Dispelling the myths behind Private Providers

Contractors and owners have the ability to utilize a private provider for their Florida Building Code Compliance plans reviews and inspections. The added value can be immense including increased pass rates due to resolving code issues within a single inspection day. By having the inspection completed the day the installers are there and electing to use a private provider inspector the time-consuming step for homeowners and installers to wait for a municipal/city inspector is eliminated. Recent laws and amendments allow for private providers to utilize remote virtual inspections to complete these private provider inspections. Local building departments are required by Florida Statutes to provide discounts in the form of calculated savings for all Private Provider services, inspections, and plan reviews.

What is a private provider? In accordance with Florida Statute 553.791 (2)(a) an owner or owner’s contractor (with approval from the owner) may choose to use a private provider for plans review, inspections, or both. The private provider will act as plan reviewers and inspectors in lieu of the building department for Florida building code compliance, even though the building department may still review the plans and of course still have zoning, fire, and plan reviews as required by code.

Does the building official have the right to refuse an owner using a private provider? If the private provider is properly registered within the municipality, it is an owner’s right to utilize a private provider for plans review, inspections, or both. The Florida law states “Notwithstanding any other law or local government ordinance or local policy.” In other words, despite any local government ordinance or policy, an owner may choose to use a private provider.

Is there a discount or permit fee reduction for using a private provider? An amendment to F.S 553.791 signed into law by the governor in July outlines alternative plans review and inspection from HB401/Ch. 2021-201. In the revision subsection (2)(b) language is modified slightly but remains clear. The building department shall calculate savings for not performing plans review and inspections and shall not charge the owner/contractor, however, they may charge an administrative fee.

Can I use this for a single trade inspection? In the amendment under section 1 (p), single-trade inspections were specifically defined. Further down, in section (3) the language to allow private providers to complete single trade inspections is included.

What is a single trade inspection and how can private providers be part of the solution? A single trade inspection is newly defined as “any inspection focused on a single construction trade, such as plumbing, mechanical, or electrical. The term includes, but is not limited to, inspections of door or window replacements; fences and block walls more than 6 feet high from the top of the wall to the bottom of the footing; stucco or plastering; reroofing with no structural alteration; HVAC replacements; ductwork or fan replacements; alteration or installation of wiring, lighting, and service panels; water heater changeouts; sink replacements, and repiping.”

How can Private Providers be part of a single trade inspection solution? from HB401/Ch. 2021-201 specifically sections (4) & (10) a private provider can provide inspections for a single trade, as long as they are properly licensed to do so.

Any permit that is pulled that has a single trade (building/plumbing/electric/mechanical) which is broadly defined above can be inspected when the installation is completed saving the homeowner, contractor, and installer valuable time and a lower failure rate.

Emergency Repairs, inspections, and permitting:

Can a private provider complete an inspection for an emergency repair PRIOR to the issuance of the permit? Yes, FBC 105.2.1 and F.S 553.791 and amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201. Provide that the documents and inspection reports shall be submitted to the municipality the following business day, and the inspections can be completed PRIOR to that submittal. Examples: mechanical change out with/without ducting, hot water heater change out.

“If equipment replacements and repairs must be performed in an emergency situation, subject to the emergency permitting provisions of the Florida Building Code, a private provider may perform emergency inspection services without first notifying the local building official pursuant to subsection (9). A private provider must conduct the inspection within 3 business days after being contacted to conduct an emergency inspection and must submit the inspection report to the local building official within 1 day after the inspection is completed.”

This section 10 quote means that a private provider could complete (as 1 example) an HVAC emergency change-out inspection without 1st notifying the building department, and then submit all the required documents to complete the permitting finalizing of the permit within 1 day. Any replacements or repairs that are performed under an emergency permit could be done in this fashion.

Are virtual inspections valid and what can they be used for? Amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201 section 1(d) specifically states that all Building Code Inspection Services can be conducted in person or virtually. Of course, the inspector is still responsible for the performance of their duties, whether in person or virtually. Building Code Inspections include everything in F.S. 468.603(5) and (8).

“Building code inspection services” means those services described in s. 468.603(5) and (8) involving the review of building plans as well as those services involving the review of site plans and site work engineering plans or their functional equivalent, to determine compliance with applicable codes and those inspections required by law, conducted either in person or virtually, of each phase of construction for which permitting by a local enforcement agency is required to determine compliance with applicable codes.”

