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Consumer Groups Blast Texas Homebuilders Agency

AUSTIN (AP) – The Texas Residential Construction Commission should be abolished because it is ineffective and shields homebuilders from liability for shoddy work, activists said Tuesday, echoing a recent state report.

The commission, which was created in 2003, was skewered last month in a state review, which found the agency does not have the trust of the consumers to protect them from unqualified builders.

The creation of the commission was backed by homebuilders. It was praised by the homebuilding industry for establishing standards and warranties for home construction, and for creating a process to resolve disputes between builders and buyers out of court.

But, consumer groups have argued the agency did more to protect builders than consumers and limited homeowners’ legal recourse in disputes.

The Sunset Review Commission, which reviews state agency performance and makes recommendations to lawmakers, said in its report that the agency’s dispute resolution process is lengthy and difficult and frustrates homeowners. Despite recent attempts to strengthen the process with new penalties, the TRCC “still has no

real power to require builders to make needed repairs,” the report said.

Homebuilders defend the agency, saying it protects homeowners and punishes “bad actors” in the industry.

“Abolishing the agency, instead of fixing its identified problems, would be shortsighted and detrimental for Texas homeowners and home buyers,” said Ron Connally, an Amarillo home builder and vice president of the Texas Association of Builders.

“The agency provides undeniable benefits and protections for consumers. Without the agency and its safeguards, the home building industry again would operate completely without regulation.”

The report found that in 88 percent of TRCC cases, consumers were unable to get their homes fixed. Some cases continue to arbitration hearings, but “there are a lot of people that simply throw up their hands in frustration and say the expense and time wasted at TRCC made it difficult if not impossible for them to move forward,” said Alex Winslow, director of the liberal watchdog group Texas Watch.

“Texas history will record TRCC to be the hallmark of a bad state policy, driven by the building industry’s agenda to unnecessarily punish homebuyers for the mistakes of their builder,” said Janet Ahmad, president of Homeowners for Better Building.

“Homeowners helplessly stand by frustrated as their homes and values are falling all because of industry greed and higher profits without accountability.”

The Sunset Commission still must vote on the report and recommendations to lawmakers.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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