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HOBB says builders still rule - Builders still give glowing review of its TRCC
Monday, 20 August 2007

WATCHDOG'S BITE, RANGE INCREASE
Next month will see some significant changes in the powers of the Texas Residential Construction Commission -- and that could mean good news for consumers.  Starting Sept. 1, the TRCC will have extensive powers to fine home builders and remodelers up to $10,000 per infraction for 26 prohibited practices, up from 12.  Even with the extension of powers, at least one consumer group says the new law does not go far enough. Since its inception, the TRCC has faced complaints from consumer groups that its dispute-resolution process is too lengthy, costly and bureaucratic, and that the commission is "pro-builder."  "The homeowner is the one regulated," said Janet Ahmed, president of HomeOwners for Better Building, based in San Antonio. "They have to prove that something was wrong."

WATCHDOG'S BITE, RANGE INCREASE

Special to the Star-Telegram

The state watchdog over new homes and remodeling may have just gotten some much-needed teeth.

Next month will see some significant changes in the powers of the Texas Residential Construction Commission -- and that could mean good news for consumers.

Starting Sept. 1, the TRCC will have extensive powers to fine home builders and remodelers up to $10,000 per infraction for 26 prohibited practices, up from 12.

If a builder is violating a statute, the commission will be able to issue a cease-and-desist order or order that action be taken. Fines for failure to comply can run to $1,000 a day. New rules also spell out the TRCC's ability to take violators to court, instead of referring them to the attorney general's office.

Also, home builders will be required to go through the TRCC's arbitration practice, which previously was voluntary.

The commission will also exercise oversight on more remodeling projects.

All remodeling projects costing $10,000 or more will be required to register with the TRCC, along with the company performing the work. The current limit is $20,000.

The new rules also mean that more remodeling jobs will carry the TRCC-required warranty: 10 years for structural elements, two years for systems like water and plumbing, and one year for workmanship and materials.

"The commission will aggressively pursue unregistered builders and re-modelers and use all of the new tools given to us by the legislature," Duane Waddill, executive director of the TRCC, said in a statement.

The rules come to a commission that is already starting to show its teeth. The TRCC has issued $476,670 in fines this year for 618 violations, according to the commission. Last week, the commission fined 26 builders/remodelers, including six in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, a total of $28,500 for violations stemming primarily from failure to register properly.

The changes, part of House Bill 1038 passed in the past legislative session, are major, local builders and attorneys say.

"The TRCC had teeth, but not as many as they do now," said Bob Bush, with the Arlington law firm of Bush and Motes, who worked on the original bill that created the TRCC in 2003. "This is a significant increase of TRCC's disciplinary powers."

Local builders attending seminars on the changes are sometimes surprised by the new level of oversight, said Randall Garrett, president of the Greater Fort Worth Builders Association.

"It's slapping some guys in the face," Garrett said. "They're really waking up to the changes."

Even with the extension of powers, at least one consumer group says the new law does not go far enough. Since its inception, the TRCC has faced complaints from consumer groups that its dispute-resolution process is too lengthy, costly and bureaucratic, and that the commission is "pro-builder."

"The homeowner is the one regulated," said Janet Ahmed, president of HomeOwners for Better Building, based in San Antonio. "They have to prove that something was wrong."

When the agency was first created, the dispute-resolution process took an average of 298 days, according to TRCC statistics. The average is now 144 days; at times, it has dropped to as short as 65 days.

Ahmed said she hears daily from unhappy homeowners trying to work through the TRCC and said the recent legislation does little to fix the problems.

"It's more of the same complications," she said. "They just put cherries on top to make it look good."

Bush disagrees.

"The changes came about from a dialogue between the building industry and consumer advocates," he said. "There have been criticisms that the original TRCC act didn't give the commission enough power and didn't provide enough protection for consumers, but the industry sat down and listened to those critics a lot."

The result was HB 1038, which was written by state Reps. Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, and Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, and sponsored by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.

Among other changes from the new law:

All building contracts must give the builder's TRCC license number, as well as contact information on the TRCC that spells out the dispute-resolution process in bold 10-point type. Contracts that do not could be considered null and void.

The TRCC can discipline a majority owner in a company in addition to the corporate entity.

By September 2008, any home construction or remodeling in unincorporated areas of a county must be inspected three times during construction and comply with building statutes and commission rules.

And remember, before you build, you can check out your builder's or remodeler's registration and record with the TRCC at www.trcc.state.tx.us

 
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Reckless Endangerment
BY: GRETCHEN MORGENSON
and JOSHUA ROSNER

Outsized Ambition, Greed and
Corruption Led to
Economic Armageddon


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