FROM STAFF REPORTS
Thursday, August 21, 2008 Click-2-Listen
The Texas Sunset Review Commission doesn't garner many headlines, but it may have set itself up for a real scrap this week with its recommendation that the Legislature abolish the Texas Residential Construction Commission.
The TRCC, created five years ago after strident lobbying by home builders, is failing at its job, the Sunset Commission concluded. The Sunset report says that rather than resolve conflicts between builders and buyers, the TRCC has often frustrated consumers who have complaints about new homes.
Home builders, with Houston-based Bob Perry at the lead, clamored for the creation of the TRCC. They accepted some regulations that establish standards for builders to meet while establishing a conflict resolution process that consumers must follow instead of filing a law suit. Home buyers may only sue if they have followed the complaint process, which has proven slow and costly.
Consumer watchdogs have been critical of the TRCC from its inception, especially after Gov. Rick Perry's first appointments to the five-member commission included John Krugh, the general counsel for Perry Homes and the industry representative credited with writing much of the legislation that established the commission.
Despite their shared name, there is no familial relationship between the builder and the governor. There is, however, a very strong financial tie between Bob Perry and most of Texas' leading politicians. Bob Perry has repeatedly been the top political contributor in the state. Rick Perry has repeatedly been one of the top beneficiaries of those contributions.
So now it will be interesting to see whether the Legislature and the governor will heed the Sunset Commission's recommendation to abolish the TRCC.
Our leaders do have options. They could allow the TRCC to continue business as usual, frustrating hundreds of Texas home buyers who must wait months in the drawn-out process to find out whether the state will prod a builder to make good on repairs. On the other hand, they could try to overhaul the TRCC to give it more teeth to protect consumers and to regulate builders.
It's telling that the Sunset Commission concluded that no TRCC oversight would be preferable to the status quo. At least then, consumers would have the option of going straight to court to plead their case.
The Texas Association of Builders prefers the former course, with its vice president, Amarillo home buidler Ron Connally, calling the TRCC, "the consumers' most readily accessible and cost-effective path to resolution."
A consumers' group sees it differently, saying the system is backwards because it puts limits on the public, rather than on the home builders. "Indeed, homeowners not builders are the ones regulated by the TRCC," said Alex Winslow, director of Texas Watch.
Since the TRCC lacks the authority to force a builder to make repairs even when its inspectors do find in favor of the consumer, the agency does little to protect home buyers. According to the Sunset Commission, 88 percent of the disputes brought before the TRCC wind up in court anyway, adding to the frustration and delays confronting consumers.
The Sunset Commission report concludes: "No other regulatory agency has a program with such a potentially devastating effect on consumers' ability to seek their own remedies."
If Texas lawmakers don't recognize that as a call to step up and represent the interests of their constituents during the 2009 legislative session, we're not sure what will get their attention unless it's a new surge of campaign contributions.