Questions about whether the city-parish should allow outside inspectors to review buildings in East Baton Rouge came to a head Tuesday in a lawsuit that a third-party inspection company filed in district court against City Hall.
The company, IECI, LLC, is accusing local government of starting a “turf war” with third-party inspectors and trying to run them out of business in violation of state law. The company performs those sorts of inspections — in lieu of or to supplement government workers — in other nearby municipalities that include those in Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Tammany.
But in East Baton Rouge Parish, no local policy mandates local government officials to accept building inspections from third-party companies. Instead, builders usually receive inspections from city-parish employees. City-parish officials did not respond to requests Tuesday for comment for this story or requests to explain how their building inspection process works.
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The process to permit and inspect buildings has been a hot-button issue in recent years. Nearly a year ago, the Metro Council hired South Central Planning and Development Commission to help review building plans. Developers can pay an additional fee for their permits to be reviewed more quickly.
But in its lawsuit, IECI argues that third-party companies should also be able to perform building inspections and have the city-parish accept those as well.
Two years after a flood ravaged the capital region, construction of new homes proceeds in much the same way.
IECI cites numerous instances of state law that say municipalities “may establish” agreements with third-party providers to inspect buildings for code enforcement. They also say the city-parish is violating a state law that prohibits parishes from preventing contractors and homeowners from hiring third-party inspectors. Julie Quinn, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said Tuesday that state law protects a consumer’s right to hire a third-party inspector.
“In general, it’s dangerous when a local governing authority thinks they are above state law,” Quinn said. “The whole public policy behind third party inspections was to facilitate business and construction in particular. And because of the nature of local governments and their cash strapped nature, they don’t have sufficient numbers of personnel to perform these inspections as quickly as business owners need.”
The lawsuit has been assigned to state Judge Janice Clark.