Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

18 December 2008

Builder, homeowner mediator gets thumbs up

Janet Elliott- Express-News AUSTIN — Ten lawmakers who rejected a recommendation to abolish the state agency that helps shield home builders from consumer lawsuits have received a total of at least half a million dollars in campaign contributions from builders since 2000.

Most of the money — $486,000 — came from Houston home builder Bob Perry. Another $22,050 was contributed by the Texas Association of Builders' political action committee.

Other builders may have donated individually, but none approximated the magnitude of Perry's contributions.

The members of the Sunset Advisory Commission — five representatives, five senators and two public members — agreed unanimously late Tuesday to recommend that the Legislature allow the Texas Residential Construction Commission to keep operating.

They rejected a staff recommendation to abolish the five-year-old agency because it is “fundamentally flawed” and doing consumers more harm than good. The staff said the agency prevents home buyers from suing builders for shoddy workmanship until the buyers complete a lengthy dispute-resolution process.

Alex Winslow of the consumer group Texas Watch said it would be naive to suggest that donations from special interests have no impact on legislative debates.

“We're talking about the largest campaign contributor in the state of Texas in Bob Perry, and certainly the home builders lobby is influential at the Capitol,” he said.

Perry would like to see the agency maintained but hasn't discussed the issue with Sunset Commission members, said his spokesman, Anthony Holm.

The commission decided the agency must resolve disputes more quickly — within 105 days instead of the current average of 136 days. Sen. Glenn Hegar, the commission's vice chairman, proposed the streamlined process as a way that homeowners could get to court faster.

Hegar, R-Katy, has received $64,500 in campaign contributions from builder Perry, including $45,000 in 2006 during his first Senate race. Hegar said he has met Perry only once and isn't influenced by his contributions.

“Contributions are not going to determine how I vote on something. People can believe that or not,” he said. “But I can't speak for the rest of the Legislature.”

It's the Legislature, coming into session in January, that will ultimately decide the future of the agency it created in 2003 at the behest of the home builders, who wanted a process to resolve complaints from consumers outside of the courtroom.

John Krugh, corporate counsel for Perry Homes, led a task force that crafted the legislation for the Texas Association of Builders. Krugh was appointed one of four builder representatives on the Residential Construction Commission in September 2003 by Gov. Rick Perry, who had received $100,000 in contributions less than a month earlier from Bob Perry. (The two are not related.)

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, a San Antonio Democrat who sits on the Sunset Commission, recommended a recovery fund to help compensate homeowners when builders go out of business. The commission rejected calls from consumer advocates to allow homeowners to bypass the agency and go directly to court.

Texas Watch's Winslow said the agency's dispute-resolution process must be made voluntary.

“For us, that's the bottom line,” he said.

Scott Norman, executive director of the Texas Association of Builders, said the industry is pleased that the Sunset Commission recognized the agency's value.

“We, like others, realize the agency needs to improve,” Norman said.

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers