How should the City of Austin address the concerns about the lack of licensing or oversight for demolition contractors?

by rachel.crist, about 2 years ago
CLOSED: This discussion has concluded.

As noted in the Demolition Permits Audit Report, the City of Austin does not require general contractors to be licensed. State licensing requirements apply to Electrical, Plumbing, Mechanical, Asbestos abatement and other specialty trades. However, other municipalities in Texas do require licensing. For example, the City of San Antonio requires all City and State licensed contractors to be registered with Development Services before the issuance of any permit(s). What do you think the City of Austin should do to address concerns about the lack of licensing and oversight of demolition contractors?


Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Linkedin Email this link

Consultation has concluded

  • scottturner about 2 years ago
    I don't think demo contractors should be singled out. What is the need or the expected outcome of licensing demo contractors? The only time you see something going wrong with a demo in the news is when a house mover gets stuck, and that's not the same issue at all. My understanding is that demo contractors are required to be insured and are liable under the permit.
  • ncarty97 about 2 years ago
    In most aspects of construction, the contractors are not licensed. Licensed or not, demolition companies are still required to follow federal, state and local laws and face penalties for non-compliance. How will requiring licensing do anything to improve safety or compliance with regulations? The permit process now requires that the permit be obtained in the name of the demolition company. Companies that had a record of violating the law can simply be denied permits. Licensing won't do anything but add an extra level of bureaucracy, which means increased time and money for demolitions and ultimately consumers paying higher property prices.
  • Susan Wallace about 2 years ago
    Require licensed contractors to perform demolitions.
  • paladinoc over 2 years ago
    Who has these "concerns"? The City government - looking for another solution to a problem that doesn't exist? Neighbors who just don't want anything in their neighborhood to change, and see this as another way to try to stop it? Where is the evidence that this "lack of licensing or oversight" is causing any actual problems or injuries? Sorry to sound so blunt and grouchy, but I have never lived anyplace where those who are already here/have try as hard as we do to stop others from coming in/having. CHANGE IS CONSTANT. Growth is good; replacing old structures with new ones has far more positives than negatives. This City where i live has got to stop trying to "manage" growth in ways that are actually attempts to just stop it.
    Hide reply (1)
    • Mark Lind about 2 years ago
      Well, you may be right.... Since the McMansion ordinance itself has not completely deterred tear downs, it may be that some people are now trying to use the regulatory process in order to further prevent tear downs and deter new construction. *If* that's the case, it would be shameful if the City were to use concerns for health and safety to enact a politically-motivated series of new regulatory hurdles, but that *may* be what's actually prompting this proposal. And that would do long-lasting damage to our City, because that kind of regulatory abuse damages the confidence that citizens should have: namely, that their local governments are acting in an unbiased and objective manner.
  • dnegrete about 2 years ago
    What is the purpose of Licensing? HSW - Health Safety & Welfare; a concept long accepted in state and local law. Licensing requires continuing education in a persons area of work. That should not be a problem but an attribute to that service provider and has the benefit of public HSW. There is ample evidence that construction methods of the early, mid and even late 20th century commercial and residential construction were heavy users of asbestos products. Careful removal is not the expense it once was and is in everyone's interest to not have friable fibers floating all over neighborhoods or commercial sites. proper control of hazardous materials is not what is driving up the cost of housing in Austin. Its the successful economy and the open market. Something most people seem to have wanted. Having said all that, there should be an age specific time limit and simple categorization of systems and materials to justify a full blown testing procedure before demolition. This can't be one rule applies to everything.
    Hide reply (1)
    • Mark Lind about 2 years ago
      If any sort of regulation is enacted, it must be FOCUSED on houses built between years 190? and 196?, as this is the period in which asbestos was most widely used. And it should stipulate exactly _where_ and _how_ the presumed asbestos was applied, and whether that particular application would require remediation. Otherwise -- to simply require that ALL homes and ALL commercial buildings in ALL parts of town that were built in ANY era be regulated equally, would be an absolute overreach and an unjustifiably wide application of regulations intended to address a specific concern. (BUT) First, an objective study by independent researchers should be performed to assess the degree to which this concern is a problem (or whether it really is a problem at all). Depending on the results, the City could consider enacting regulations that are TARGETED only at those properties which are most likely to require remediation. Let's start basing City policies on facts and science rather than upon emotions and politically-based motivations. I would like to believe that City policies are objective, fair, balanced, and based upon some scientific or statistically-justifiable basis. Without fact-based regulations, people lose confidence in the legitimacy of governmental actions/decisions, and the important role of government regulatory processes becomes susceptible to misuse.
  • Pam Harmatiuk about 2 years ago
    The City of Austin should immediately require general contractors to be licensed for asbestos abatement and other specialty trades. Almost every week we see news stories about contractors that take advantage of people hiring their services. If they were required to be licensed they would think long and hard about misleading their customers regarding their work and the cost because their licenses would be at risk.
  • wimi over 2 years ago
    I think Austin already has more regulations in place than most other cities and this has lead to a housing shortage. More regulations is probably not the best answer to this problem. If people were dying every year in accidents related to demolitions (and regulations could fix that) then I could see regulations being warranted. But otherwise this is a case of simply making our housing shortage worse than it already is.
    Hide reply (1)
    • AustinCitizen over 2 years ago
      The problem is not *just* people dying (or being seriously injured) due to physical hazards on the job, though that is certainly a risk in demolition work, the issue is also about workers and the public being exposed to health hazards that have very serious effects on people’s health down the road. Asbestos related diseases, for instance, have a long latency period. Take a moment and look at OSHA’s violation database sorted by the Austin office and by NAICS code 238910 (site preparation contractors) and you’ll see a variety of violations. Keep in mind that OSHA does not actively inspect residential job sites and often times workers are kept ignorant of the health hazards they’re encountering or are fearful for various reasons about filing a complaint. Here is a link to an OSHA press release citing several contractors for willful violations relating to asbestos on their job site. Though this happened in San Antonio, it may give you some idea of what goes on.
  • AustinCitizen over 2 years ago
    I support city licensing of demolition contractors, a requirement of which should be training of their crews in applicable OSHA standards as well as an onsite safety coordinator. To ensure that existing federal regulation is followed would go a long way to improving job site safety as well as reduce health risks to workers and the public.
  • danerenberg over 2 years ago
    Honestly, COA needs to ask themselves the question of "what level of demolition should require a permit". As everyone else has chimed in, it's ridiculous that I have to submit a survey of my property to enlarge a window in my house. GTFO of my business! It's expensive enough to fix up my aging home. I don't need you to get in the way. Every bit of time contractors spend going through the permit process ends with me spending exponentially more money without having any work done. And, what about OSHA? Why is this a problem for COA? If you're going to make it harder for people to get demolition permits, then you better have very clear guidelines of exactly how you expect the work to be carried out in every situation. That sounds like an awful lot of stuff we don't need COA to be expending efforts on. Why don't you focus more on getting these damn toll roads out of our town. I'd prefer you just get out of the way and let these hard working guys and gals do their jobs!
  • Sogden over 2 years ago
    Austin has more regulation than most other municipalities and is well known for that. Why try to emulate another City on regulations that we are “lacking” in? Reign in the regulations. It makes housing more affordable for the little guy and affordable housing could actually happen rather than trying to legislating it on builders and contractors
    Hide reply (1)
    • cmgiles0 over 2 years ago
      yep, we never try to mimic any of those municipalities when it comes to making things easier, do we??
  • Ford Prefect over 2 years ago
    Follow San Antonio's lead and require a city license for demolition contractors.
    Hide reply (1)
    • cmgiles0 over 2 years ago
      i'm ok with that if we can follow their lead on how quickly you can get a permit too.
  • Onetalltreeman over 2 years ago
    I agree that the City of Austin needs to have all its contractors that do demolition, whether partial or full, be licensed. If by chance, someone does get impacted by the lack of demolition precautions, then the contractors general liability insurance should be able to cover the situation, whether it is physical or medical in nature.
  • AustinResident over 2 years ago
    The only "concerns" come from a very small subset of people and a few Council Members whose primary objectives are to slow down and eliminate demolitions altogether. Please post all of the concerned comments you've received somewhere publicly. How many documented cases are there where contractors worked in harmful ways? Can you share those on the website, if so?

