Choosing to break a building code - a sin?

I’m stuck between two “bad” choices. In charity, I have offered my extra room (for free) as a temporary living quarters for a family member who needs the financial break. She accepted gratefully. However, I have since discovered that it is illegal by city building code to use that room for sleeping because it houses (in a separate room that has a door that opens to the room) the gas water heater. The legal law exists, obviously, to prevent carbon monoxide dangers, etc.

However, I could easily have the heater double-checked for safety by a tech to make sure it’s functioning perfectly, and invest in several carbon monoxide detectors. The potential resident is satisfied that it will be safe for the several months that she wants to live there.

Dilemma = if I am convinced that it is indeed safe, am I bound morally to refuse the room to my needy family member anyway, on the grounds that it’s against building code?

You sure have strange laws in US. I don’t think I can advice anyone to break the law, but if you are sure that the room is safe, we don’t have gas-heating in Finland, and only a handfull buildings use gas in the kitchen, and they are soon history as well, you could try to do what your heart says is OK. But is it a sin? Breaking the law is a choice, so is it with sins, you choose to sin or not. One thing is sure, helping someone is never a sin, it is up to how you help. Your friend need a roof over his/her head, providing that is not a sin. To break a law is a sin, to a certain point. If you break the code and it make more good then bad, it is not a sin. What would I do? If it is the only choice, I would break the code and hope for the best. However, keep in mind nosy neighbours, there is always at least one in every building.

do this :slight_smile:

Possibly not! :wink:

** Mark 2:1 **When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home.

2 Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.

3 They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.

4 Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.

5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

Alright. It was a surf by posting. I didn’t read the details of post #1. But it was a good excuse to share a great scripture of faith, and the priority of people over things.

This HAD to be an exception to the rule I’d think. Lol. Anyway, if Jesus later spoke to them earnestly about breaking a building code … scripture doesn’t record it.

In general though, yes, we should respect the law(s) of men as well as God’s. So a deliberate breaking of a law for a thrill would seem to be always unjustified … and probably a little bit sinful at least. Flirting with being a scofflaw is no good either. But in this case the people’s ardent determination to love their (helpless) neighbor … at a bit of sacrifice to their own interests as well as sacrificing the roof … apparently pleased Jesus (given the results).

Who knows, people like that probably repaired the roof right away as well. :smiley: :wink:

Would it be possible to move stuff from another room into that one and so make the other one available?

Per the last paragraph:

  1. You certainly seem to be trying to do the right thing in every way. Usually people who
    do THAT - end up DOING the right thing (or a good thing anyway).

  2. I wonder what the city rules were in Bethlehem about people sleeping … or giving birth in … a stable? And if there were such city laws (as there might have been, and for good reasons … like your local law) - what was the BEST thing the landlord could do in THAT “dilemma”.

  1. Oops. Just thought of the “straining out a gnat” and “swallowing a camel” teaching of Jesus too. Which was also a teaching about having wrong priorities (not that the straining out of gnats was a sin either).

  2. Being “sure the room is safe” fulfills the spirit of the law. Like making sure there is some ventilation to prevent the potential danger. As per the letter of the law … if it comes into conflict with a more important law … choose the more important law to follow.

  3. Or have your sister sleep in the living room. :shrug: Or tell her she may sleep “anywhere” … you are not obliged to burden her with the details of your city’s peculiar codes to make her feel unwelcome IMO.

  4. Actually, you are not so much “choosing to break a building code” as if that were your
    desired purpose. You are helping someone with the resources you have. Incidentally you found out about a detail in the law aimed at PROTECTING people … and are possibly considering PROTECTING someone who needs your help … LESS.

Can you imagine justifying a NO to Joseph, Mary and Jesus in their time of need in favor of a housing law … not usually enforced or monitored … and taken to an extreme observance as an excuse for why one “couldn’t help them”?

You made one VERY GOOD choice. One of the best. Don’t undo THAT part of things whatever you decide to do or not do about the legal technicality in the meantime.

Since you are asking that question HERE … it occurs to me that the enemies of Jesus were often coming down in favor of being uber-persnickety about some law or other, while
not taking “love of neighbor” or God’s priorities (like the sabbath being made for man - not man being made for the sabbath) being that the law(s) benefitted humanity, not that they were preferred to him.

:eek: - ***(However if the furnace police come GET you … I am washing my hands like Pilate and pleading the fifth commandment.)

The most important publication for the last 50 years explaining Catholic moral theology is “The Way of the Lord Jesus Christ,” by Germain Grisez. You might find what it says about the law (in section 2 b) helpful. This is at

This would be the best solution. The only time you should deliberately break a law is if the law is overtly immoral.

Not unless it makes the building dangerous. In your situation I think it does make the building dangerous. Even a perfectly-functioning, new, completely maintained appliance will still break one day.

I can’t give you the correct Catholic answer, but I can tell you that many laws and building codes are suited to general conditions, and not to every situation. For example on a semi rural road I drive, a side road has a T intersection with the main road. Naturally the side road has a stop sign for safety, but the main road also has a stop sign on both sides. That’s so people can get on to the main road during morning rush hour. That’s all it is really for. Consequently during the rest of the day, many people on the main road do not stop if there are no cars on the side road waiting to turn. I stop so I don’t take the chance of getting a ticket, not for any moral reasons.

You should be able to house your relatives without your city’s building department having any knowledge or input. It is none of their business. You do not have to let inspectors into your home.

You might be morally bound to follow the city code. Is there a mortgage? If so, the mortgage holder shares the potential liability if something bad should happen. You probably agreed to follow the applicable codes as a condition for getting a loan. Not positive on that, but I can’t imagine a secured loan being made without protecting the lender.

you’re giving shelter to your sister, and you’re taking prudent precautions . don’t give in to scrupulosity and the hectoring of pharisees. we don’t gain anything with legalism.if still unsure ,talk to your pastor.

Morally one must consider the letter of the law vs intent.
It strikes me that your desire is to comply with the intention of the law so morally I see no problem here.

Of course - that said and even though the possibility is remote - if something WERE to happen…you need to be willing to accept any legal responsibility that might come up…
In other words - you could not say that you did not know…

But - overall - if it were me, I don’t think I would hesitate to move forward - having taken the reasonable precautions that you suggest.



Do not know if it is a sin but do know that the law is justified. Low, acceptable levels of carbon monoxide inhaled on a regular basis is harmful, if not immediately noticeable that damage is occurring.

Since you are aware of the law you would not be held harmless if something happened.
GEddie provided the best solution .

Try telling the judge “we don’t gain anything with legalism” next time you get a ticket. :smiley:

ticket,sheltering sister ,ticket,sheltering sister ticket,sheltering sister :hmmm: boy ,what a conundrum !! :rolleyes:

Building codes date back at least to the Babylonian king Hammurabi. His legal code provided for the death by stoning of an architect/builder whose building collapsed and killed the occupant. If I am not mistaken it also provided that as recompense the builder’s family became slaves to the family of the dead home owner.
As to the morality of breaking the code, it is clear that insufficient thought has gone into your decision making. By ignoring the code you are raising yourself above the level of the rest of society. You are saying that you don’t have to follow the rules that the rest of society must follow. This is the sin of pride, a sort of idolatry. This is a mortal sin, so tread carefully.
As to your family member in need of shelter, you must explain that the room cannot legally be used for sleeping. Make an offer of another room in the house or offer to help pay for temporary accommodations elsewhere. Look for accommodation with another family member or a friend. Try finding a roommate to share costs. It is not necessary to break the law in order to be helpful.

Reb Levi

Yes, make them go without shelter, and keep the building code gods happy.

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