Thursday, July 25, 2024

NC Home Builders Association pushes building code reform, gives maximum donations to local officials

One of the state’s most powerful lobbying groups is spending heavily, including on donations to local legislators, as it works to enact building code reform and other legislative priorities. (Courtesy Port City Daily)

NORTH CAROLINA — One of the state’s most powerful lobbying groups is spending heavily, including on donations to local legislators, as it works to enact building code reform and other legislative priorities.

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In a May 10 statement, the North Carolina Home Builders Association Director of Legislative Affairs Steven Webb celebrated the North Carolina House’s passage of Senate Bill 166, titled 2024 Building Code Regulatory Reform, and described it as the group’s top legislative priority for the 2024 session. 

S.B. 166 includes a broad scope of regulatory changes, including:

  • Fast-tracking North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s sewer review process
  • Allowing private compliance inspectors to review certain wastewater systems
  • Putting new requirements on registered environmental health specialists
  • Reducing the mandatory minimum setback between water supply wells and on-site wastewater systems to 50 feet from the current standard of 100 feet

North Carolina’s building code is reviewed and amended by the 17-member, governor-appointed Building Code Council. S.B. 166 also would reform the council to 13 members who are appointed by the General Assembly and governor.

The bill is currently in the Senate Rules and Operation Committee. Port City Daily reached out to Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), the committee’s chair, to ask for updates but didn’t receive a response by press.

Negotiations over the new building code bill come after last year’s passage of H.B. 488, which restricted updates to energy efficiency standards for the state’s residential building code until 2031. The bill created a new legal body, the Residential Code Council, to determine the new standards in 2031 and diminished the authority of the Building Code Council, which had proposed new energy efficiency requirements. including insulation and heating system requirements. The NCHBA argued the proposed update, including new insulation, material, and heating system rules, would drive up costs and worsen the housing affordability crisis. 

New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple, a member of the Building Code Council, told PCD he believed the NCHBA’s lobbying efforts are shortsighted due to increasing coastal storm risk and homeowner insurance rates. He cited a provision in H.B. 488 that bans local governments from requiring sheathing inspections unless they are exposed to winds over 140 mph.

Zapple also argued delaying building code rules makes North Carolina less competitive for federal grant funding, noting the code hadn’t been updated in years.

“Technology and energy conservation has come a long way since 2018,” he said. “We’re being prevented from taking advantage of that.”

An April 2024 Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety report described NC’s new limitations on building code updates as “the most concerning negative action” taken among 18 hurricane-prone states assessed since 2021. The nonprofit noted the change would increase homeowners’ vulnerability to severe weather.

Emails obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute show NCHBA helped draft the 2023 bill with the bill’s sponsor Rep. Mark Brody (R-Anson) and legislative aides. The association spent $346,458 lobbying in 2023, according to Secretary of State records.

The NCHBA’s political spending has continued apace in the short session. Its PAC spent $214,550 in the first quarter of 2024, including maximum $6,400 donations to local state senators Brent Jackson (R-Pender), Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), and Michael Lee (R-New Hanover).

NCHBA gave $1,000 to area representatives Frank Iler (R-Brunswick), Ted Davis Jr. (R-New Hanover), Charles Miller (R-Brunswick, New Hanover), and Carson Smith (R-Pender).

The four representatives voted in favor of S.B. 166. PCD reached out to local senators to ask their position on the bill but did not hear back by press.

NCHBA is also involved in ongoing negotiations for H.B. 385, which contains a provision to ease development restrictions on archaeological and historic sites, such as Indian burial grounds. According to a Wednesday WRAL report, sponsor Sen. Michael Lazarra said the Home Builders Association helped craft the bill.

PCD reached out to the NCHBA to ask for more details about their legislative agenda and if the association helped craft other bills but did not hear back by press.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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