Among the many issues that fell by the wayside in this years marathon session of the Georgia Legislature is one that would have helped cut down on home construction and remodeling scams.
But oddly enough, the failure is to the advantage of Columbia Countys consumers.
At issue is legislation that would require statewide licensing of homebuilders and remodelers. Georgia is one of 21 states with no license for builders; the only requirement for someone to call himself a builder is to get a building permit. Building inspectors can shut down a job for violations, but they cant put even obvious crooks out of business.
Georgias Home Builders Association backs House Bill 109, which would require testing and licensing from anyone who wants to do construction jobs costing more than $30,000. The bill stalled this session, but is still alive for next years Legislature.
The delay is good news for Columbia County Building Official Richard Harmon, who has long been pushing for builder licensing for Columbia County. Formerly a North Augusta inspector, Harmon knows how beneficial a local licensing program can be.
I think we can handle what weve got at the local level better than they can at the state, Harmon says. Columbia Countys proposed ordinance, which could go before commissioners for approval this month, would require builders to pass a licensing exam, provide a performance bond and purchase appropriate insurance before they could get a license - similar to the states proposal.
The difference is that Columbia Countys ordinance has no dollar threshold for who would be classified as a builder. Columbia Countys law would allow anyone to build one house per year without a license, a small loophole to allow citizens to build their own home.
But by eliminating the dollar figure, Columbia Countys proposal weeds out unscrupulous builders who would try to sneak under the radar - no matter how low it gets. If we even get it down to $5,000, do you know how many $4,999 jobs wed have? Harmon asks. To circumvent the law, scam artists would simply underbid jobs and hit the homeowner with the rest of the bill later, or break each job into smaller bites to stay in business.
So, how does a delay from the state help Columbia County?
The states proposal allows counties with stricter, existing laws to supersede state requirements. If Columbia Countys no-minimum law is enacted before next year, it would stay on the books and add a tougher layer to the state law.
Harmon deserves credit for continuing to push this effort, and does so with the best of motives: I need to get a message across to consumers that theres a lot we can do to get at the unscrupulous builders, Harmon says.
First step: Commissioners, pass the ordinance to license builders. Dont wait on the state.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.