The bill that would authorize third party building inspections, HB 128  received a sponsor’s hearing April 25 in the House Economic Development, Commerce and Labor Committee.

Rep. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) gave sponsor testimony on the legislation that she said would give a common sense solution to expanding the base of inspection to avoid costly delays. She said no matter how efficient and organized a construction company may be, if the inspections are delayed, it holds up progress on the project.

Under current law, the Board of Building Standards formulates and adopts rules governing the erection, construction, repair, alteration and maintenance of buildings, she said. The rules are incorporated into residential and non-residential codes. The board then certifies local building departments and the personnel of these departments as well as individuals, corporations and firms to approve plans and perform inspections. The building inspections currently must be performed by the local building department, she said, but if there are backlogs or personality conflicts, the lack of choice can cause unnecessary and expensive delays.

The bill would specify that inspections, performed by the building department having jurisdiction, must be performed within 24 hours of a request. The general contractor or owner of a building may request an independent inspection, and the Board of Building Standards shall provide a list, which it will maintain, of board-certified, third party, private inspectors and certified building departments from which the contractor may choose. The contractor/owner would still be responsible for inspection fees to the third party, and the local building department may still charge the general contractor/owner any standard fee customary for approval including administrative and filing fees. The third party inspector would be required to send a copy of the inspection results within 24 hours post-inspection to the local building department.

The bill also specifies that local building departments may contract with the division of industrial compliance to exercise enforcement authority, accept and approve plans/specifications and perform inspections for non-residential buildings. It provides for an expedited arbitration process in which a general contractor/owner may appeal inspection results.

During the hearing Rep. Lepore-Hagan asked if the bill would constitute a cut to local governments. Roegner said the bill does not address any funding. She noted that if a contractor or owner uses a third-party inspector, that local government can still charge application and other fees. Lepore-Hagan also said she is concerned that the bill would privatize government services. Roegner said the bill provides choice, and competition can only drive up quality. She also said the contractors could choose a building department from a neighboring jurisdiction.

Lepore-Hagan asked if a situation would be created where a friend of the contractor would do the inspection and be lenient. Roegner said the list of third party inspectors would be certified by the state and any wrong-doing could cause them to lose certification. She also said contractors could also have a situation like that under current law with a friend in the local building department. “I really do not believe that will be an issue,” she said.

Rep. West asked if local governments could farm out inspections under current law. Roegner said they can but a contractor could not do it independently. West also asked if Roegner had talked to local governments about the bill. The sponsor replied that she had talked to the Ohio Municipal League, who has some concerns, but has been at the table.

Rep. Arndt said the 24-hour deadline seems to be a tight period to complete the work. Roegner said she is drafting an amendment to address those issues so there won’t be a time squeeze. She said they want to be reasonable but also put into place best practices.

She told Rep. Kelly that she didn’t have any statistics on how often inspections are delayed or the cost of those delays, but she said it will be interesting to see what proponents have to say about the bill.

She told Rep. Stein that the bill is silent on penalties for violating the 24-hour rule.

She told Rep. Sheehy that she was approached about the issue by several construction companies and contractors. She said they are concerned about retaliation if they complain about lags in building inspections to the Board of Building Standards.