A northeast Ohio lawmaker’s plan to smooth out the resulting wrinkles sometimes created by the state’s building-inspection process has been called out by the state’s municipalities and related associations as pro special interest.
The Ohio Municipal League has argued that House Bill 128 overlooks building departments as the law enforcement agencies they are and would allow for developers to shop around for an inspector of their choice.
“Municipal building departments are charged with enforcing state building laws and rules, local ordinances, and approved plans relevant to particular projects,” the League’s Director of Communications Josh Brown told members of the House Economic Development, Commerce and Labor Committee. “Their job is to make sure the buildings are built according to the law and the approved plans.
“Proponents have argued that building departments should compete with each other, effectively creating a free market in law enforcement.”
Nobody seriously believes law enforcement officers should compete with each other to enforce the law, he added.
“Citizens are not consumers of law enforcement. In fact, quite the opposite,” Brown continued.
The aim of HB 128, sponsored by Rep. Kristina Daley Roegner, R-Hudson, is to speed up the process of building inspections throughout the Buckeye State.
First, the bill would impose a 24-hour deadline for inspections requested of the building department having jurisdiction of a given project. The bill also would permit general contractors, construction project owners, and local building departments to contract with third-party private inspectors or out-of-jurisdiction certified building departments to conduct the building inspection in certain circumstances.
Additionally, HB 128 would require the Board of Building Standards to maintain a list of third-party private inspectors and certified building departments it authorizes to conduct inspections and permit the superintendent of Industrial Compliance to contract with local jurisdiction or health departments to exercise specified areas of its enforcement authority.
Finally, the bill would establish guidelines for the implementation of an expedited arbitration process for disputes related to building inspection results, according to analysis provided by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
Roegner said building inspections remain the sole process critical to the schedule and flow of a project that is out of the builder’s control.
“No matter how efficient and organized a construction company may be, if the inspections are delayed, this holds up progress on the project,” she offered in testimony in support of the bill. “The delays are costly not only for the construction company and their subcontractors, but also for the customer of the project who, in turn, might have customers of their own; all put on hold as the critical path to building is hamstrung by inspection delays.
“HB 128 provides a common sense solution to expanding the base of inspection so as to avoid these costly delays.”
Franklin Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf, on behalf of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association, argued a streamlined process should not come at the expense of appropriate code enforcement.
“While all parties should be interested in swiftly performing code inspections, doing so within a 24-hour time period may not be possible in every circumstance,” Westendorf said. “Building code inspections occasionally require coordination between the code official and other contractors or supporting agencies such as the local fire division.
“From personal experience, far too often contractors schedule inspections before the work is completed or outstanding violations are corrected. If all parties do not coordinate schedules, contractors could face additional expense and delay.”
Brown added that delays due to disapproved work are inevitable, even under HB 128.
“The building department’s job is to ensure that the plans are followed,” he said. “In doing this, building departments certainly help companies comply with the law and the designs, and that is part of their duty.
“However, their paramount responsibility is to safety, not speediness.”
Roegner and the bill are backed by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio, which has refuted the claim contractors and developers would be able to “shop around” for a “friendly” inspector.
“HB 128 lessens — rather than increase — the financial burdens of a local building department,” said ABC’s Director of Government Affairs Bryan Williams. “HB 128 makes Ohio’s commercial construction more economically competitive by enhancing the inspection process where local building departments are unable or unwilling to meet the demands of their residents and resident businesses.
“Simply put, HB 128 codifies the practice of many local building departments for the benefit and protection of the entire state.”
A fourth hearing of the bill, which has garnered cosponsor support of 17 fellow members of the Ohio House of Representatives, had not been scheduled at time of publication.