An ordinance proposed years ago by the Greater Houston Builders Association is set to take effect early this year. The city is giving single-family home builders the option to hire independent inspectors to conduct plan reviews and building inspections.

The move is part of Mayor Bill White's push to make it easier to do business in the city. He quickly appointed a Building Permit Task Force after taking office last year. The task force recommended last May that the city simplify its site review, permitting, and inspection processes.

In addition to consolidating most of those processes within the Department of Public Works, the city is poised to follow in the footsteps of Fort Worth, Texas, and offer builders the option of using third-party inspectors to reduce the city's workload and speed up the process for builders. (The city will continue to conduct plan reviews and inspections for builders who do not opt for third-party inspectors.)

The plan is slated to go live by the end of March, says Brooks Howell, project manager in the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods and Housing. Before then, independent inspectors must be certified by the city, which will be keeping an eye on them through audits and its own follow-up inspections.

The new rule addresses concerns of conflicts of interest by barring inspectors from working on designs or plans of homes they're asked to inspect. Each inspector also may only receive 25 percent of a given builder's business. “Essentially, there are steps in place to make sure one inspector doesn't rubber stamp one builder's work,” Howell says.

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