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Dealers, Construction Interests' Next Worry: Slower Permit and Building Inspection Operations

Building material dealers, home builders, and remodelers already have begun ramping up efforts to keep local government permit offices and building inspectors on the job even as the coronavirus prompts civic leaders to order non-essential operations closed.

The concern is so great that in Georgia, home builders persuaded Gov. Brian Kemp to issue an executive order removing the usual time limitations for getting plans reviewed and projects inspected. In addition, Georgia contractors now have the option of retaining a "private professional provider" to do the plan review or inspection.

The National Association of Home Builders reported March 25 that 57% of the respondents to a recent survey reported that the coronavirus has had an impact on how long it takes to get a plan review for a typical single-family home, and 50% reported an impact on how long the local building department takes to respond to a request for inspection. In both cases, about 20% of the survey's 308 respondents nationwide described the impact as major.

Permits and inspections are handled by local governments, so collecting data on whether they are changing because of COVID-19 is a challenge. But official announcements from governments and anecdotal evidence from remodeler discussion boards and other email traffic suggest a slowdown is on the way.

For instance, in Wake County, NC--home to the state capital city, Raleigh--a just-issued stay-at-home order because of coronavirus has led to the county's permit office to be open only from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. "The time to issue permits and inspections may slow down during this period," the county warned. The same hours apply to the office where contractors can pull a map.

"We have heard good stories of our customers reaching out to various building departments and offering up solutions that protect the safety of building inspectors by using alternative means to keep inspections going and allowing projects to move ahead," Tony Shepley of Shepley Wood Products said in a letter to customers on March 20.

The District of Columbia's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has put its entire permit application and plan review process are online, including virtual walk-throughs for small construction projects of less than 1,000 square feet. "Video consultations are available for large construction projects greater than 1,000 square feet," the department added. "Payments can be made by credit card, or checks can be mailed to a lock box."

"Some building commissioners are allowing photographs to be used as documentation for parts of the inspection process, such as nailing inspections," he added. "Others are allowing affidavits, in the manner of controlled construction, from engineers or design professionals to take the place of standard inspections. Other Building Departments have agreed to do inspections if the site is vacated prior to the inspection and the inspector can perform the walk-through alone with the builder available to answer questions over the phone. We urge you to reach out to your building commissioner to offer whatever you can to help them. They are in this just as deep as the rest of us. This is a perfect time to find ways to work together."

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