NC House OKs changes to homebuilding regulations

Homebuilders won support from the N.C. House on Tuesday for changes to the state’s building code. The bill has prompted outcry from home inspectors who say they worry changes would make new homes less safe.

House Bill 255 has a bipartisan group of sponsors and was approved in a 105-5 vote Tuesday afternoon.

The legislation is designed to make the inspection process more efficient for home builders by reducing multiple inspections and creating a new committee to review changes to the state’s building code.

A controversial provision would require inspections to be completed “in a timely manner” at the builder’s request and include a complete list of code violations. In some cities and counties now, inspectors won’t complete their full review until initial violations are resolved. They find a number of violations and then schedule a second inspection.

The bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Mark Brody of Monroe, says multiple inspections serve as a “cash generator” for local governments. The bill also bans local governments from using inspection fee revenues for unrelated expenses.

“You can’t charge re-inspection fees just to generate more income,” said Brody, who’s a building contractor.

But Dan Dockery, president of the N.C. Building Inspectors Association, sees the provision differently. He says the bill would allow homebuilders to call in an inspector before the building of a home is complete. “A guy who builds a thousand houses a year is able to make a building inspector be a superintendent for him,” Dockery said.

Building inspectors are also concerned that the bill creates a list of actions that constitute “willful misconduct” by an inspector. The list includes enforcing requirements “more stringent” than the building code or for “habitual failure” to perform timely inspections. Those violations could jeopardize an inspector’s certification.

Brody says the process would address differing interpretations of the building code between localities. “Each one makes the claim they can interpret the building code any way they wish,” he said.

Dockery says the bill will increase costs for local governments. “We have to hire more employees than we actually need, because we’re changing our duties, and we have to spend time defending ourselves,” he said.

The N.C. League of Municipalities is also opposing the proposed disciplinary rules. “The League continues to favor establishing a quick, formal, internal appeals process that would allow supervisors to learn immediately about complaints,” spokesman Scott Mooneyham said, adding that the bill would make the inspections field a less appealing career. “If fewer qualified people are willing to take these positions, no one wins, and that includes builders.”

Mooneyham said towns and cities are happy Brody agreed this week to drop a provision that would have eliminated required plan reviews that are conducted before home construction begins.

A resolution passed by Brunswick County Commissioners said that provision “would place an undue burden on contractors and homeowners in meeting construction requirements” because they wouldn’t get guidance on the code before breaking ground.

Legislators also heard criticism from the N.C. State Firemen’s Association, which wants a seat on a new five-member committee charged with reviewing changes to the residential building code. Association director Tim Bradley said fire professionals need to be there to address safety issues.

“Nobody understands how a residential structure reacts in a fire like a firefighter,” Bradley said. “We feel it’s imperative that the fire service’s concerns be implemented at the earliest stages.”

Brody initially said he was concerned that Bradley’s group is trying to mandate fire sprinklers in all new homes, but he later agreed to adding a seat for a firefighter.

Dockery said inspectors should also have a seat on the board. He said he’s worried that large, out-of-state home builders are seeking to weaken the building code through the new committee and reduce their construction costs.

“The code is already the very least possible safety standard you can,” he said. “I don’t want my mom or my wife coming home to a house that is substandard.”

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