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New Oregon rule threatens building inspection programs

mark handler

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So. CA
New rule threatens building inspection programs
April 30, 2018
http://pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/393991-286630-new-rule-threatens-building-inspection-programs
Cities and counties are pushing back on a new state rule that prohibits cities and counties from using
independent contractors to administer their building programs.
SALEM — A new state rule prohibiting municipalities from using third-party inspectors to administer local
building programs could jeopardize the ability of cities and counties to spur housing and economic
development, city advocates say.
Under the temporary rule (http://pamplinmedia.com/documents/artdocs/00003607943371.pdf) — expected to
become permanent — cities and counties will be required to either hire a building official or cede their
programs to a larger jurisdiction with a building official on staff, such as a county or the state. Up to three
cities are allowed to share a building official. The rule also boosts the certifications required to be a building
officials, and it requires jurisdictions to hire an electrical inspector.
"I think a lot of folks are questioning pretty much everything about why the rule is necessary, how they can
afford to comply and why they should have to when they haven't received complaints from builders," said
Erin Doyle of the League of Oregon Cities.
The change was prompted by a 22-page memorandum
(http://pamplinmedia.com/documents/artdocs/00003607944146.pdf) issued by the Oregon Department Feb.
16 in which Assistant Attorney General Katherine Lozano concluded that relying entirely on third parties to
conduct a building program violates state law.
The state Building Codes Division within the Department of Consumer and Business Services is the agency
responsible for delegating the state's authority to approve building plans to cities and counties. Approving
local building programs that depend on independent contractors to administer those programs would be
unconstitutional, according to the memo.
It is legal for cities and counties to use such third-party services when the contractors are under the
supervision of a building official, Lozano wrote.
Third-party contractors may continue to review and conduct inspections on behalf of cities based on list of
standards, statutes and rules. However, they are prohibited from issuing or denying building or electrical
permits, issuing stop work orders, resolving disputes or providing code interpretations, Sunderland said.
Those tasks need to be assigned to a building official on staff, he said.
Leaders of municipalities with populations as small as 1,000, such as Aurora, said they cannot afford to hire
a building official. Malheur County officials are considering adding positions for a building official and an
electrical inspector to the county's next budget. But they are concerned they will be unable attract qualified
candidates to fill the positions, said Malheur County Attorney Stephanie Williams.
"We think it will be hard to obtain a building official, structural inspector and electrical inspector in Malheur
County," Williams said. "We are not in close proximity to larger jurisdictions that might have those."
An estimated 25 jurisdictions rely entirely on independent contractors to operate their building and electrical
inspection programs, said Mark Long, administrator of the Building Codes Division at the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.
So far, the Building Codes Division has identified 14 specific cities and counties whose programs are up for
renewal July 1 that may be out of compliance. More jurisdictions could be identified as division officials
review their programs throughout the rest of 2018, said Jake Sunderland, a department spokesman.
The jurisdictions are Astoria, Dunes City, Estacada, Florence, Hood River, Josephine County, Lake County,
Lakeside, Lebanon, Lincoln City, Malheur County, Phoenix, Reedsport and Veneta.
City officials in Aurora and Clatskanie have said (https://pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/...ies-building-permit-programs-face-uncertainty) their jurisdictions also are out of compliance with the new rule. Their programs are not yet up for renewal.
Some of the counties and cities have relied on independent contractors to operate their building programs for
up to 30 years to save the expense of hiring a building official and in some cases, to achieve greater
efficiency. During that period, the state has repeatedly approved their building programs, city officials said.
Now, the state is giving cities such as Estacada only a month to outline how they plan to come into
compliance with the new rule by Jan. 1. One option that city is considering is to contract with Clackamas
County, said Estacada City Manager Denise Carey.
The county has indicated it's equipped to handle the workload from Estacada, a city of about 3,000 people,
Carey said.
Contracting with the county would increase the number of steps applicants would need to take to obtain a
building permit because they would need approval from both the county and the city. The turnaround time for
issuing permits also is longer at the county than at the city, Carey said. Processing a residential permit
application takes Estacada's independent contractor, Northwest Code Professionals, three to seven days,
whereas the turnaround time at the county is three to six weeks, she said.
"It's just the convenience. Here, with the third party, everything comes in and out of this office," she said.
"The service has been excellent over the years, and I hate to see us forced to give that up."
Several cities, including Estacada, have been discussing whether to challenge the state's interpretation of the Oregon Constitution in court.
Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said several cities he represents are affected by the new rule, including
Dunes City.
"The question is why now, and I guess it is because the question got asked," Roblan said.
"It is creating a lot of controversy."
If the courts found that the justice department's interpretation of the constitution is correct, it would require
voter approval to change, he said.
Bryan Hockaday, a spokesman in Gov. Kate Brown's office, said the governor's regional solutions team is
working with local communities as the consumer and business services department helps municipalities
comply with justice department's memo.
"Already, DCBS has provided a number of informational resources to municipalities and is committed to
helping ensure a smooth and timely transition so building projects may move forward with little to no delay,"
Hockaday wrote in an email.
 