    Requiring more licensing will raise costs and will exacerbate the affordability problem that everyone is supposedly concerned about too.
    Hide Replies (3)
    • AustinCitizen over 2 years ago
      Hi, Council Member Tovo said that she had heard from constituents with concerns about what they were being exposed to from these demolitions. Likewise, KXAN had a segment with a business owner surrounded by demolition sites, who is concerned as well.”.

      When watching the video you will see that none of the debris is being wetted during removal, and there is also a lack of adequate barrier fencing, allowing dust and debris to travel off-site easily. As there is currently no meaningful regulation of residential demolition I wouldn’t expect there to be documented cases of contractors violating non-existent city rules. While requiring proper abatement and demolition may increase costs to builders and investors, the affordability issues that this city faces are the result of much stronger factors than health and safety regulations.
      Hide Replies (2)
      • Mark Lind over 2 years ago
        "...may increase costs to builders and investors, ..."
        This is a symptom of the problem! People incorrectly believe that only wealthy investors or builders are behind redevelopment projects and home demolitions, but who do you think hires the builder or pays for the home after it has been completed?? The citizens of Austin, of course. Every single fee and cost is going to be passed along to the buyer! So while you denigrate concerns over the ever increasing cost of living here, it is becoming really difficult for anyone other than wealthy people to live here! And all of the layers of bureaucracy and fees and delays on the part of the City are directly responsible for contributing to the problem. So what you may think you are trying to prevent, is EXACTLY what you are in fact creating !!! (i.e.: gentrification itself) We need to exhibit a reasonable degree of restraint when making new laws and regulations, and only do those that are essential !!
        Hide reply (1)
        • AustinCitizen over 2 years ago
          I think we may have a fundamental disagreement about what constitutes “affordable.” I don’t think of anyone who has the resources to demolish an existing house and hire a builder for a new one as someone who worries about affordability, at least how I understand the word. This is why I conceded that ensuring a level of safety and professionalism in demolitions may increase costs (a bit), but I don’t think they’ll have an effect on baseline affordability. That said, this is not what this discussion is about, which is to bring up ideas that would increase the safety of home demolitions here.

