Saying they want a "level playing field" financially and in quality, members of the Lawrence Home Builders Assn. are asking the city to begin licensing building contractors.
"I think it lends some credibility to local builders," said Bud Hunt, past president of the association. "There are some people who maybe aren't quite qualified, who could be building right now and shouldn't be."
Victor Torres, the city's director of Neighborhood Resources, said licensing would cut down on problems caused by unknowledgeable contractors doing construction that doesn't meet Lawrence codes. That, in turn, would protect home buyers.
"We run into some cases where they build and it doesn't meet code," said Torres, whose department inspects construction sites. "We get there, there's a code violation, and they need to redo work. And when they redo work, it costs somebody money."
He said of licensing: "This is one piece of the puzzle that will help."
The city already licenses about 1,000 contractors in the mechanical, plumbing and electrical trades, but there is no requirement for building contractors.
Bobbie Flory, executive director of the Lawrence Home Builders Assn., in September contacted city officials proposing a licensing program with several elements:
- A continuing education requirement, so contractors must be aware of new building techniques and code changes.
- A requirement for workers' compensation and general liability insurance policies.
- A "grandfather" clause allowing nearly 200 established Lawrence building contractors to receive licenses without going through the testing process to qualify for licenses, although those contractors would be subject to the insurance and education requirements.
Flory said the workers' compensation requirement "puts everybody on an even playing field -- it's just a check to make sure everybody is playing by the same rules."
Asked whether some contractors were able to underbid competitors by not paying for workers' compensation insurance, Flory said: "Possibly."
"I wouldn't say it's about competition," she said of the licensing proposal. "It's about raising the level of professionalism."
Torres said that creating a licensing system shouldn't cost the city any money; providing the education required to maintain licenses, however, could cost up to $40,000 annually. Some education could come from an established program in Johnson County.
No license fees have been proposed.
Mayor David Dunfield called the licensing proposal "promising."
"I think the home builders recognize their interests are not served by having unqualified people out there building houses," he said.
"It's a positive move for the builders," she said, "but also the home-buying public."