mark handler

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Location
So. CA
Small cities scramble as Oregon cracks down on private building inspectors
http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2018/05/small_cities_scramble_as_state.html
Small cities and counties in Oregon are scrambling after state officials said their building inspection programs violate the state Constitution.
Many small communities have long relied on private companies to run their building departments, including approving building plans and issuing permits. But new rules could bar that practice, busting small-town budgets or forcing cities to shut down their local building programs.
Officials say that could mean delays in communities trying to keep up with growing demand for housing.
"It's a system that's worked really well that's about to be broken," said Bill Graupp, the mayor of Aurora, one city that contracts out its building services. "It will definitely raise the costs on anybody who wants to develop or work with the cities that are being affected by this."
The state Department of Justice and Office of Legislative Counsel both concluded such programs are unconstitutional because they deputize private companies to make discretionary governmental decisions. That's why the state Building Codes Division, part of the state Department of Consumer and Business Services, is forcing cities to make a change.
"The Constitution guarantees adequate procedural safeguards that must exist within the government in order to provide accountability," said Jake Sunderland, a spokesman for the department. "(These programs) would not survive the scrutiny and the standards of an adequate safeguard under the Oregon Construction.
The League of Oregon Cities says it disagrees with the legal analysis and would support cities that challenge the new rules in court.
Small communities, some of which have only a handful of employees, have for decades used contractors to run their building and electrical inspection departments. State law requires such programs to be overseen by a licensed inspector, whose salaries can top six figures.
To comply with the new rules, cities can hire those inspectors — if they can afford it.
They could also band together to share publicly employed building officials. But the state has capped the number of cities that can share one building official at three. Larger groups of cities would have to form a new service district, adding a new layer of government.
If a city doesn't run its own building inspection program, that responsibility falls to the county it sits in. If the county doesn't have a building program, then it falls to the state.
"Their counties don't have the resources to cover the additional building inspection that's going to have to take place," said Erin Doyle, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities. "Or the waits are going to be so long it's going to slow down construction in the area."
The state says it's ready to meet the needs of cities and counties that give up their inspection programs.
"We're committed to making sure that service continues in place throughout the state," Sunderland said.
The issue could also affect larger cities who contract with private inspection companies to keep up with heavier permit
volume during busy construction seasons. Without a baseline of business from small cities, it's possible the contractors
won't stay in business, Doyle said.
About 36 cities and counties will see their programs expire on July 1 unless they find a solution before the new rules take
effect. Other cities' programs are up for renewal over the next three years, but the state says it intends to require those
cities to come into compliance by the end of the year.
 

tmurray

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NB, Canada
We saw similar things here a while back. The employees got appointed by the communities using their services. Service agreements were put into place.

At the end of the day, is a company really that different than a person? The same risks exist for both.
 

steveray

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West of the river CT
The problems as I see them are that the 3rd party likely has no immunity for an honest mistake...And then "for profit" regulation, like everything else, will be pushed to make more money and quality and service will suffer. Might as well just contract out the police too...With no local oversight, it is impossible to know what kind of service you are providing.
 

Inspector Gift

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Messages
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City of Sandy, Oregon
I agree with Steveray in regards to a conflict between PROFIT taking priority over service when it comes to 3rd party inspection and plan review services.

However, replace the word PROFIT and with the words, "BUDGET" or "COUNCIL" or "DIRECTOR" or "POLITICAL WILL" and the same conflicts can happen. I have personally witnessed Division Managers, City Managers, Council members, Planning and Development Directors, Building Officials, and even Inspectors that made decisions that placed their job security over the safety and general welfare.
 

conarb

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Oct 22, 2009
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California East Bay Area
The problems as I see them are that the 3rd party likely has no immunity for an honest mistake...And then "for profit" regulation, like everything else, will be pushed to make more money and quality and service will suffer. Might as well just contract out the police too...With no local oversight, it is impossible to know what kind of service you are providing.

