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General Assembly passes building permit reform legislation

The North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill Wednesday that would give builders and contractors more control over permitting and inspections processes and would streamline some existing processes.construction

The Building Code Regulatory Reform bill, or House Bill 255, will go into effect Oct. 1 if not vetoed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

The stated goal of the bill is to “promote economic growth,” but one of the provisions could cause a back-up in inspections done by Mecklenburg County’s Code Enforcement Department by overriding the county’s partial inspection rule.

In Mecklenburg County, inspectors are allowed to drop an inspection if 10 defects are cited within the first 20 to 30 minutes at a job site. Ebenezer Gujjarlapudi, director of the county’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency (LUESA), which oversees the Code Enforcement Department, said a high number of defects is typically a result of premature inspection requests.

“That’s not the most efficient way to get things done,” he said.

If the bill becomes law, it would require that all scheduled inspections for one- and two-family dwellings be completed, unless permit holders request that inspections be canceled. It also would require that inspectors explain to contractors which project components do not abide by the state’s building code.

Michael Carpenter, executive vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Home Builders Association, said that requirement would reduce the number of trips inspectors have to make to job sites.

“If they’re all being corrected before the re-inspection, then hopefully they’ll all be fixed on callbacks,” he said.

Gujjarlapudi said the extent to which inspection times are hindered would depend on how many contractors try to “take advantage” of the complete inspection requirement.

“Our major concern is that it should not impact the inspection time of the rest of our customer base,” he said.

Joe Padilla, executive director of Charlotte’s Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, said he supported the county’s existing partial inspection rule, but that builders have complained about inspections being canceled too quickly, and without an explanation on how to better comply with the state building code. “We have a number of builders that will have an inspection canceled by an inspector because of one or two items,” he said.

Padilla said he didn’t want the county to be doing unnecessary work at sites that aren’t ready for inspections, but that he also doesn’t want inspectors to have the attitude: “I get out of the truck and I see something on the house that I don’t like, so I’m not doing the inspection.”

Gujjarlapudi said he hopes the bill will benefit both contractors and local permitting and inspection agencies.

“It’s always that balancing act,” he said.

 The bill also calls for the creation of a seven-member residential code committee within the existing 17-member Building Code Council (BCC). That committee would have to approve any proposed change to the one- and two-family building code before it would go to the BCC.

In addition, all appeal decisions, interpretations and variations of the code issued by the BCC and all commentaries and written interpretations made by the Department of Insurance’s staff must be posted on its website within 10 business days.

“It would bring more consistency to the application of the code, which is a big deal,” Padilla said.

If House Bill 255 goes into effect, public code enforcement agencies will no longer have to double-check inspections made by licensed architects and engineers, which existing law requires. Engineers and architects typically inspect only components or elements of buildings that are not addressed in the state building code, and those inspections are coordinated through local code enforcement agencies.

It would also increase the minimum value of work that requires a single-family building permit to $15,000 from $5,000. Existing exceptions to that rule, such as additions, repairs, load-bearing structure replacements, and changes to plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electrical wiring systems, would still apply.

“Our priority is public safety, and whatever the ultimate outcome of the bill is we will make sure that we will abide by what the state requires and provide timely service for our customers,” Gujjarlapudi said.

Other provisions in the bill include:

*Clearer definitions of code official misconduct by providing specific examples of actions that are subject to discipline by the Code Officials Qualification Board.

*A study by the BCC concerning procedures and policies for speeding up the approval of alternative building materials, designs or methods to those allowed under the state code.

*A clarification that inspectors can make as many inspections as necessary to ensure work is being completed in accordance with all requirements.

*A requirement that all inspection fees must be spent only on activities of the inspections department and on nothing else – which the county’s Code Enforcement department already complies with.

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