Over the last 6 weeks Philip Jankowski of the Taylor Daily Press has done a series of articles about an issue that’s “hitting home” locally, affecting some new homeowners in Williamson County. The three articles can be read here (American nightmare: Unpaid bills, shoddy work plague Taylor homeowner, Homeowners invited to Jarrell to address liens and Inspection fees waived for home complaints). They tell a story of some homebuyers who got a raw deal and are seeking redress for getting sold a bad product, as well as being stuck with unpaid subcontracting bills. But when they turn to the state government, whose job it is to protect the consumer, they find out there’s little if anything that can be done for them.
For this story to be fully understood we have to go back to 2003 when the Texas GOP took control of all the levers of power in Texas. The money of Houston Home Builder and Texas GOP “sugar daddy” Bob Perry has become legend, and was instrumental in getting the Texas GOP to it’s apex. What hasn’t become legend yet, but hopefully will soon, is what he’s gotten for all that money. The first thing, and probably, the most egregious was what Republican Comptroller Carol Strayhorn in 2006 called, “..a builder protection agency“, named the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC). Some of that money also may have gotten him at least one favorable ruling form the Texas Supreme Court. The Sunset Commission, essentially endorsing the Staryhorn’s 2006 assessment, (Here is EOW’s post on it, Bryan Daniel and “Swift Boat” Bob Perry, Just More Of The Same), recently recommended the TRCC be abolished. Not, tweaked, but done away with, entirely. The first recommendations in the report [.pdf], was very simply stated and to the point:
Abolish the Texas Residential Construction Commission and repeal the Texas Residential Construction Commission Act.
That builder protection agency, aka the TRCC, was passed into law during the very first legislative session when the Texas GOP took complete control of our state government. In the 78th Legislature HB 730 created the TRCC, ostensibly, to keep disputes between homebuyers and homebuilders from being resolved in the courts. Part of the “tort reform” scheme the GOP’s been working for years. Here’s an excerpt from the bill analysis, describing what the TRCC was supposed to be about:
C.S.H.B. 730 creates the Texas Residential Construction Commission Act, adopts performance standards for residential construction and establish a state-sponsored inspection and dispute resolution process that assists consumers in resolving construction issues with homebuilders. (Emphasis added).
It has done no such thing. The summary of the recently released Sunset report says this:
Despite changes last Session ostensibly to strengthen the process by making builders subject to new penalties if they refuse to off er repair of a confirmed defect, the Commission still has no real power to require builders to make needed repairs. Because homeowners must submit to this process before they may seek remedies in court, those who fail to satisfy its requirements either out of confusion or frustration lose their access to court. No other regulatory agency has a program with such a potentially devastating effect on consumers’ ability to seek their own remedies. (Emphasis added).
That is in direct opposition to what was stated purpose of the TRCC was meant to be from the bill analysis of the original legislation. While it became apparent after the comptroller’s review that this agency was nothing like what it was said to be, the GOP legislature did little about it. Here’s a great synopsis of last session’s (in)actions to “strengthen” the TRCC. Reading the synopsis, we conclude that there were three substantive amendments to the bill, HB 1038, in the last legislative session that could have put some teeth into the TRCC. All three failed, mostly along party lines, leaving the TRCC with as the Sunset report states “no real power”.
It is key that we understand what the true intent of the TRCC was. This was to keep homebuilders and homebuyers out of the courts, to instead have their disputes resolved by an arbitration commission. Noitce the word “independent” isn’t part of that. With six of the nine commissioners coming from the industry, it gives the industry a majority on the commission.
So what does all this have to do with those two subdivisions in the county – one in Jarrell and one in Taylor – where a builder, Pete Stucky has built some, shall we say, less than perfect homes? Where he’s also left homeonwers on the hook for unpaid subcontracting as well, since his company went bankrupt. Well they have to go to and through the toothless TRCC to try and get some assistance. And so far the TRCC has met with homeowners and agreed to waive their $250 inspection fees, which is nice, but doesn’t pay for fixing their problems. With the TRCC’s inability to enforce its decisions, that’s probably about all the homeowners will receive. But what peaked our interest was this toward the end of one of the TDP articles.
Dan Gattis Jr., who represents Sonterra HOA and Sonterra MUD, said there are several ongoing lawsuits between Stucky and Sonterra.
“It’s literally the biggest mess I’ve ever seen,” Gattis said.
Those homeonwners must feel pretty good having ol’ Rep. Dan Gattis, Jr. (R-Bob Perry’s Pocket) “representing” them. The same Dan Gattis, Jr. who in his first run for state house in 2002, received $2,000 from Bob Perry. Who voted for HB 730, the legislation that created the TRCC in 2003. Who voted to kill all three amendments that would have strengthened the TRCC in 2008. Who has since taken another $6,000 from Bob Perry, and over $8,000 from the Perry-backed Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), who was instrumental in creating the TRCC. (Republican house candidate in HD-52, Bryan Daniel has taken $2,500 from Bob Perry and $5,000 from TLR). That sure makes it look like the fox is guarding the hen house. It brings into question his independence as Gattis sticks his nose into this issue. It would probably be better for all involved if he would have just stayed out of this, and the homeonwers were represented by a third-party lawyer.
This shows how Republicans govern. Once in power they go to work for those that financed their campaigns, not those that voted for them. Our bought-off representatives work for the concerns of the corporations and the wealthy, not the concerns of the consumer and the people – the voters. Setting up a supposed consumer protection commission, which does the exact opposite – actually protects the homebuilder at the expense of the consumer – is a betrayal of the public trust. Just another thing for all of us to keep in mind when we head to the polls. Accountability comes in November.