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Alberta explores homebuilder licensing requirements

Russell Hixson
Alberta explores homebuilder licensing requirements

The Government of Alberta has begun a process to potentially require homebuilders to have a license. Officials have started meeting with stakeholders, homebuilders and have also started a survey to explore the issue further.

"There has been a lack of ability to remove a bad actor or problem builder," explained T.J. Keil, external affairs manager for the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA).

The association is one of several stakeholders giving input to officials on a licensing program and has been in favour of licensing in the past.

Keil noted the genesis of the government’s effort can be traced back to rebuilding efforts following the Fort McMurray, Alta. wildfires.

Vulnerable residents were rebuilding their homes and needed to make a decision on who to employ.

"There will always be shady people who try to take advantage of that," Keil said.

To combat this, amendments were made to the New Home Buyer Protection Act and the Safety Codes Act. Builders were required to complete a builder declaration through the New Home Buyer Registry before applying for a building permit in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The changes also allowed information to be collected from the builder, including residential construction history, a corporate and financial history and outstanding fines or orders.

At the time, CHBA – Alberta CEO Jim Rivait released a statement saying that good builders would be able to comply and he believed the changes would raise confidence levels when choosing a contractor.

"This is especially important when opportunists are likely to make unrealistic claims about how quickly they can build a home in Fort McMurray," he said. "Rebuilding the community will be a long process that will need patience and co-ordination."

Keil said that the Fort McMurray changes went well in terms of providing consumer information and the government’s recent efforts are building upon that to create a broader program that offers the same sort of consumer protection.

"Unfortunately, there are people who want to take advantage of would-be homebuyers and it tars the entire industry," Keil said. "We want people to know there are good, reputable builders."

Keil explained the association is eager to hear the government’s direction on the project and hopes that if licensing happens it is easy to use, isn’t a hardship on smaller companies and is the same across the entire province.

Currently B.C., Quebec and Ontario all have some form of builder licensing, though Keil said the association is hoping the government opts for a more "made in Alberta" approach.

"My initial take is that these could mostly be things that our member companies already do and this is just formalizing it," he said. "And those who don’t take those steps are pointed out."

Keil noted one of the challenges is that the industry has a large spectrum of activity and identifying who is a builder and who isn’t could be difficult.

"If it focuses on things like experience in building, keeping track of what a company has done in one place, giving the ability to remove or suspend a builder for repeated violations, and integrates it with other protections, you could have something that really works," he said. "We are looking forward to seeing what develops and hopefully it is something industry can support."

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