Bill to ease restrictions on NC homebuilders moves to Senate

jfrank@newsobserver.comMarch 12, 2013 

  • What is the N.C. Building Code Council?

    Under the legislation, the N.C. Building Code Council would play a more prominent role in controlling the inspections process for homebuilders statewide and would need to consent to any deviations requested by local governments.

    The council is a 17-member body appointed by the governor that meets expertise requirements. It meets quarterly to decide on state building code adjustments and related matters with subcommittees meeting more regularly

    Republican Gov. Pat McCrory will appoint 14 of the 17 members in the next four years, including four this year.

    Staff writer John Frank

— The N.C. House approved a measure Tuesday to ease restrictions on homebuilders by limiting local inspections and delaying new construction rules.

State Rep. Mike Hager, the bill’s sponsor and a homebuilder, said the legislation would lower the cost of a home and help an industry seeking to rebound after the recession.

But critics, ranging from local governments to environmental groups, warn the measure could lead to homes that don’t meet the latest building standards for safety and energy efficiency.

“This is going to affect everyone – not just homebuilders,” said Glenn Batten, the president of the N.C. Building Inspectors Association.

The legislation – House bill 120 – prevents local governments from requiring inspections for one- and two-family houses other than the eight types delineated in the state building code. Any additions would require approval from the N.C. Building Code Council, a board appointed by the governor.

It also postpones any updates to the state’s home building code to every six years – twice as long as the current revisions that occur on three-year cycles to match national standards.

The bill’s sponsors – Republicans and Democrats – said the additional inspections required by some cities and counties and the frequent updates to the home building requirements put too onerous a burden on builders, especially those who work throughout a region.

The additional regulations “actually caused the time frame to build a house to expand, so our builders, builders that have been devastated by this economy, were incurring unneeded cost,” said Hager, a Rutherfordton Republican. “We want nothing more than consistency.”

A number of local governments enforce extra inspections, such as the towns of Garner, Cary and Apex, all of which were identified in a memo from the N.C. Homebuilders Association as problem areas. The association, a major lobbying force, is leading the charge on the legislation.

Michael Rettie, an Orange County building inspector, said many of those extra steps are designed to catch mistakes before it’s too late and came at the request of builders.

“We’ve developed over the years additional inspections that are used to streamline the construction process,” he said. “The list of eight inspections (at the state level) was never meant to be an inclusive list.”

The N.C. League of Municipalities, which also opposes the legislation, is concerned about the petition process that local governments would have to go through to conduct additional inspections under the legislation.

“We want to make sure that when there is a legitimate safety need that a local government can successfully petition the Building Code Council,” said Paul Meyer, the league’s director of governmental affairs. “The bill needs some changes to enable that to occur.”

Another concern for inspectors is the delayed changes to the code, which will put the regulations for houses years behind the best practices for commercial buildings, which will remain on the three-year cycle for updates.

“We are already a long ways behind the rest of the country,” said Batten, an inspector for the city of Kernersville.

State Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to shorten the timeline for code revisions. He said no state works on a mandated six-year cycle, while more than half revise the building rules every three years as new national standards are released.

Hager said the legislation allows the state code council to update the rules at any point for major safety upgrades and he dismissed concerns that the extended cycle will increase homeowners insurance rates, as critics suggested.

One particular target for the legislation was energy efficiency standards.

“The building code is a way to build safe houses and structurally sound houses,” Hager said in an interview. “It’s not a way to interject what I call social change ... on how we all feel about energy savings.”

The intent alarmed the Sierra Club, an environmental group, that opposes the measure.

“This measure puts North Carolinians at risk of substandard housing stock in order to boost the profits of certain home builders – at the expense of homeowners’ monthly electric bills,” said Molly Diggins, the group’s state director.

The House approved the legislation with a 99 to 18 vote, sending it to the Senate, where the bill’s sponsors said they don’t anticipate considering it anytime soon.

Staff writer David Bracken contributed to this report.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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