          I also hope that those in the real estate industry who may be currently opposed to these changes think about how they may appeal to buyers. It would go a long way to ensuring a clients piece of mind to be assured that the lot their new house sits on on was less likely to be contaminated with lead and other hazards from the previous house, and that they could grow a vegetable garden or let their children play in the dirt with less worry.
  • Mark Lind over 2 years ago
    First of all, I think you need to distinguish between commercial buildings and residential buildings! As far as residential demolitions go, I do not believe that this is a big enough problem to warrant yet another layer of codes and regulations. Unless you can show definitively that neighbors are getting sick from houses being demolished, then I don't think this is a large enough problem that it would require more regulations. I have lived here all of my life and I do not recall hearing about someone getting sick from a house being demolished. The level of regulations in Austin is currently far too high already, and I say that as someone who firmly believes that one of a government's primary responsibilities is regulating businesses. But a government also needs to show a degree of restraint and judgement that I feel is sorely lacking in Austin these days! This city keeps adding layers and layers of regulations and at the same time wondering what it can do to make living here more affordable! The two issues are directly related to each other!! We the citizens of Austin are the ones who pay the extra thousands of dollars in cost every time you guys create a new rule, so please just stop!! There are enough rules on the books at the moment, thank you. You guys at the city are like junkies addicted to adding more rules. When will it ever stop??
    Hide Replies (2)
    • AustinCitizen over 2 years ago
      You seem to suggest that this problem would seem to take care of itself as “Sick guys can't work, after all, and Contractors don't want to lose their employees.” This may be true in a narrow sense, but one wouldn’t expect someone to get ill right away from some of these hazards. Asbestos is a carcinogen considered unsafe at any level of exposure. Asbestos related illnesses have a long latency period, often robbing people of health and ultimately life, long after their usefulness to their past employers. It sounds as though the contractors you have worked with are conscientious about what they expose their employees to and how they approach their work. This is by no means widespread however, as many contractors fail to properly train and protect them from these hazards in accordance with OSHA rules. If workers are not being properly protected then the public most likely isn’t either.

      Lead is similarly unsafe at any level of exposure and through accumulation can lead to many health issues in adults. It is most harmful, however, to the cognitive and behavioral development of children, even in very small amounts. I think this is what is guiding many Austinite's concern about how these demolitions are being carried out and what neighbors to demolition sites are being exposed to in the fallout. The dust generated during these demolitions does not stop at the property line and I don’t think Austinites should have to be exposed to these hazards, especially on their own properties and in their own homes.

      Also, Your characterization of lead paint as typical even in homes as recent as late 1990s is incorrect as the manufacture of lead paint for residential use was banned at the federal level in 1978.
      Hide reply (1)
      • AustinCitizen over 2 years ago
        Sorry, this was intend as a reponse to your post under "How might the City of Austin better reinforce safety requirements for demolitions? "
  • DavidW over 2 years ago
    If state regulation is not deemed sufficient by the City, is the City planning on creating a department that issues and oversees licensing and registration? What will the requirements be and how will contractors obtain licensing and registration. Please include in this discussion the cost of such a new City department, and clarify the authority to operate under Texas Property Code.
  • RioGTomlin over 2 years ago
    I would simply like to agree with the other comments posted regarding a current environment in COA that has created too many regulations and permits for homeowners.
  • anyckturgeon over 2 years ago
    For the last 10 years, I have tried to improve my house and find ridiculous the amount of permitting requirements that are required in Austin. In fact, after meeting with 15 different contracting firms to add a deck to my house, I came to the conclusion with the contractors that it would be easier for me to buy a house elsewhere or build from scratch - rather than trying to expand / replace the deck around my house given the current permitting regulations and requirements that already exist. When a deck expansion is estimated to cost $280,000 for a house priced at $450,000, I think that we already have too many regulations and are prohibiting people from being able to fix their properties from dangerous situations - like rotting deck, termite-infestation, etc. By coming up with more regualtions, it is clear that we have TOO MUCH GOVERNMENT and need to cut down on the amount of politicians. Let's not add more permitting requirements when the current ones do not make sense at all and are prohibitive of enabling people from fixing current issues.