MS: Worst Building Standards

Originally published by: Biloxi Sun-HeraldJanuary 9, 2012

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A report that rates Mississippi far worse than other coastal states at mandating and enforcing building standards should be a wake-up call for policy makers, Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute said Monday.

“That kind of puts Mississippi very much in the minority here,” said Hartwig, who heads the nonprofit alliance of insurance companies. “Not only is Mississippi last, but beyond that, other states get a much higher grade for the adoption of (building) codes. It seems like a logical step. I don’t know the politics of the state that have caused the solutions to the problem to stagnate, but this is a reminder that Mississippi is going to remain exposed. Another storm like Katrina is going to cause major damage in the state.”

The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety gave Mississippi four out of a possible 100 points in its study of residential building codes in the 18 Atlantic and Gulf states prone to hurricanes.

 IBHS offered up to 50 points for adoption and enforcement of building codes, up to 25 points for code official training and licensing, and up to 25 points for on-site execution, including contractor and subcontractor licensing. Mississippi’s four points came in the latter category. The IBHS study also offered detailed suggestions for improvement.

Building codes are designed to protect lives and property. Because they are crucial in hurricane-prone states, IBHS focused its first state-by-state study of codes and enforcement.

Mississippi was the only state in the study with a single-digit score. The next lowest scores were for Delaware at 17, and Alabama and Texas at 18 each. Florida and Virginia scored highest, with 95 points each.

Mississippi scored so low, the report said, because the state has no mandatory statewide building code or enforcement, no mandatory programs or requirements for building inspectors, and licensing requirements only for contractors. The state got its four points for the contractor licensing requirements that are in place.

“The ratings shine a much-needed spotlight on how states can take specific steps to improve their building code processes in order to better protect their citizens -- and how citizens can understand the need for and, hopefully, demand stronger building codes,” the report says. “By examining the detailed rating elements, policy makers and other interested parties can find a clear road map to strengthening their residential building code system and improve their standing in this report.”

Because of Hurricane Katrina, 2006 building codes are in force in five of the six Coastal counties. But most Mississippi municipalities and counties have never adopted codes, said Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, and the Legislature has not been inclined to make them.

“We’ve never been able to get the traction we need in the Legislature to get building codes passed,” said Chaney, a proponent of building codes when he served in the state Senate. “In my opinion, we need to pass a statewide building code that’s mandatory, but allow the local entities, like boards of supervisors, to opt out of certain portions, at least for the next six years.”

“The issue is this: If you’re going to enjoy lower insurance rates on your homeowners (insurance), you’ve got to build a stronger home and you’ve got to build it to a stronger code.

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