I've seen this happen with the Special Inspection program, on a single family home I needed three Special Inspections, piers, epoxy bolting, and welding, my intent was to use three inspection firms that specialized in each, in meetings with the geotech inspection firm I had the owner hire for pier inspection he kept pressuring me for the welding inspections, including one meeting in the building inspection offices where we had to sit for hours waiting to meet with a plan checker, I kept brushing him off telling him it was up to the owner, he kepet telling me "You can do it, I have contractors do it all the time.", I kept saying: "Not the way I read Chapter 17 ". He was on the site one day to approve piers, before he would sign me off he demanded to talk with the owner, I told him the owner didn't accept phone calls during working hours so he refused to sign. I emailed my owner telling him I was being blackmailed to give him welding inspections (the really profitable ones), telling him to fire the SOB and do it now, and do not pay any of his bills. When the geotech got back to his office he found out he had been fired and called me asking why, I told him that it was because of his insistance that he get all special inspections.

It's obvious to me that special inspections have become a gold mine, the owner's question was: "Why do we have to have all fo these layers of inspections? With all the money you paid the county for all the permits why can't they do all inspections?" The structural engineer was German, he said in all of Europe the government inspectors are required to have welding certificates and they can do all inspections.
 

mark handler

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Joined
Oct 25, 2009
Messages
10,833
Location
So. CA
I agree with Steveray in regards to a conflict between PROFIT taking priority over service when it comes to 3rd party inspection and plan review services.

However, replace the word PROFIT and with the words, "BUDGET" or "COUNCIL" or "DIRECTOR" or "POLITICAL WILL" and the same conflicts can happen. I have personally witnessed Division Managers, City Managers, Council members, Planning and Development Directors, Building Officials, and even Inspectors that made decisions that placed their job security over the safety and general welfare.
It does not say "full time". So they may be able to still have "Part Time" employees and not pay the Bennies, keeping it in Budget.
 

Rick18071

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Nov 28, 2009
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Poconos/eastern PA
My jurisdiction is small but it keeps me busy . A special inspection is only needed every few years. It won't make sense for me to get qualified for special inspections.
 

steveray

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It's obvious to me that special inspections have become a gold mine, the owner's question was: "Why do we have to have all fo these layers of inspections? With all the money you paid the county for all the permits why can't they do all inspections?"

Because most inspectors make $60K or less, waaaaayyyyyy less.....And the municipalities steal the revenue...
 

JCraver

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Feb 20, 2014
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Southern IL
Why, if you're a small-ish jurisdiction, would you not tell the State to have at it? There's no need for the locals to have a department if the State is going to do it anyway - use that money to pour more sidewalks.
 

Rick18071

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Why, if you're a small-ish jurisdiction, would you not tell the State to have at it? There's no need for the locals to have a department if the State is going to do it anyway - use that money to pour more sidewalks.

The 3rd party inspection company I work for would not like that at all. I'm sure I would lose my job. No sidewalks here.
 

JCraver

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Southern IL
It would suck for the 3rd parties, no doubt. But if PA small towns are anything like IL small towns, I would bet that they could use the $$ they're paying you guys for a million other things (even if it ain't sidewalks).

My point is - If it's going to cost these small muni's/counties money they don't have to enforce something the State is telling them they have to do, and then the State also tells them that they'll do it for them, then said small muni's/counties are doing a disservice to their taxpayers by not letting the State have it. Longer wait times and more "red tape" (per the article) for contractors/homeowners are valid concerns, but that sure can't be argued against spending money they don't have.
 

Rick18071

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Building inspections do not cost the local municipalities here, the permit fees are suppose to pay for it. That's one reason small municipalities like 3rd party inspectors. Even if they hired their own inspector taxpayers should not pay for someone's private house or commercial building inspections.
 

Matthew Castrigno

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May 15, 2018
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Location
Boise Idaho
There is the big problem with outside plan checkers. Building codes provide building officials great leeway. The outside building officials do not reflect the needs of the local community. Over zealous interpretation of building codes that are completely inappropriate for a particular community create roadblocks for small community growth, stifle economic growth and worsen the problem of affordable housing. The use of out of state plan checkers should be outlawed.
 

conarb

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Oct 22, 2009
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California East Bay Area
There is the big problem with outside plan checkers. Building codes provide building officials great leeway. The outside building officials do not reflect the needs of the local community. Over zealous interpretation of building codes that are completely inappropriate for a particular community create roadblocks for small community growth, stifle economic growth and worsen the problem of affordable housing. The use of out of state plan checkers should be outlawed.

You have a point, Over zealous interpretation of codes and laws is a major problem in this country, we see that on a daily basis here.
 
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