It’s time for the building industry to take Mr. Roger’s advice

It doesn’t take much to be a good neighbor. The folks at Riverwards L&I Coalition have invoked America’s neighbor, Mr. Rogers, as part of its drive to have our neighborhoods respected. “The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling they are worthwhile,” he once said.

I know my neighbors are worthwhile; their lives and their families are valuable. If others fail to regard that value, I want to show them the way. That is why I am introducing a package of bills in Harrisburg that seeks to hold builders and developers accountable when they fail to recognize the value of people who put their trust in them to care for their investments.    

A family’s most valuable investment is their home. It is where we watch our children grow, where we celebrate life’s victories, and where we comfort one another during difficult times. In recent years, several issues have arisen in the Philadelphia region regarding residential construction and faulty, defective building materials and/or building techniques.

I have heard stories from many families who were impacted by shoddy techniques used during construction and faced repairs costing tens of thousands of dollars. Other long-time residents have had the quiet enjoyment of their home disintegrated by profit-mongering builders who literally cut corners and leave once stable rowhomes at risk of collapse. In some of my neighborhoods, massive out-of-scale development threatens to change the whole character of spaces we have all called home for so many years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that change must come, especially in a place like the 177th district that is close (but not too close) to Center City. However, development must be responsible and accountable, and it must enhance the community we all share. The Wild West mentality that operates now has got to stop, and it must give way to the industry following appropriate standards of conduct that demonstrate a respect for the spaces around their projects. In my neighborhoods right now, the industry is demonstrating that it will not do so unless compelled to do so.

The bills I am proposing would show the industry what makes a good neighbor.

HB1854: A Residential Construction Lemon Law – As we have seen from the automotive industry, too often lawsuits are added to the “cost of doing business” and the only way to ensure that proper attention is paid to quality and safety is to ensure that purchasers have a remedy in law for a defective product. This legislation would create such a guarantee which will provide that if there are a number of defects in new construction within the first two years from delivery to the owner, the builder shall repair construction defects at no cost to the owner within six months or could be liable for double the repair costs.

HB1855: Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act – Flipping – would requiresthat a for a contractor or house flipper to be considered an “owner” under the act, they must live in the home as a private residence for one year following construction.  This closes a loophole and ensures that house flippers are held responsible for the residences that they are rehabilitating. 

HB1856: Adjacent Neighbors’ Bill of Rights – This bill advises homeowners of their rights and the laws surrounding construction including limitations on the hours when construction can occur, rights to clean and safe access, and rights to hold construction officials liable for any damage or disobedience to the law.

HB1857: Continuing Education for Construction Code Officials – Enhances the continuing education requirements for code enforcement officers to include education on illegal construction practices and adds the Attorney General as an entity capable of providing continuing education. The legislation will also require continuing education for residential building code inspectors include education on proper installation of stucco.

In Philadelphia, L&I is hampered by too few staff to enforce the codes that are presently in place. One woman who contacted me talked about how the twin house next to hers was first demolished without permits by a construction manager who had been suspended by the city. Even in the face of citations for violations, the builder was undaunted and went on to place an oversized house and build right on the party wall without buttressing or supporting her wall. Her property was trespassed during construction, and she is left with a structure next to her that drowns out the light and lays waste to her front yard. Picture the development around Mr. Fredricksen’s home in the movie “UP” and you’ll know what it looks like now.

Our neighbors are worthwhile. It doesn’t take much to be a good neighbor. It’s time for the building industry to take Mr. Roger’s gem of life advice to heart.