The NDP government hopes legislation introduced Thursday will give Albertans a better chance to hire a reputable home builder, and weed out the so called bad apples.
Bill 12 will see a new licensing program launched for homebuilders. To qualify, they must demonstrate they’re knowledgeable in home construction, and in good financial standing.
Provisional licenses will begin being issued in November, with the program to be fully implemented next spring.
“We just want to make sure consumers are protected,” said Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson.“This is the biggest investment they’re going to make in their lives.”
If the bill passes, builders will need to be licensed by the province to construct new homes and condos, or to undertake renovations involving more than 75 per cent of a home’s floor space.
The licence would set minimum standards and ensure builders were held accountable for their work. The proposed law doesn’t apply to those building their own homes.
Ryan Scott, president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, said while many homebuilders are professional and responsible, “the ability to remove builders who demonstrate a proven, negative track record will be a benefit to every Albertan.”
The home building industry is on board with the new requirements, and feels it will be particularly beneficial for smaller companies.
“They’re doing great work, they’re putting out a great product for consumers, and they stand behind it,” said T.J. Keil with the association. “Those people should be highlighted, not forced to compete with someone who might want to avoid some of the requirements already out there.”
Protections would be in place during a phase-in period so that consumers having a house constructed by a builder who failed to qualify for a licence weren’t left in the lurch. In such cases, there would be provisional licences granted to the builder, subject to conditions, for the project’s completion.
As Alberta’s economy begins to recover, new home starts are up 20 per cent through the first three months of 2017 when compared to the same time last year. There’s also the massive rebuild effort underway in Fort McMurray. The bill was shaped in part by the rebuild of Fort McMurray, which lost entire neighbourhoods to a forest fire a year ago. Builders there have had to complete a declaration before applying for a building permit.
“People have come in and preyed on people in Slave Lake, or the floods, or Fort McMurray,” Anderson said. “They’ve come in and preyed on vulnerable people and had shell companies, and we don’t want that.”
The bill calls for department officials to rule on licence applications, focusing on a builder’s work record, finances and corporate structure. They would also take into account the possibility of vexatious complaints.
Licences, once granted, could also be revoked. A builder could appeal a licence rejection to an arm’s-length panel.
Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia already have similar licensing programs in place.
The cost for a licence would be $600 with an annual renewal fee of $500, matching fees in British Columbia. Ontario and Quebec charge more.
There are an estimated 4,000 residential builders in Alberta. As it stands, there are no requirements placed on them and there is no legal way to stop them from operating, even if they commit fraud or breach labour laws.
The changes build on the current New Home Buyer Protection Act, which requires new homes to be backed by a warranty. But that recourse only kicks in after problems have arisen.
The province also plans to create an online registry to help consumers pick a builder. (Dean Bennett, KLM, with files from Tom Vernon)