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Inspector Outsourcing

The Clark County Development Services faces a perpetual shortage of inspectors resulting in a backlog of inspections that number in the hundreds every day. Now the department is working on changing its administrative code to turn inspections over to third parties. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.

PLASKON: Offices, stores and high rises are made of concrete and steel and that's complicated, so builders are allowed to hire what are called third party inspectors - licensed by the county and cities in the valley to make sure commercial buildings are safe and sound.

WALKER: Ya, it was the third party inspectors that discovered that the floors were too thin.

PLASKON: Clark County Director of Aviation Randall Walker says it was third party inspectors that discovered that floors were dangerously thin in Clark County's Regional Justice Center. He impressed with what third party inspectors do at the multiple projects he supervises. Now the county wants to apply this concept to residential inspections too. Monica Caruso represents the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association.

CARUSO: It is probably a pretty good idea here is what is going on the amount of construction that is going on is swamping the building departments there are no taxpayer dollars there and even though the builders, they can't hire enough inspectors fast enough.

PLASKON: And it's been tried before.

CARUSO: Its not that rare and unusual, it is not that new.

WILKINS: It's not common for single family building inspections, it's not common at all.

PLASKON: Paul Wilkins director of the Department of Building and Safety for the City of Las Vegas says its been tried but not become adopted practice anywhere. He tried it when the city needed a lot of residential building plans reviewed all at once.

WILKINS: And so we went out and hired a third party inspection firm which was a big mistake. It was twice as long and so I plan to keep everything in house.

PLASKON: He says it slowed down the process even more. Both the home builders association and building departments have distasteful memories of third parties inspectors replacing government inspections on residential jobs. Caruso, recalls when builders paid for a full-time inspector all year only to have the job last a few months. Third party inspectors are good for commercial building because the volume is about one quarter that of residential. Clark County's top building official Ron Lynn thinks he can make it work for residential building because the county would supervise third party inspectors on residential jobs just like it does on commercial ones.

LYNN: I have 14 monitors that do nothing but monitor the abilities of these special inspectors and have the ability to summary remove anybody from performance if they feel the work is not up to the codes and standards of Clark County.

PLASKON: For most of the half million building permits issued last year, builders are self-policing anyway. Contractors paid 25 million dollars in permit fees last year. All of it was for the government inspectors Caruso says.

CARUSO: So they have already bought and paid for a building inspection process from the government but we are seeing delays in that government process and we want to move it along faster.

PLASKON: By directly hiring their own third party inspectors, the building industry would make the builder-inspector relationship more transparent. But putting home builders directly in charge of their own inspections isn't the typical case of the fox guarding the hen house.

MILLER: Ya I think it could work.

PLASKON: Thomas Miller, CEO of the Miller Law Firm, has sued every major builder for construction defects across 7 western states.

MILLER: The homeowner is probably skeptical of a builders third party inspection but you have to get beyond that because if the county is ineffective in preventing construction defects, but there is no recourse against the government inspector but there is recourse against the builder and so who has the greatest interest here, the builder is interested in his bottom line and how it plays out in the market.

PLASKON: Besides the fact that third party inspectors wouldn't reduce their liability builders have another reason to resist. Jim Waddams is a lobbyist for the Southern Nevada Homebuilders Association.

WADDAMS: That could be very expensive, as you know we have a rapidly increasing price in our construction.

PLASKON: Miller says in the face of today's mounting construction defects, the building industry is doomed if it doesn't start to do something to increase quality. He estimates third party inspectors could reduce construction defect lawsuits by 50 percent.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR