(Written by Jack Milarch – NMHBA EVP/CEO – Originally published in the February 2006 Housing Journal)

Code Compliance Inspections Become a Big Pain for Many Contractors

NMHBA is hearing from more and more contractor members that waiting and wondering if the inspector will show up today has become a big problem for their operations, particularly when the inspection agency is the state Construction Industries Division. At a recently called meeting of contractors in Hobbs, a roomful of contractors voiced their displeasures to Senator Carroll Leavell who, along with Senator Kernan, Rep. Bratton and Rep. Whitaker, had called the meeting as a forum for discussing complaints about inspection delays and uncertainties. At another meeting recently at the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association office, similar stories were told by a number of general, plumbing, and electrical contractors. A contractor in Gallup called to relate a similar story of an unnecessary delay on a major commercial project there. It is becoming clear that the process of calling for inspections and waiting and hoping the inspector will show up on a timely basis is a major pain for contractors statewide.

Over the last eighteen months we have been telling CID management about the problem. They have refused to give our complaints credibility, insisting that their inspectors are doing a good job and are caught up in their work. Also, you may remember that last Legislative Session we asked Representative Brian Moore to carry HB-674, hoping some changes in state law would make things better. CID staff vigorously opposed that bill and it eventually died in committee on the promise by CID Director Lisa Martinez that the ideas in the bill would be tried on a trial basis in Rio Rancho and Clovis. That never happened.

As we listen to our contractors’ complaints, the root of many of the problems is lack of communication between field inspectors and contractors who have requested inspections. Contractors usually are required to call during only one or two morning hours each day, leaving a message with details of the required inspection. They hope the message wasn’t garbled, the recorder was feeling good that day, and the inspector is running on schedule. And then they wait. In many areas of the state the inspector doesn’t come around every day, and may only show up once or twice per week.

Field inspectors do have cell phones, but they have been told to limit the calls they make, and in many cases, have kept their phone numbers secret so the waiting and wondering contractor can’t call to find out when to anticipate the inspection might occur, or even to check that the inspection was ordered. Many contractors feel they need to have someone from their staff on-site when the inspection occurs in an attempt to minimize failed inspections, because if the work is failed, the next round of calling and waiting begins.

And the situation isn’t all rosy with city and county inspection processes either. Santa Fe and Rio Rancho problems are becoming legendary. CID tells us they feel they have overall responsibility for making sure code compliance systems work effectively throughout the state, including local plan check and inspection processes. If that is so, why aren’t they stepping up to do something about the problems in Rio Rancho and Santa Fe?

Part of the answer may be CID’s budget. Amazingly, throughout this current building boom, CID has been losing budgeted staff positions. Again this Session the Legislative Finance Committee recommended a “flat” budget for CID.

It is truly time for CID to look at the inefficiency of their processes. Is it really necessary to have different inspectors go to a house to look at the work of different trades? Couldn’t a single well-trained inspector do that more efficiently? Why can’t CID figure out a way to have more inspection resources available when one inspector gets behind? Other states use private inspectors on a fill-in basis so why can’t we do that?

All of this is a huge frustration for the construction industry and a very unnecessary expense. I am convinced the cost of all this has become far more than the value of the good it does for the citizens of New Mexico. Something needs to change. If you are experiencing inspection problems in your area, let us know. Be prepared to give enough details to back up your story. Together we can change this for the better.