January, 2003
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Be Prepared for the 2003 Legislative Sessions

JANET SWANDBY

January 1 was not only the first day of a new year, but it was the first day in a new legislative session in your home state. In odd-numbered years, almost every legislature in every state in the union is in session for at least a few months of the year.

What can you expect from a government affairs consultant? Action.

We monitor all state legislatures and report to ASHI about any legislation affecting home inspection and home inspectors – any legislation offered in any of the 50 states. We’ve been providing this service to ASHI for many years.  

What’s the trend? More.

When we began providing this legislative tracking service, only a few states regulated home inspectors. Now half of all states have some form of regulation. Every year, we see more legislation introduced in more states across the nation.

If your state already regulates home inspectors, don’t stop reading. Hav-ing a law on the books regulating home inspectors does not mean there will be no new legislation introduced affecting your profession. State laws are not like the Ten Commandments. They are not etched in stone. Laws change. There is no guarantee that the law you have on the books today will stay that way. Some lawmaker may get the bright idea that the law regulating home inspectors needs to be modified, and that modification may not be in your best interest.

Adjusting to change

ASHI has done an admirable job of adjusting over the years. When we first began working with ASHI, the 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, quite frankly, the efforts were viewed as victories in holding off the forces of evil.

But, many ASHI members have recognized that when the momentum changes, we have to make adjustments. It is much like a football team. Just because the running game has been working in the first half, doesn’t mean that 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 tremendous adjustment that ASHI made was to develop a new strategy. The stated position was to oppose any proposed state regulation unless it is found to be necessary to protect the public. But, the underlying strategy shifted to a tactic of making the most of a bad situation. If a state was 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 to a separate entity, the Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors (EBPHI). Now ASHI can champion an independent, high-stakes examination that meets national testing standards, without bias.

In just the last few months, ASHI has made another adjustment that is particularly laudable. The Society produced its Position Statement on the Regulation of Home Inspectors. As more states considered the regulation of home inspection, ASHI had to be able to better answer the questions of legislators, their staff, 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 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 folks, but there are some current laws that are poor examples of how best to regulate home inspectors. The home inspection profession needs legitimate regulations. We want to see standards of practice, ethics, continuing education requirements, a valid examination, provisions to protect the home inspector from undue liability, and protection for the consumer from potential conflicts of interest.

To produce the ASHI Position Statement, the Legislative Committee and I took all of the good ideas from all of the current laws. The goal is to get any state considering regulation to draft a comprehensive law that is 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 that bill drafters will not use bad laws as models for their own efforts.

The ASHI Position Statement is an excellent tool. Use it now whenever you talk with a legislator about regulation. ASHI Chapters with plans 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

One of the rules of lobbying is: 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 had the honor of lobbying for home inspectors in Wisconsin. For 10 years, members of ASHI from Wisconsin were able to stop legislation that had been championed by the Realtors®. But, each legislative session, the Realtors® got a little bit closer to their goal. Part of my job, as the inspectors’ lobbyist, was to advise them when there had been a change in the momentum. At that point, we pushed for a compromise bill. We were successful in making the Wisconsin law considerably better than it would have been. The Realtors® did not get everything they wanted, and the Wisconsin law is now in the top tier of laws regulating home inspectors.

Battle cry

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 was an example of a groundswell of public sentiment.

Why is that?

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. Often all it takes is a call from a real estate association or home builders who would like to see home inspectors regulated so that their liability is reduced. Even worse, the introduction of a bill can be traced to one legislator, Representative Jones, who attends a conference and meets up with another legislator, Senator Smith, from another state. Guess what Senator Smith’s claim to fame was that year? Yep. License the home inspectors. Gee. I think we need to get that done in my state too. Got to protect the consumer, you know.

Don’t wait for a crisis.

Begin to build coalitions now. Be sure you are networking with all home inspectors in your state – not just ASHI Membership. Now is not the time to be an elitist. And, if you are not active in your ASHI Chapter, you need to be. There truly is strength in numbers.

Begin identifying and working with consumer protection groups. Often these are groups which help renters position themselves to become home owners. Others are simply the Better Business Bureau and other groups with a similar mission.

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 they know the legislative process as an insider. They know the players, and can give you the advice you need 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 a lobbyist is a necessary expense. Some will want to save money thinking that the 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.