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Pennsylvania Does Not License Homebuilders
Wednesday, 25 July 2007

No state oversight of homebuilders Part 2
The state government devotes more scrutiny to a person who cuts hair for $15 than it does to a person who builds homes for $1.5 million. Because the state does not register or license builders, nothing stopped Scott Binsack from moving one step west to escape a trail of fraud in New York state and Monroe County. The bill’s exemption for homebuilders and modest attempt to regulate via registration doesn’t surprise Janet Ahmad, president of advocacy group Home Owners for Better Building. She said homebuilders have more political clout than smaller home-improvement contractors. Contractors of all kinds, she said, tend to resist testing and licensing. “If you want to drive in Pennsylvania, you need take a test,” Mrs. Ahmad said. “In Pennsylvania, knowledge and financial responsibility in homebuilding are optional.”

No state oversight of homebuilders Part 2

BY DAVID FALCHEK
STAFF WRITER
07/24/2007
See Part 1:  Homebuilder's clients say watchdogs asleep
Join the discussion

The state government devotes more scrutiny to a person who cuts hair for $15 than it does to a person who builds homes for $1.5 million.

Because the state does not register or license builders, nothing stopped Scott Binsack from moving one step west to escape a trail of fraud in New York state and Monroe County.

He established his grandly named Mansions & Estates International LLC in Clarks Summit and followed a familiar pattern of bouncing checks and jilting vendors. It culminated in his arrest last week on two counts of passing bad checks.

Mr. Binsack operated with no state scrutiny, while cosmetologists and 27 other types of professionals in Pennsylvania take state tests to prove their ability and earn state-issued licenses. If they violate rules and regulations, they may be called before panels appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate.

That group of peers and lay people investigates wrong-doing and may fine violators, or suspend or revoke licenses.

While the state protects citizens from the risk of bad haircuts or dye jobs, just about anyone, regardless of ability or background, can call himself a homebuilder and start taking deposits.

Pennsylvania is one of 18 states with no regulation of contractors who build or renovate homes. Twenty-one states require testing and licensing of contractors, while 11 require registration.

Registry proposed

Reform proposals pending in the Legislature are modest. Bills in the state House and Senate would require home improvement contractors, but not builders of new homes, to register with the state, said Robert Caton, a spokesman for Rep. Keith R. McCall who introduced the bill.

Mr. McCall, D-Carbon County, wanted to prevent home-improvement fraud, Mr. Caton explained, in which senior citizens often get exploited by unscrupulous contractors. Home builders, Mr. Caton said, were not on the radar.

If another builder with a criminal history and questionable business practices wanted to focus exclusively on building homes, he would not have to register, Mr. Caton said.

If approved, the registration would keep tabs on who is involved in home improvement. But it doesn’t require testing or licensing.

The bill’s exemption for homebuilders and modest attempt to regulate via registration doesn’t surprise Janet Ahmad, president of advocacy group Home Owners for Better Building. She said homebuilders have more political clout than smaller home-improvement contractors.

Contractors of all kinds, she said, tend to resist testing and licensing.

“If you want to drive in Pennsylvania, you need take a test,” Mrs. Ahmad said. “In Pennsylvania, knowledge and financial responsibility in homebuilding are optional.”

The bill also would create a new criminal offense called “home improvement fraud.” For fraud exceeding $2,000, a contractor could be accused of a third-degree felony.

Keeping them honest


Certified public accountant Joseph Alu spent eight years on the state’s Board of Accountancy and one year as its chairman. Once a month the Scranton-based CPA would drive to Harrisburg and join the 15-member board of other accountants and a few laypeople to hear cases of fellow accountants accused of fraud or ethics violations.

The board made sure accountants kept up their required continuing education. Often it would fine violators or suspend licenses. About six times in his tenure, it revoked licenses, essentially banning the violators from the profession.

It was a lot of work, but Mr. Alu said the board served citizens by penalizing questionable accountants and served his profession by protecting its integrity.

He said homebuilders should be licensed as well.

“You cannot monitor or police a profession that you do not license,” Mr. Alu said. “Medical, accounting and legal are under constant scrutiny. With so many homes going up and the value of home construction, think of the damage someone could do.”

State Rep. Frank Andrews Shimkus, D-South Abington Township, said he will take up the issue in Harrisburg next week. He said he hopes to get a committee to explore why Pennsylvania fails to regulate its contractors and why current registration proposals exclude homebuilders.

“We license professions like nursing and accounting to protect the consumer,” Mr. Shimkus said. “There are a million loopholes for bad contractors that have to be closed.”

Once the home-improvement bill is passed, Mr. McCall might move to introduce a similar bill governing homebuilding, Mr. Canton said.

“Mr. Binsack may have sparked the idea for brand new legislation.”

Contact the writer: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

http://www.thetimes-tribune.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=18619796&BRD=2185&PAG=461&dept_id=415898&rfi=8

 
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