Over a dozen opponents – mostly members of local building departments and fire safety organizations – expressed their opposition to HB 128 which would permit a general contractor or owner of specified buildings to enter into a contract with a third-party private inspector or a certified building department for building inspection.
The ability for contractors to use the bill to pick and choose their inspectors, thereby circumventing municipal inspection requirements, was a major concern of the witnesses. Josh Brown, director of communications for the Ohio Municipal League, emphasized the role of local building inspectors.
“Proponents have argued that building departments should compete with each other, effectively creating a free market in law enforcement,” he said. “However, nobody seriously believes that law enforcement officers should compete with each other to enforce the law. Citizens are not consumers of law enforcement.”
There was general consensus among the opponents that the Ohio Board of Building Standards ought to remain the sole authority for inspections in the state, and that permission for contractors to request independent inspections would lead to chaos.
“This rule change would undermine the OBBS existence,” wrote Neal Dorenkott, member of the North Central Ohio Building Officials Association. “This would send the inspection process back in time; it could be an example of the ‘fox guarding the hen house.'”
Several witnesses suggested that some of the issues raised in the bill ought to be dealt with at the level of the OBBS.
Bryan Parker, president of the Miami Valley Building Council, has been on both sides of the appeals process – as a contractor and an inspector. He said the OBBS listens and is fair, and the board is quite capable of handling complaints from contractors. The issues of timeliness
Jonathan Westendorf, fire chief for the city of Franklin, provided opponent testimony on behalf of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association. He said that there is often a great deal of collaboration between fire safety inspectors and building officials, given that fire officials take up authority once the inspector’s office provides a certificate of occupancy to a successfully inspected building. He argued against the bill on the grounds that building officials and inspectors act as a law enforcement officers with responsibility beyond that of just an inspector. He also shared concerns that a provision in which contractors would pay inspection fees to third-party inspectors would essentially make the construction industry self-regulating.
He expressed concerns that the bill contains no provisions ensuring continued collaboration between the fire safety community and third party inspectors, as well as about the 24-hour deadline provision and possible degradation of safety standards.