CONSTRUCTION LAW: NEW LAW COULD SHAVE WEEKS OFF OF PERMITTING PROCESS

 

Published by: Southeast Construction
Print date: August 2002
Written by: Thomas K. Equels

 

Thomas K. Equels is the Managing Director of the law firm Holtzman, Equels & Furia, which has represented construction companies, real estate developers, labor unions and individuals in litigation, arbitration and personal injury matters. The Miami-based firm has offices in Orlando and Tallahassee.

 

The next time you’re sitting idle at the jobsite waiting for the inspector to show up – late again – consider this sobering statistic from Florida International University: fully five percent of all construction projects now underway in America are located within Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties. If the inspector looks harried when he or she finally does arrive, you will understand why.

 

Enter the Florida Legislature. With the passage of House Bill 1307 during the 2002 regular session, lawmakers paved the way for private plan review and inspection of construction projects across the state. Gov. Bush signed the bill into law May 30.

 

The bill created Section 553.791 of the Florida Statutes, which takes effect October 1. Once local governments have implementing ordinances and guidelines in place, contractors will be able to hire private engineers and architects to review plans and inspect projects for code compliance. The architects and engineers must be certified by local building inspection authorities, may only render opinions within their discipline, and must maintain liability insurance providing at least $1 million in coverage per occurrence. Once a private inspector has signed off on a project, building authorities will have 10 days to flag deficiencies in the plan, or the plan is considered approved as a matter of law.

 

The two-track, public/private system has worked well in New York and other densely populated states, according to Len Mills, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors’ South Florida chapter. The AGC, and especially the South Florida chapter, has been pushing for the new law for the past five years. Once the idea was noticed on lawmakers’ radar, Mills said, they approved it in relatively short order.

 

“We were absolutely thrilled with the legislative support of the concept. There is a tremendous growth problem in South Florida. The delays in inspections have sometimes taken months, which has caused businesses to decide not to locate here,” Mills said. The bill passed the House 107 to 9, and the Senate 31 to 3.

 

In addition to the AGC, Mills credited Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas for heightening awareness of the need for a faster inspection and approval process. As part of its Business Express Action Team initiative, Miami-Dade passed Ordinance 99-140 three years ago, speeding the process for businesses that could certify their expansion or establishment would add at least 50 jobs to the community, and that they were considering other locations.

 

“Mayor Penelas saw that the delays were impeding progress and economic development,” Mills recalled. “He was at the forefront of this effort.”

 

Private plan approvals and inspections obviously will cost more than those conducted by local building authorities. The savings on delays should more than make up the difference, proponents say. They also point out that by taking projects out of the public system, that system will be better able to meet the needs of those relying upon it.

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