January 1st was not only the first day of a new year, but it may have been the first day in a new legislative session in your home state. And, once again, we’re here to help.
What can you expect from your government affairs consultant?
We monitor all state legislatures and report to ASHI about any legislation affecting home inspection and home inspectors – all legislation being considered in any of the 50 states.
What’s the trend?
In 1991, only Texas had a law regulating home inspection. North Carolina followed in 1993. In the past 10 years, we have gone from two states with laws regulating home inspectors to 27 states. Today more than 50 percent of the states have some law regulating home inspectors or home inspections.
In the past year, two states-Alaska and Indiana-were added to the list of those with regulations. More important, revisions to existing laws passed in five different states: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.
The number of revisions delivers a message. If your state already regulates home inspectors, don’t stop reading. Having a law on the books does not mean that new legislation affecting your profession will not be introduced. State laws are not etched in stone like the Ten Commandments. Laws change. There is no guarantee the law you have on the books today will stay that way. Some lawmaker may get the bright idea the law regulating home inspectors needs to be modified, and that modification may not be in your best interest.
More – squared
The amount of legislative activity affecting your profession has increased exponentially. In 2003, there was legislative activity in 24 different states. More than one bill was introduced in Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Tennessee. Some states have had bills introduced to regulate home inspections every year for a decade, with none ever passing into law. It is easy to be lulled to sleep by these perennially introduced bills, but you have to remain vigilant. You never know when Prince Charming may awaken that Sleeping Beauty.
Because 2004 will be an election year in most states, we expect the bulk of legislative activity to occur between January and April. Much could happen quickly. It is essential that you and your colleagues are ready.
Adjusting to Change
ASHI has done an admirable job of adjusting over the years. When I first began working with ASHI, members who championed regulation of the profession were a small minority. The mood was to vehemently oppose all licensing, certification, or whatever anyone wanted to call government interference. ASHI chapters were successful in killing legislation, and the efforts were viewed as victories in holding off the forces of evil.
But momentum changes require adjustments. It is much like a football team. Just because the running game has been working in the first half, doesn’t mean the team strategy should be more of the same. To be successful, the team must be able to shift to a passing game if the defense makes adjustments.
The first adjustment ASHI made was to develop a new strategy. The stated position was to oppose any proposed state regulation unless it was found to be necessary to protect the public. But the underlying strategy shifted to the tactic of making the most of a bad situation. If a state is going to regulate the profession, let’s make sure that it uses ASHI’s Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. And to truly protect the consumer, states must have a valid examination. Use ours.
The second deft move that ASHI made was to spin off the home inspector examination. Now ASHI can champion an independent examination that meets national testing standards.
Last year, ASHI made another adjustment that is particularly laudable. ASHI produced its Position Statement on the Regulation of Home Inspectors. As more and more states considered the regulation of home inspection, ASHI had to be able to better answer the questions of legislators, their staffs, and particularly, the bill drafters. What should be included in a law regulating home inspectors? What makes a good law? Which states have done a good job?
Without the ASHI Position Statement, bill drafters across the country will check what other states have on the books. They will go to any and all states with laws regulating home inspectors. Without ASHI’s guidance, these bill drafters will decide, on their own, which state to use as a model. And, no offense guys, but there are some current laws that are poor examples of how best to regulate home inspectors.
The ASHI Membership wants legitimate regulations. ASHI wants to see standards of practice, ethics, continuing education requirements, a valid examination, provisions to protect the home inspector from undue liability, and protections for the consumer from potential conflicts of interest.
To produce the ASHI Position Statement, the Legislative Commit-tee and I took all of the good ideas from all of the current laws. The goal was to get any state considering regulation to draft a comprehensive law that was going to truly protect the consumer by holding home inspectors to high standards and keeping home inspectors independent. We also rated and ranked the existing laws so bill drafters will not use bad laws as models for their own efforts.
The ASHI Position Statement is an excellent tool. Use it whenever you talk with a legislator about regulation. ASHI chapters planing to encourage introduction of legislation now have an excellent template to share with potential bill sponsors. Chapters challenging legislation can share the Position Statement in an effort to improve a bad bill.
