BROOKSVILLE — For home inspector Michael Burmann, having the county building department's mission statement tout that it protects the interests of citizens is hard to swallow.
Last week, he told the Hernando County Commission that telling citizens a county building inspector would visit their home to inspect a roof replacement was a lie. Not only do inspectors not inspect a roof before signing off on a job, they don't even carry a ladder.
Instead, they analyze whether the contractor followed the building permit process correctly, according to county officials who have had several conversations in recent months about the matter.
At last week’s County Commission meeting, those officials agreed to take another look at their system.
Burmann showed commissioners a memo posted by the building department on June 3, stating that a final inspection could not be completed unless the inspector received an affidavit from the job site signed by the contractor, affirming that all codes were met in constructing the roof.
"So why are we still calling it an inspection?'' Burmann asked. "Why are we still getting billed for a permit? Why are we paying for an inspector, a licensed inspector, to drive out there only to confirm that the roof was done, not actually perform an inspection?''
Burmann suggested sending out a lower-paid employee to pick up the affidavit.
"It's disingenuous of them to put on the website that their mission is to protect the residents of Hernando County, to make sure the work is done to the code,'' Burmann said, "then implementing a system like this where they are not making any effort whatsoever to do that.''
When officials explained the affidavit process to the County Commission in May, "they talked about how much easier it would be to do their job, how much better it would be for contractors,'' Burmann said. "They never, ever mentioned the property owner, the people you represent.''
Burmann's comments struck a chord with Commissioner John Allocco.
"Considering the fact that we're not actually doing a roof inspection, I don't understand why we don't just have the affidavit as part of the permitting process,'' Allocco said, "and then just be done with it at the permit.''
County Administrator Jeff Rogers said he would explore changes in the process with the building department.
But no one is suggesting that inspectors conduct inspections.
At the May meeting, county building official Jim Friedrichs said that having the county examine every phase of a roof job is impractical.
"Roofs themselves are problematic, especially a shingle roof,'' Friedrichs said, adding that on a typical roof, there can be 14,000 fasteners and "those are all covered up when the work is done.”
He’s had workers fall off ladders and knows that inspectors can’t see much, even if they are on a roof.
"I don't think the risk is worth it,'' Friedrichs said.
The county looks at permits sought by licensed contractors, reviews the materials they will use and requires affidavits from contractors saying they followed all the code requirements, he said. Having those affidavits on-site ensures that homeowners have a copy in case they need it in the future.
"It is the responsibility of the contractor to do the job right. He gives the people something that says he does the job right,'' said Commissioner Wayne Dukes, adding that the county doesn't need to get into the middle of that.
If it isn't done right, the homeowner can take action against the contractor, Dukes said.
"The public doesn't understand that we are not the guarantors of the construction standards of their home,'' said county attorney Garth Coller. "We are reviewing it for different things ... we are there to make sure the process is followed.''
That is why homeowners need to be careful when they choose a contractor, Coller said.
At the May meeting, Allocco said he witnessed a case where a building inspector not only didn’t inspect a new roof, but didn't even walk around the building to make sure there was a roof in the back, raising liability questions.
Friedrichs took note of the concern.
He told commissioners that the county's building department had fared well on a recent industry audit of how it administered codes and did plan reviews and inspections.
His department is exploring a pilot program that would allow licensed inspectors to inspect building permit work remotely by having contractors provide cell-phone videos of their jobs. It would allow a quicker turnaround on permits for everyone, including homeowners.
Local contractors are on board with the idea, Friedrichs said, and he plans to "start small.''
"I think it complements what we're trying to do with electronics,'' he said.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.