Including third-party reviewers could be the solution Dallas needs to solve its backlogged building permit process.
According to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, a third-party inspector is an “approved person or agency, private or public,” that is qualified to conduct inspections of “industrialized housing, buildings, and portions thereof for compliance with the approved plans, documentation, compliance control manual, and mandatory building codes.”
The Texas Industrialized Building Code Council reviews applications for third-party inspection agencies (TPIAs).
Texas-approved TPIAs include a mix of managerial and technical positions certified by the Texas Industrialized Housing and Buildings program. TPIAs include managers and chief executive officers, code certifications inspectors, supervisors of inspection, and third-party inspectors.
Unlike other North Texas cities such as Fort Worth and Arlington, Dallas does not include TPIAs in the building inspection and plan review process — building permits in Dallas are processed entirely by the City’s Development Services Department (DSD).
DSD is responsible for facilitating land development and construction in Dallas, but the latest data from the City’s permitting agency shows a 43-day turnaround time for New Single Family (NSF) permits, according to DSD’s December newsletter.
The majority of the permitting backlog was generated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when operations at the DSD slowed exponentially.
In 2019, it took an average of three days to issue a Single-Family Residential (SFR) permit in Dallas. At 43 days, the process now takes about 1,300% longer. During the peak of the pandemic backlog in 2021, developers reported that getting a permit took as long as 10 weeks.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax is in charge of the management at DSD and has ultimate oversight over the building permit process in Dallas.
DSD Director Andrew Espinoza and his team handle the department’s day-to-day responsibilities, which include processing building permit applications, and are meant to include ensuring that development in Dallas remains safe, sustainable, and resilient.
Another key figure in the department is Assistant DSD Director Vernon Young. Young is responsible for conceiving solutions to development-related issues, reducing operational inefficiencies related to plan and permit submittals, and consolidating development review functions.
The Dallas Express reached out to Espinoza, Young, and Assistant DSD Director Samuel Eskander for clarification on the City’s aversion to using third-party reviewers in the permit process, but had not received a response by the time of publishing.
It is unclear why city officials resist the idea of an accelerated turnaround, especially as a law was enacted in 2021 that grants independent engineers the ability to perform building inspections after a disaster.
The law “would require cities to accept independent third-party inspections by qualified professionals during a declared disaster to help tackle the backlogs experienced in disaster areas. Using this tool will reduce project wait times and keep the residential construction industry operating as efficiently as possible during declared disasters.”
After COVID-19 swept through the U.S., the DSD made several changes to its building permit process, but including third-party reviewers was not one of them, despite the fact that Dallas had declared an emergency in response to the pandemic.
As The Dallas Express has previously reported, the mix of long permit delays and the high cost of materials can result in situations where developers and builders must pay in excess of $200-$300 or more per project per day, while being unable to begin construction.
In terms of the Dallas market, The Real Estate Council estimates that about $31 million is lost for every three months of permit delays, including $9 million in lost money for the City, according to Linda McMahon, president and CEO of the professional association.
Without the inclusion of professional third-party reviewers, local developers remain at the behest of city officials, making it harder to ensure that development projects are completed on schedule and within budget. Since developers and builders pay exorbitant upfront costs to start their projects, it is essential that the local permit process is in line with the needs of the community.