City officials have released a draft version of a new ordinance aimed to ease the minds of potential homeowners and others who deal with area builders.
Officials in Lawrence's Neighborhood Resources Department are seeking public comment on a proposed ordinance that would create a new licensing process that builders must complete if they want to do business in the city.
"We think it is a good idea that we have some guidelines in place for how contractors conduct business and interact with their customers," said Barry Walthall, codes enforcement manager for the city. "It will give us some guidelines that we don't have now."
The code would require basically every type of builder in the city to pay a $200-per-year fee and agree to take eight hours of training in building trades issues per year. Walthall said the city was working out an arrangement with Johnson County officials to allow Lawrence builders to attend a twice-per-year series of classes that they provide to builders.
"They have dozens of classes that they offer that basically cover about every component of the building code," Walthall said.
The proposed licensing requirement would cover both home builders and construction companies that build commercial or apartment buildings. The code also would require specialty companies, such as framers, concrete companies and even fireplace installers, to be licensed. Plumbers, electrical and mechanical contractors already are required to be licensed by the city.
Members of the Lawrence Homebuilders Assn. asked city officials to create the new regulations.
"It should give people the knowledge that your builder has taken the time to get licensed and isn't some fly-by-night company," said Mark Engleman of Lawrence-based Mark Engleman Builders. "The way it is now, you can stick a magnetic sign on your truck and call yourself a contractor."
Walthall said his office did receive complaints from homeowners who believed their contractor was incompetent.
"It is not something that we get a call on every day or every week, but we do get calls, and sometimes we find those complaints are founded," Walthall said. "We want to prevent as many future problems as possible. This licensing program would ensure that every contractor has a basic level of knowledge."
Engleman said he thought the quality of current builders in Lawrence was good, but he said that had not always been the case. He said when the housing market became extremely hot, it had attracted questionable companies.
"In parts of the '80s and '90s, everybody and his brother was a builder around here because you could sell a home without any problems," Engleman said.
Here's a look at other requirements included in the proposed ordinance:
- To initially receive a license, builders would have to prove they have been in business for five to 15 years, depending on the type of license they are applying for, or have a degree in engineering, architecture or construction science from an accredited university, or pass a 32-hour building code course. If they are licensed in another community, that also may allow them to receive a Lawrence license.
- Contractors would be required to have between $500,000 to $1 million in general liability insurance coverage, depending on the type of work being performed.
- Contractors could have their license suspended if they're found to have violated certain parts of the building code or other regulations. They could appeal a suspension to a new Contractor Licensing Board, which would be made up of contractors, city officials and a member of the general public.
- The regulations would not prohibit homeowners from making repairs or conducting minor projects at their own home.