Healthy Building Checklist

The Healthy Building Checklist linked below was developed by the Land Use Law Center as an example of design and construction standards for builders, developers, and municipalities to use to make buildings more resilient to viral diseases. The Checklist is not intended to be mandatory, but rather to supplement the requirements and enforcement of current building codes and land use regulations. The Checklist adopts the organization and approach of seven sections of the Construction Specifications Institute’s MasterFormat to create a familiar protocol of building standards that local enforcement officials, developers, and their professional consultants can refer to in discussions about building projects. The Checklist also follows the formatting of the MasterFormat with which local code enforcers are acquainted. Matching the organization of the Checklist with this MasterFormat ensures that the local building code enforcement staff will already have the knowledge and training needed to implement these additions.

We also adjusted the Checklist to conform to recent guidelines that address healthy buildings published by the American Institute of Architects (AIA); this increases the Checklist’s compatibility with current professional practice. The AIA’s checklist is a good example of an evolving source of standards and procedures for embedding healthy building criteria into the review of new or substantially rehabilitated residential and commercial buildings.

The topics included in the Healthy Buildings Checklist focus on:

  • Design of common indoor areas to accommodate social distancing dimensions.
  • Cleaning and maintenance of buildings and their HVAC systems with protocols to provide regular servicing.
  • Limiting points of entry for security/temperature checks and to control movement and the efficient, contactless flow of people.
  • Better use of outdoor spaces for exposure to natural air changes and natural light.
  • Improved ventilation effectiveness, air handling, filtration, and touchless control systems.
  • Proper finishes, touchless controls, and flow for elevator use.
  • Monitoring and controlling relative humidity.
  • Technology upgrades for increases needed for hands-free operations, remote work situations, and equipment monitoring.
  • Electrical upgrade/redesign to accommodate new technology and contactless controls.
  • Use of finishes and materials that can stand up to heavy, regular cleaning and resist the retention of contaminants and that are resistant to the transfer of viruses.
  • Clear graphic signage to assist in establishing designated flow patterns.

The Full Healthy Building Checklist is here:


To incorporate the Checklist’s guidelines into building design, local development staff can call developers and their professional advisors together in a pre-application process. The purpose of this step is to determine the health impacts of the proposal by requiring a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) and to incorporate as many of the Checklist’s standards as possible in the developer’s formal application for land use approval.  Requiring a pre-application process, like in Southampton, NY, that includes an HIA will help local governments improve the health of their citizenry.

During this process, localities can incentivize developers to incorporate these guidelines voluntarily. Incentives can include fast-tracking applications, reducing permit fees, and providing valuable density bonuses. In addition, localities can provide a certificate for buildings that comply with a sufficient number of the Checklist’s guidelines. Green building rating systems, such as LEED and the WELL Health-Safety Rating system, provide a convincing example of the value of such certifications. Developers found that tenants are attracted to certified green buildings and that, by complying with voluntary standards, their building’s property value will increase. The same result can be expected when developers can show their buildings comply with a locally created safe buildings checklist of standards that protect occupants from COVID-19 and its variants.


For additional resources, the Gaining Ground Information Database is free and features best practice models used by governments to control the use of land in the public interest. Please direct your search toward the Healthy Communities topic.

[*] Abigail Dove is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Student Associate at the Land Use Law Center.

Brooke Mercaldi is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Research Assistant to Professor Nolon.

The previous blogs in the series are listed here:

  1. Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
  2. Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
  3. The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
  4. Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
  5. State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
  6. COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
  7. Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
  8. Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
  9. Urban Heat Islands and Equity
  10. Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
  11. The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic
  12. The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience
  13. Hazard Mitigation Planning: A Case Study
  14. Complete Streets: Protecting Public Health
  15. Zoning and Lease Mediation as a Way to Retain Critical Small Businesses
  16. Segregation by Law and the Racial Inequity Pandemic
  17. Combating Food Swamps to Improve Equity and Public Health


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