In 2002, legislation passed in Florida allowing the use of private providers to conduct building code inspections and plan reviews for new and existing building projects. Private providers are licensed engineers or architects who also hold a standard certificate to perform inspections for additions and alterations (1,000 square feet or less).
The boom of construction in South Florida led owners to begin looking for private providers and inspection/review services to ease the process. Today, many private professionals and engineering firms conduct state-required reviews and inspections in the area. And while other states have adopted similar legislation and are testing the waters, the private provider business has fully matured in Florida, with owners frequently taking this route in lieu of using municipal building department personnel.
So what can others inside and outside the state learn from the experiences of South Florida? And what should owners be aware of as they consider adopting this approach?
Expediting the process must not compromise quality or compliance.
The complexity of building codes and the lengthy permitting process creates a sizeable demand for reviewers and inspectors, project expedition and stringency in planning and reviews. Construction time is money and expediting is important. However, there can be no room for shortcuts in quality or compliance. A top-notch private provider firm embraces this concept as fundamental to the entire process.
Collaborative relationships are key.
Good private providers truly look out for the owner’s best interest and seek to build long-lasting positive partnerships. They effectively act as a professional liaison between the owner, designers, contractors and municipality to help smooth the various processes and avoid bumps in the road. Good relationships are key because they result in more compliant designs, which in turn, lead to expedient reviews and permits. And, as trust and familiarity grows, projects can begin to move at a more rapid pace.
There is significant time and money to be saved.
Experienced staff can provide peer reviews when documents are 50 – 70 percent complete—before they are too costly to modify—and give guidance to designers that will save time, money and headaches down the road.
Private providers can frequently expedite building department reviews and inspections and schedule them to accommodate the availability of the owner’s staff, and at times, outside of normal working hours.
Even municipal building departments see value in using private providers. Many counties and municipalities offer owners significant discounts—ranging from 25 to 50 percent—on permitting fees because of the known efficiencies private providers can generate.
Prioritize experience and expertise when evaluating private providers.
All private providers are required to use reviewers and inspectors that have the same minimum qualifications as building department staff. Expert providers, on the other hand, understand how to expedite without losing quality control and code compliance. They save the client time and money through an in-depth understanding of building codes and the workings of designers, contractors and the construction process in general. In fact, Atkins frequently utilizes retired municipal staff that have decades of experience and can mentor more junior staff.
As architects, engineers and owners continue to design increasingly larger and more complex projects, the inspection industry must evolve to keep up—in technical skill as well as in the strength of partnerships built over time. Atkins is currently in its third year supporting the beautifully renovated Perry Hotel (now named 1 Hotel) in Miami Beach and we have built great relationships with developers, owners and contractors across South Florida, helping to deliver mid-rise and high-rise hotels, condominiums, colleges and schools. We hope to see the practice expand throughout Florida and to the rest of the U.S. where this market is still in its infancy.