If I utilize a private provider for plan review, is there a time limit for the permit issuance? According to the amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201, jurisdictions have 20 days to respond with comments, or the permit is deemed issued. Every subsequent revision submission adds/tolls 5 days to the total day count. If the building department responds on day 15 with comments, they would have the 5 remaining days + plus 5 additional days upon resubmittal.

What forms are required?

  • Notice to Building Official – This form is required with permit submission. It notifies the building department that the project will include a private provider. It’s also typically signed by the owner or the owner’s agent, which in turn complies with the F.S. 553.791 requirements for using a private provider.
  • Plans Review Affidavit – this completes the requirements of F.S 553.791 and amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201 providing an affidavit from the private provider with duly authorized representatives’ credentials and signatures verifying code compliance.
  • Inspection Report – this completes the requirements of F.S 553.791 and amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201. It will have a result and a signature (usually license # included) for each inspection performed. Multiple inspections and days will create a virtual inspection log of inspections. Some municipalities require a job site log to maintain all field inspection reports. However the latest revisions from HB401/Ch. 2021-201, seem to specify electronically posted, which means using a website or other electronic communications to transmit or display.
  • Request for Certificate of Occupancy or Certificate of Completion (Certificate of Compliance from the private provider) – upon completion of the project and a final certificate of completion or request for a certificate of occupancy must be submitted to the building official. See subsection (12).

What do I do if the Building Official states we don’t allow private providers / or states that you cannot use private providers for that project? According to F.S 553.775, the Building Officials are charged with interpreting the code, however, they are accountable for their decisions, firstly at the local board of appeals. F.S 553.775 (3)(c). Most counties have a Board of Appeals in their municipal codes. There is usually a small cost associated with getting your case on the docket. This will challenge the local building official to comply with the law, including fees, discounts, and usage of private providers for all types of inspections including single trade inspections. If the local board cannot come to a conclusion, they will refer the case to the Florida Building Commission to get a formal or informal interpretation, either of which shall be binding on the building official.

Understanding the process using a private provider:

  • The Notice to Building Official and any Private Provider packet required by the building department must be submitted at permit application. If this project includes a private provider plans review, the Private Provider packet must include the plans compliance affidavit.
  • The building department must be notified of a private provider inspection the day before (some have stipulated times that must be met). The private provider can perform the inspection at any time, not limited to building department times, but it must be scheduled in parallel with the building department.
  • Results shall be submitted to the building department via their method for submittal (which shall include an electronic submittal method.)
  • Upon completion of the project, a final request for a certificate of completion or certificate of occupancy shall be submitted on a certificate of compliance affidavit from the private provider. This may require all inspection reports to be submitted in a final private provider package.

What are Electronic Signatures and when can they be used per F.S 553.791 and amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201? According to the amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201 section 1 (h) provides a simplified definition of electronic signatures, not to be confused with 3rd party verified signatures used by engineers and architects to “seal” finalized plans. These are electronic signatures of electronic affidavits, forms, and documents for inspections/plan reviews / or submittal documents with the intent to authenticate a writing or record and the intent of being sent or uploaded electronically.

What is Electronic Posting and how does this affect documents, permitting, results, & logs per F.S 553.791 and amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201? According to the amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201 section 1 (g) means providing decisions, results, or records including inspection records through the use of a website or other form of electronic communication. Which could include a portal to search for all documents, inspection reports, or affidavits required by private providers.

What is an Electronic transmission or submitted electronically? According to the amended codes from HB401/Ch. 2021-201 section 1 (e) means any method including electronic transmissions. Electronic transmissions in 1 (i) means any method not involving paper. It further defines that any notices as required by the section may be transmitted electronically and shall have the same effect as physically posting or mailing.

Can the Building Department re-inspect or re-review plans after the private provider? per F.S 553.791 1 (b), the term audit is defined: the process of confirming building code inspection services have been performed, and the affidavit of plan review has been completed to the minimum standards of the code. It also clearly states that the building official may NOT replicate the plan review or inspections being performed by the private provider unless expressly authorized in this section (being F.S. 553.791).

In F.S. 553.791 section (19) addresses audits by the local building department: the section specifically states that the building department shall not audit a single private provider more than 4 times in a month unless the building official determines that the building is an immediate threat to public safety and welfare. Projects do not need to wait for the building department to perform audits, and work can be performed during hours the building department isn’t open.

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