State Senate keeps Homeowner's Bill of Rights alive by amending HB 1393
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee decided to kill Senate Bill 5895, the safe homes guarantee legislation sponsored by Senator Rodney Tom, which we call the Homeowner's Bill of Rights. House Judiciary Chair Jamie Pedersen (D-43rd District) confirmed to NPI last Wednesday when I met with him that his committee wouldn't even be giving SB 5895 the courtesy of a hearing.
Pedersen justified the decision by noting that his committee had held a hearing early in the session devoted exclusively to similar legislation, and that he felt giving SB 5895 a hearing would make it difficult for his committee to work on other priority bills sent over by the Senate.
(Judiciary is evidently the landing place for bills from several different Senate committees, according to Pedersen).
He also indicated that he and House Speaker Frank Chopp want HB 1393 to be the vehicle that passes the Legislature addressing the issue of home construction defects. HB 1393 is prime sponsored by Larry Springer (D-45th District).
The first incarnation of HB 1393 looked promising, and by the time the bill made it to the floor, Springer had offered a striking amendment (PDF) put together by House Democratic caucus staff that would have made it even better.
Unfortunately, Springer withdrew that amendment, and offered a second striking amendment (PDF) which we safe homes advocates have been told was largely crafted by the Building Industry Association of Washington.
This striking amendment was adopted, and it constituted the final version that passed the House, by a vote of fifty two to forty five.
Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1393 was duly transmitted to the Senate and referred to the Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, where it received a public hearing on March 23rd along with several other bills.
I testified at that hearing in opposition, explaining that HB 1393 was fatally flawed, as did my colleague Blair Anundson of WashPIRG. Also testifying in opposition were representatives of the BIAW, who oppose it, even though it's their handiwork (because they'd prefer the Legislature do nothing at all).
The most awful part of HB 1393 was Section 14, similar to New Jersey's existing law, which stipulates that home builders are required to provide a warranty with new homes. The builder, however, gets to decide what warranty is offered, not the homeowner. The builder can choose to offer a private, express warranty from companies like the Residential Warranty Corporation (RWC).
These express private warranties are worse than worthless because they provide false comfort - the misplaced assurance that everything will be taken care of. In reality, the warranties are explicitly designed to shield irresponsible builders and thwart any attempt by a homeowner to collect damages for an improperly built home. Exclusions allow the builder to claim the warranty doesn't apply, and even where both parties agree it indisputably does, the warranty requires homeowners to seek redress through an industry sponsored arbitration process.
Enacting HB 1393 with Section 14 would thus have made a bad situation worse.
Fortunately, the Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, chaired by Senator Jeanne Kohl Welles (D-36th District) listened carefully to our feedback.
This morning, they struck the language that the House passed, replacing it with new, strong language (PDF) that would protect homeowners and help builders improve their reputation.
Gone are the express warranties. Instead, there's a solid statutory warranty (which was at the heart of Senator Tom's SB 5895) that can't be waived, modified, or disclaimed. It's a guarantee of safe home construction that homeowners and builders alike will be able to bank on for years to come.
The new 1393 language, among other things, also requires wood moisture inspections for all new homes, which could help prevent problems down the line for many homeowners. And it establishes certification requirements for contractors working on roofing, siding, framing, foundations, doors, and windows.
In short, it's a really strong bill.
We commend Senators Kohl-Welles, Kline, Keiser, and Franklin for listening to our concerns and addressing them in such a complete fashion.
We are pleased to once again support HB 1393, and we look forward to working with lawmakers in both the House and the Senate to get this legislation all the way through the statehouse to the desk of Governor Chris Gregoire.