Bill 6: Third-party review for building permits is successful across country

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Honolulu City and County Council on Aug. 9, 2023.

August 9, 2023
10 a.m.
Honolulu City Council Chambers

To: Honolulu City and County Council
      Councilmember Tommy Waters, Chair
      Councilmember Esther Kia‘āina, Vice Chair

 From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Councilmembers:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on Bill 6 (2023), CD1, which would allow building applications to be reviewed by qualified third-party reviewers or professionals qualified to self-certify that the plans and other data are in compliance with all applicable laws.

Expanding the use of third- party reviewers and self-certification could meaningfully slash Honolulu’s permitting backlog, which now stands at about six months.[1]

Third-party review, which the county already utilizes to some extent, allows property owners and builders to contract with private vendors to review their building permits.

Under a self-certification regime, professionals such as architects, engineers and other experts designated by the Department of Planning and Permitting could attest that their building plans comply with all applicable building codes and regulations and automatically receive a permit without going through a DPP or third-party review.

Other municipalities across the country use both of these mechanisms to minimize permitting delays.

For example, Johns Creek, Georgia, a town of about 80,000, contracts with a private entity to review its most complicated permits, such as for hospitals, while allowing its civil servants to review standard permits, such as for homes. This helps the city avoid permitting backlogs. In fact, permits in Johns Creek are often issued within five to 10 days of when they are applied for.[2]

Self-certification has also worked in other cities. For example, New York City has employed a self-certification process for decades. This has helped speed up the building process; in the first four months of fiscal 2023, New Yorkers could expect their building permits to be approved in about 15 days.[3]

The city has also implemented several safeguards to help ensure that all buildings meet code. For example, New York City’s Department of Buildings randomly audits 20% of self-certified plans, and architects can lose their professional certification privileges or endure harsher penalties for failure to comply with code.[4]

Likewise, Chicago has also used a self-certification program with success. Many architects can self-certify building plans and receive a permit within 10 days.[5]

Lest anyone fear that self-certification could lead to unsafe buildings, many architects and engineers would likely ask third-party reviewers to double-check their findings for more complicated projects.  Building code inspectors would also still perform routine inspections on the buildings during their construction, and again upon their completion.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments. Sincerely,

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Ian Bauer, “City director reports drop in Honolulu building permit backlog,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, July 21, 2023.
[2] Joe Kent, “Testimony: Hawaii County could use ‘Konno’ exceptions to address permit backlog,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Nov. 3, 2022.
[3]  “Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report,” New York City, January 2023, p. 282.
[4]  “Back to Basics: Professional Certification — Pros and Cons,” Milrose Consultants, July 1, 2015.
[5]  “Self-Certification Permit Program,” City of Chicago, Feb. 25, 2022.

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