Alberta set to license homebuilders

EDMONTON — Alberta is proposing legislation that would require builders of new homes be licensed so as to curb fly-by-night operators, end shoddy work and help consumers make choices.

“When Albertans buy a new home, they’re making one of the biggest investments they’ll ever make,” Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson said Thursday.

“We want to make sure that Albertans are protected.”

If the bill passes, builders will need to be licensed by the province to construct new homes and condos, or to undertake renovations involving more than 75 per cent of a home’s floor space.

The licence would set minimum standards and ensure builders were held accountable for their work.

The proposed law doesn’t apply to those building their own homes.

Ryan Scott, president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, said while many homebuilders are professional and responsible, ”the ability to remove builders who demonstrate a proven, negative track record will be a benefit to every Albertan.”

Protections would be in place during a phase-in period so that consumers having a house constructed by a builder who failed to qualify for a licence weren’t left in the lurch. In such cases, there would be provisional licences granted to the builder, subject to conditions, for the project’s completion.

The bill calls for department officials to rule on licence applications, focusing on a builder’s work record, finances and corporate structure. They would also take into account the possibility of vexatious complaints.

Licences, once granted, could also be revoked.

A builder could appeal a licence rejection to an arm’s-length panel.

Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia already have similar licensing programs in place.

The cost for a licence would be $600 with an annual renewal fee of $500, matching fees in British Columbia. Ontario and Quebec charge more.

There are an estimated 4,000 residential builders in Alberta. As it stands, there are no requirements placed on them and there is no legal way to stop them from operating, even if they commit fraud or breach labour laws.

The changes build on the current New Home Buyer Protection Act, which requires new homes to be backed by a warranty. But that recourse only kicks in after problems have arisen.

The province also plans to create an online registry to help consumers pick a builder.

The bill was shaped in part by the rebuild of Fort McMurray, which lost entire neighbourhoods to a forest fire a year ago. Builders there have had to complete a declaration before applying for a building permit.

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