The Boy Scouts were right
A rule of lobbying: If you are not actively involved, things will be done TO you, not FOR you. The Boy Scouts were right, BE PREPARED. If you already have a law regulating home inspectors in your state, expect changes to be proposed. If there is no law, determine your chapter’s strategy. Will you propose a law (with the ASHI Position Statement as a model)? Or will you oppose the introduction of any bill to regulate?
If you plan to oppose, be ready to compromise. Be prepared for a shift in momentum. I have had the honor of lobbying for home inspectors in Wisconsin. For 10 years, the Wisconsin members of ASHI were able to stop legislation that had been championed by the Wisconsin Realtors Association® (WRA). But each legislative session, WRA® got a little bit closer to its goal. Part of my job, as their lobbyist, was to advise them when there had been a change in the momentum. When it occurred, we pushed for a compromise bill, and were successful in making the Wisconsin law considerably better than it would have been. WRA® did not get everything it wanted, and the Wisconsin law is now in the top tier of laws regulating home inspectors.
Over the years, I have come to know the battle cry of those who oppose all regulation. Where’s the need? Show me the need for regulation of home inspectors?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. Not one of the laws regulating home inspectors was the result of a hue and cry from the masses. Not one of the laws on the books today was in response to dozens of consumers being “ripped off” by shoddy home inspectors – not one example of a groundswell of public sentiment.
Why is that?
It’s because laws are not based on logic. They are founded in emotion. The need does not have to be real. A perceived need is enough. All it takes is one legislator hearing from one lonely, unhappy constituent. One person who was unhappy with a home inspection can be enough motivation to get a bill drafted. If you are particularly unlucky, the constituent can be the staff member or relative of a legislator.
But often there is absolutely no one who has complained. All it takes is a call from the real estate association or the homebuilders who would like to see home inspectors regulated so that their liability is reduced.
Even worse, the introduction of a bill often can be traced to one legislator who attends a conference and meets up with a legislator from another state, whose claim to fame is that he recently got home inspectors licensed. The first legislator decides he needs to get that done in his state. Got to protect the consumer, you know.
Don’t wait for a crisis
Be sure to network with all home inspectors in your state – not just ASHI membership. There are far too many examples of bad legislation adopted because home inspectors in a particular state could not agree on what was best for the profession. If you have warring factions, legislators will throw up their hands and tell you to come back when you have worked things out. In the meantime, those who are interested in passing laws to protect their interests (not the consumer’s or the home inspector’s interests) will have the upper hand. Divide and conquer is not reserved for the battlefield. It is used in statehouses across this country. Build your coalition before you need it.
Begin identifying and working with consumer protection groups. There are groups who help renters position themselves to become homeowners, and there are the Better Business Bureaus, as well as other groups with similar missions.
Get to know your state legislators now. Each ASHI Member needs to build a solid, personal relationship with one or more legislators. You never know when you will need their help, and you will be more likely to get a favorable response if they know you and know about home inspection as a profession and a business.
Interview lobbyists now. Your chapter will need a lobbyist because lobbyists know the legislative process as insiders. They know the players, and can advise on when to talk to whom. They will know who is in a position to make things happen for ASHI.
I know that many chapters will debate whether or not a lobbyist is a necessary expense. Some will want to save money, thinking that chapter members can do the lobbying on their own. Grassroots lobbying is essential, but you still will need the expertise of a professional. You’ll actually waste time and money trying to do the work on your own.
Use the ASHI Legislative Guidebook, which is online on the ASHI Web site. Your colleagues have found that it is an excellent place to start. And talk to each other. Learn what has worked in other states – and what didn’t.
Get to work
ASHI has provided you with strategic plans and excellent tools (like the Position Statement and the Guidebook), but each chapter and its Members must do the work. You know your state and, ultimately, you’ll have to live with any regulations passed into law where you do business. Self-interest – that should be enough of a motivator.