State Fires Home Inspection Company
TAMPA - The state has fired one of its 11 My Safe Florida Home inspection firms and may cut ties with more companies Monday.
The Tampa Tribune reported Sunday that widespread discrepancies exist in Fires Home Inspection Companythe free hurricane wind inspection reports that more than 98,000 people have received since August 2006.
The program is supposed to tell residents statewide whether their homes can withstand a hurricane, and it offers a financial incentive for them to install safety features. The information contained in the reports, in particular, has been touted for helping lower insurance premiums.
The state Department of Financial Services, which oversees My Safe Florida Home, said it will announce Monday which of the 10 remaining firms will continue inspecting homes for now.
In November, the department plans to seek new proposals from inspection companies before signing new contracts. The request will include increased requirements for inspector training, specifically more field training and post-inspection training. The state did not provide specifics on the new criteria.
The state’s previous request for proposals had no provision mandating the type or amount of prior experience for inspectors hired. It also made field training the responsibility of the individual firms.
“We have gained insight and information in the last six months that will result in improvements to the MSFH program, including but not limited to raising the required experience levels of inspectors involved in this program,” program officials said. “It has always been our goal to increase our standards throughout the program, based on performance and compliance audits, customer service, Q/A analyses, evolution of our technology and best practices.”
The state also plans to hire an outside company to monitor the inspection firms and to review inspections for the remainder of the program.
The changes follow the decision Oct. 12 to terminate the contract of Home Inspections LLC, a Madeira Beach-based inspection firm.
In an e-mail Thursday to the Tribune, program officials cited “performance issues” as the reason for cutting ties with Home Inspections but did not elaborate.
Home Inspections, at one time, had 30 to 35 inspectors working in the program, according to operations manager Dave Schreiber, who spoke to the Tribune in September.
Schreiber said then that his inspectors included professionals with prior experience and “people who have heard about it who were in a completely different industry.”
He said the firm randomly selected inspectors for an in-house review "just to let us know we’re doing an accurate inspection.
“For the most part, it’s good,” he said. “There’s always a couple of cases where a homeowner is chatting with an inspector and they might miss a window.”
Schreiber did not return a call for comment Thursday.
The state since July has been reinspecting about 3,000 homes to check the accuracy of the inspections. An analysis is expected later this month.
The newspaper looked at many of those reinspection documents on houses statewide and found that inspectors often differed on pertinent facts, such as the number of window and door openings, whether those openings had hurricane-rated protective coverings, even how the roof was attached to the house.
In 72 cases, the Tribune identified no fewer than 20 errors in each set of inspections, including window and door measurements. Six cases had more than 100 errors each. The paper also looked at the training that inspectors receive, which is a single daylong class and an open-book exam.
Lawmakers Speak Out
The Tribune’s report drew concern from state lawmakers contacted prior to the changes being announced.
“We rely on the fact that professionals out there know how to do the job,” said Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa. “There just should not be that great a disparity between two inspection reports.”
Ambler said the program needs to revisit training and must incorporate some type of continuing education.
“I think those are going to be imperative to have credibility and integrity in the program,” he said.
Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, said the state needs to take a long look at who is handling the inspections.
“I’m sure there’s good ones,” he said, “and I’m sure there’s probably some inspectors they need to either retrain or replace.”
Ambler and Glorioso were among the legislators who voted in May to dramatically alter the My Safe Florida Home program.
The vote reduced the maximum insured value of eligible homes from $500,000 to $300,000. It also limited who could apply for a matching grant of up to $5,000 to make safety improvements, making the grants available only to residents living in the wind-borne debris region - an area that stretches about a mile inland.
That decision eliminated much of the state, including nearly all of Hillsborough County, which sits outside the region.
Ambler said without limiting eligibility, the $250 million earmarked for grants would have dissipated quickly.
“That’s not to say that down the road the program can’t be expanded,” he said.
Legislators also called on the Department of Financial Services to complete 400,000 free inspections by June 2009.
Public response has slowed considerably, however, in recent months. The state initially anticipated that inspectors would visit a minimum of 11,000 homes each week.
In September, the program received 12,480 requests for a free inspection.
Reporter John W. Allman can be reached at (813) 259-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.