Home dispute panel criticized
When Jordan Fogal and her husband purchased a new home in spring 2002, they never expected they'd be living in a tiny apartment two years later, stuck with a 30-year mortgage on a house that's falling apart. "My husband's 69 years old," said Fogal, of Houston, "but we're having to start our lives over like 20 year olds."
Express-News Austin Bureau
Home dispute panel criticized
AUSTIN When Jordan Fogal and her husband purchased a new home in spring 2002, they never expected they'd be living in a tiny apartment two years later, stuck with a 30-year mortgage on a house that's falling apart.
"My husband's 69 years old," said Fogal, of Houston, "but we're having to start our lives over like 20 year olds."
The problem, Fogal said, is recourse against homebuilders who mess up can be arduous.
Last session, the Legislature created the Texas Residential Construction Commission, which is supposed to resolve disputes between buyers and homebuilders.
But disillusioned homeowners criticized the commission Monday and urged lawmakers to make changes to the agency, which they say works against homeowners instead of helping them.
They want the commission to drop the minimum $350 complaint filing fee, make the hearings voluntary and have more enforcement authority.
Homeowners said the commission's dispute resolution process adds complicated layers to settling disagreements. Homeowners must complete that process before they pursue legal action.
An appeal through the commission, they said, can add months of delay before an agreement is reached and repairs completed.
Patrick Fortner, the commission's spokesman, said the process typically takes 56 days if there's no appeal.
While homeowners charge the commission has no power to force builders to make repairs, Fortner said it's in the homebuilder's interest to follow the recommendations of a commission-appointed inspector because his report carries heavier weight in court.
Out of the 99 complaints filed by last week, Fortner said 39 are complete. Of those, 95 percent came out in favor of the homeowner.
The underlying problem, critics said, is that the commission is slanted toward homebuilders. House Bill 730 mandates the building industry occupy four seats of the nine-member commission.
The remaining five seats are supposed to be neutral appointees, but critics said at least four of them have some ties to the homebuilding industry.
"We'd hoped the governor would put a little more consumers on the commission," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. "But it weighs very heavily on the homebuilder's side."
Critics also point to the political contributions coming from homebuilders: $8,985,619 to state candidates, parties and political action committees over the past four years.
But homebuilders argue they're just participating in the legislative process "like every other industry and person in the state," said Scott Norman of the Texas Association of Business.
Norman also said the commission hasn't really had a chance to prove its effectiveness.
"It's a new process, and it needs to be given an opportunity to work," he said.
Norman contends the times when things go wrong are few and far between.
"If you consider 170,000 homes have been built," since the commission was started, and "fewer than 100 complaints were coming forward, that's a pretty good track record."