December, 2008
Legislative News
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Legislation and Lobbying: Toolbox Essentials

JANET SWANDBY

One year ago at the ASHI Leadership Training Conference, I outlined why home inspectors and ASHI are, and should be, involved in the legislative arena. I reviewed the lessons your colleagues and I have learned as we tackled home inspector legislation over the past dozen or so years.

With this article, I will outline the tools  and tips I shared at this year’s Leadership Training Conference. They should aid your navigation in uncharted legislative waters.

But first, a quick review. There have been home inspector licensing laws since 1991, when Texas was the first state to regulate your profession. North Carolina and South Carolina soon followed. Today, 34 of the 50 states have laws on the books licensing, certifying or otherwise regulating home inspectors. Just in the past year, three states have been added to the ranks of the regulated:  Washington, Kansas and New Hampshire.

I need to emphasize that if you live or work in one of the 34 states with a licensing law, you cannot stop reading. Laws are not the Ten Commandments. They are not etched in stone. Just because you have a law on the books in your state today does not mean that it will stay that way. Your colleagues in New Jersey had the harrowing experience of watching a good law regulating home inspectors severely weakened. Everyone in ASHI needs to remain vigilant when it comes to legislation.

Some readers may be wondering why ASHI is involved in legislation and lobbying. Contrary to what you may think, ASHI’s goal is NOT to pass new laws. ASHI did not start this war. The call for the licensing of home inspectors came from others who wanted them regulated.

Not a champion for new laws

Why isn’t ASHI a champion for new laws? Because licensing laws will NOT improve your business. In the 17 years that home inspector regulation has existed, it has been clearly demonstrated that laws do NOT do any of the following:
  • Raise the bar,
  • Eliminate the lowlifes, or
  • Shoot down the fly-by-nights.
We now know that the states with licensing have more home inspectors, not fewer, than the states without licensing.

All ASHI members need to be reminded that we are involved in legislation and grass-roots lobbying to play defense, not offense. We encourage ASHI members’
involvement in their state’s legislative initiatives to protect themselves and their home inspector colleagues from bad laws.

Bad laws a threat

Why are bad laws a threat to ASHI members? Here are just some of the ways that bad laws can affect your
business.

Bad laws can include the following:

  1. A test that does not measure knowledge applied by good home inspectors.
  2. Ridiculously low standards for entry into practice.
  3. No Standards of Practice, or limits on what can be inspected, or outrageous requirements for what must be inspected.
  4. No ethical standards – thereby jeopardizing the independence of home inspectors.
  5. No continuing education requirements – putting quality home inspectors at a competitive disadvantage.
  6. No limits on liability – sticking the home inspectors with the tab when systems fail.
  7. Requirements that home inspectors have errors and omissions insurance.
  8. State-mandated report forms.
  9. No complaint registry  leaving consumers with no way to complain about poor service.
Your involvement in the legislative process will help protect you from these bad laws. And keep in mind that good laws do not always stay that way. If you and your ASHI chapter are not legislatively involved, things will be done TO you, not FOR you, in your state Capitol.

If your state regulates home inspectors, your goal should be to have in place the best possible law. If your state does not yet regulate the profession, expect that legislation will be proposed and be prepared to lobby for a good law.

State regulations should include:
  • Standards for Entry into Practice
  • Education Requirements
  • Valid Examination
  • Standards of Practice
  • Continuing Education Requirements
  • Ethical Standards
  • Liability Limits
  • Regulatory Board
  • Complaint Registry
Your goal should be to have as many of these components as possible in any law enacted to regulate home inspectors. There is one important lesson that we have learned over the years, and it appears to be an especially tough lesson to accept.

Bigger not always better

Like the guy who decides that if one pill a day is good, two should be better, we have found that there are harmful side effects from going too far or asking for too much. 

Don’t waste time on the following:

  • Setting high standards for entry into practice such as training standards or experience (e.g. apprenticeship) standards
  • Monopolizing the regulatory board
  • Naming ASHI in the regulations
When home inspectors lobby for any of these things in their state’s law, they are inviting the political pendulum. If the pendulum swings too far to the right, it always eventually swings back to the left. This lesson was best illustrated in New Jersey. The original law regulating home inspectors included high training and experience standards. But after a few years, someone felt that those standards were keeping good people out of the profession. The law was revised. The pendulum swung in the opposite direction. We have seen similar situations when a state’s regulatory board is packed with only home inspectors — not even a consumer representative. In another state, membership in ASHI was the standard for entry into practice. Soon, members of NAHI or NACHI asked why their credentials were not sufficient. If you go too far, the pendulum will eventually swing the other way.

Next month, watch for the toolbox essentials that will improve your chances for a successful outcome in the legislative arena.

Toolbox essentials
  • Know what you want.
  • Think like a legislator.
  • Lower your expectations.
  • Get help.
And finally, we’ll review what to look for in a lobbyist.
Home inspectors can be extremely successful in the legislative arena if they do their homework and use the tips and tools provided to their advantage.