Op-Ed: More regulations against home builders will hurt state’s economic recovery
More than 330,000 people in Washington are without jobs — the highest in 25 years. Many losses are in the housing industry. If the economic downturn has taught us anything, it's that residential housing has a key impact on Washington's economic vitality.
With that in mind, you'd think the Legislature would be working to stimulate this industry. Instead, majority leaders have proposed legislation that would be a devastating blow to builders of residential housing and dramatically increase the cost of home ownership.
House Bill 1393 would add new taxes, burdensome regulations and extensive warranty requirements upon residential home builders. The warranty provisions of the bill would allow first and subsequent homeowners to hold contractors liable for the life of the home, regardless of improper maintenance. Proponents say this bill would protect homeowners from poor construction. They fail to acknowledge strong provisions already exist to ensure against shoddy construction.
What do I know about this? Plenty. I've been in the construction business for more than 25 years. Let me take you through a brief description of the typical homebuilding process.
An architect designs a house. After architectural design, the plans must be engineered. A builder isn't involved yet.
The site plans are sent to the city/county building department. Before a residential building permit is issued, there's a lengthy checklist of items that must be reviewed and approved by the municipality, including drainage plans, septic/sewer plans, water hookup plans, energy code compliance, lot certification, review of critical areas, shoreline buffer information, and more.
Thousands of dollars are paid to the municipality, including impact and permit fees, to have the municipality's experts thoroughly review the site planning, engineering and building process and make sure everything is done correctly.
A builder becomes involved upon approval of the plans. That builder is regulated by the municipality to build that project to the specifications of the architect and engineers and comply with international building codes.
Lenders and owners are dependent upon the municipality to be the watchdog of the homebuilding process to protect their investments.
What affect will this legislation have?
It will increase liability and lawsuits against builders, and further drive up housing costs. With those increased costs, consumers might be tempted to use unlicensed contractors to save money, creating more problems. Small builders likely won't survive the new regulations — they'll either move out of state or close, putting more people out of work.
A home may be the largest investment of a lifetime. Consumers reasonably expect the new home to have no construction problems. Certainly, there are bad builders in the business. That's why state laws have set up municipalities as the enforcement agency so that shoddy construction is caught by city/county building inspectors. If the home doesn't meet strict codes, it should never have been approved for occupancy. If that process fails, we should hold municipalities accountable. After all, they've been paid to ensure the work is done properly. Yet, they have not been included in this bill.
How soon Washington will experience economic recovery depends on how we treat employers in this state. Builders are a vital part of this equation. We can't expect the housing industry to get back on its feet if lawmakers pass legislation that cuts it off at the knees.
EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.