Inspection Program Cleans House
By JOHN W. ALLMAN
The Tampa Tribune
Published: Oct 30, 2007
TAMPA - The state on Monday announced sweeping changes to its My Safe Florida Home program, including the dismissal of five of 11 companies hired to do hurricane inspections.
The program, designed to tell homeowners statewide whether their houses can withstand a hurricane, has had problems since its inception in August 2006. Customer complaints have ranged from changes in the program to errors in inspection reports.
Now, the state Department of Financial Services, which oversees My Safe Florida Home, said it is raising the standard for inspectors, including requiring a minimum of two years’ construction and/or inspection experience for anyone hired into the program.
Inspectors assigned to do reinspections must now have a minimum 10 years’ experience and must have participated in extra training. And all inspectors must now provide actual window and door measurements instead of estimates.
Two weeks ago, the state fired Home Inspections LLC of Madeira Beach for multiple contract violations, including hiring inspectors with no prior experience.
On Monday, the state said it is not renewing contracts with Thomas Enterprising of Melbourne, AmeriPro Inspection Corp. of Jacksonville, Florida Real Property Administrators of Clearwater and Professional Service Industries of Orlando.
The decision removed all but one inspection company from Region 3, which includes Tampa and St. Petersburg. And it left Region 1, which is the Panhandle, without any inspection companies.
Tara Klimek, communications director, said the Jacksonville-based Skyetec, which has 65 inspectors, will now cover Region 1. And she said two other companies, JVI Inspections Division of Lake Mary and Alltech, which is based in Winchester, Va., will assume inspections for Tampa and its surrounding area.
“We anticipate that inspectors currently working for the other companies will seek employment with the six remaining firms,” Klimek said.
Discrepancies In Measurements
The changes to My Safe Florida Home follow a contract audit of each company and a quality-assurance review of inspection reports by each. The quality-assurance review included reinspections of 3,000 homes to ensure inspector accuracy.
The Tampa Tribune reported Oct. 14 that widespread discrepancies existed in a random sampling of reinspection reports. The reinspection reports differed from the original reports in significant ways, including differing opinions on safety features, such as how the roof was attached to the house; factual data about the house, such as the year built or the square footage; and specific figures, such as window and door measurements that varied by as much as 4 feet.
Klimek said Monday that the quality-assurance reinspections did catch some errors, particularly window and door measurements.
“The program noticed some discrepancies in measurements beyond an acceptable deviation,” she said, “and wanted to clarify with the inspectors what the standard is - the use of a tape measure, or something comparable.”
Program officials said that in addition to Skyetec, Alltech and JVI, the state is extending its contract with Don Meylar Inspections of Margate, Applied Research Associates of Orlando and WB Sanders Inc. of Fort Myers.
Those companies showed the greatest compliance - 97 percent or higher - in the audit, Klimek said. Their contracts will be valid through January.
The state next month plans to issue an updated request for proposals, which will include more stipulations on training and inspector standards. Then, in January, it will sign new contracts.
State audits for each of the companies that lost its contract Monday showed administrative or paperwork issues.
Each company was cited for lacking proper documentation for the inspectors hired, as required by the state.
One company retained by the state - ARA - had similar problems in its audit. Documentation was lacking in two categories: criminal history affidavits and training verification.
State documents show the companies retained by the state had nearly twice the number of inspection report complaints than the companies let go. Those figures represent the number of customer calls to the state - 670 to 377 - about problems with the inspections. The state did not specify the errors pointed out by customers.
The audits also looked at each company’s internal quality-assurance program, including mandatory reinspections required of each.
Discrepancies between several original and reinspections were noted for one company: JVI. The differences were attributed to training.
Reporter John W. Allman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 259-7915.