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In hearings that lasted from four in the afternoon until nearly four in the morning, the House State Affairs Committee heard testimony Monday and early Tuesday from a large number of aggrieved citizens and several consumer advocacy groups on how to reform the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC) and the Home Lemon Law.
Organizations which showed up to support homeowners’ rights included the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Texas Watch, Homeowners for Better Building, Texas AARP, Public Citizen and Homeowners Against Deficient Dwelling. In addition, dozens of ordinary Texas homeowners came to share their stories with the members of the committee.
Several bills relating to TRCC reform were up for discussion. Suggestions included making the TRCC’s inspection and dispute resolution process voluntary rather than mandatory, giving the agency more enforcement power, abolishing certain TRCC fees and strengthening conflict-of-interest provisions.
Also up for discussion was House Bill 2721, the “Home Lemon Law” filed by Representative Senfronia Thompson. This marked the first time in American history that a home lemon law had received hearings in a state legislative committee. Were it to become law, it would require builders to buy back a house from homeowners if it were found to have severe defects.
“Homeowners in Texas are hurting,” said Jeff Brooks, advocate for TexPIRG. “Builders are systematically exploiting homeowners and bilking them out of millions of dollars. Many of the bills which were considered at this hearing offer imaginative and effective ideas that would greatly improve the situation and we are delighted that so many came to show their support.”
Several pieces of legislation were considered which would substantially reform the TRCC. According to the consumer advocates, the bills which would protect homeowners’ rights most effectively were House Bill 295 by Representative Jessica Farrar, House Bill 1686 by Representative Ruth McClendon and House Bill 2008 by Representative Todd Smith. These bills would make the inspection process voluntary rather than mandatory, abolish the fees homeowners are currently required to pay, give the TRCC more enforcement power and strengthen conflict-of-interest provisions.
“The process that homeowners must endure to see that their homes are repaired must be made voluntary, free, and effectively enforced,” said Pamela Bolton, Director of Policy & Research at Texas Watch. “Without these changes the TRCC will lack the ability to protect homeowners by effectively overseeing the homebuilding industry.”
Janet Ahmad, President of Homeowners for Better Building, strongly stressed her support for the Home Lemon Law. “ Representative Thompson’s Home Lemon Law is the first bill of its kind to be introduced in the nation,” Ahmad said. “A lemon law would give an incentive to builders to construct a home right the first time, or else be forced to buy the house back if the builder fails to make repairs.”
All of the legislation was left pending in committee. The consumer advocates believe it is likely that a committee substitute bill, incorporating different elements of the various bills, will be sent to the floor.
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