TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Among the new Florida laws that took effect in July is legislation that will allow some building inspections to be done virtually through electronic submissions. Now, the City of Tampa is moving forward with its version of how to handle those virtual inspections.
Under the new law, government entities that have legal authority to enforce the Florida Building Code will now be able to perform virtual building inspections, with some exceptions for structure inspections.
Virtual inspections are not approved for “structural inspections on a threshold building.” Threshold buildings are buildings with more than three floors, more than 50 feet, bigger than 5,000 square feet or with occupancy limits of 500 or higher.
Local agencies will be able to allow requests for the virtual inspections to be submitted via email, an online form or on a mobile application.
Residents will be able to upload photos and videos of buildings they think might need a maintenance or safety inspection, and send them to enforcement staff, like city building inspectors.
The law says e-mail, fill-in form online, or third-party submission software are all options to send the photos and videos in for review by inspectors. You’ll still be able to send nonelectronic submissions, too, at the discretion of the building official.
In Tampa, Chief Building Official John Hudgison says electronic permitting and inspection requests have been an option since 2014. Electronic plan submissions have also been available since 2018.
He says the new statute will not affect the city’s level of service.
“One of Mayor Castor’s general recommendations from development services is to streamline the permitting process,” Hudgison said. “Construction Services is always open to any process that increases efficiency and provides better services to the citizens.”
Now that HB 667 is in effect, there are other permit-related factors to consider resulting from the new law. According to the new statute, there are some changes coming for how permit and inspection fees are charged and refunded.
“A local enforcement agency must refund 10 percent of the permit and inspection fees to a permit holder if: (1) The inspector or building code administrator determines that the work, which requires the permit, fails an inspection; and (2) The inspector or building code administrator fails to provide, within 5 business days after the inspection, the permit holder or his or her agent with a reason, based on compliance with the Florida Building Code, Florida Fire Prevention Code, or local ordinance, for why the work failed the inspection.”From HB 667
Basically, if a permit holder – such as a building manager or owner – isn’t told why their inspection has failed within five days, 10% of their permit and inspection fees have to be refunded.
An additional factor for future inspections and code enforcement is another bill from the 2021 Legislative Session which removed anonymous complaints sent to enforcement staff. Under SB 60, all code enforcement reports would need to include the person’s name, address and phone number and have those provided to the enforcement agency.
Hudgison says the lack of anonymity isn’t expected to affect code complaint submissions, since most of the complaints received by construction services are not anonymous as it is.
“Most complaints received in construction services have a contact associated with them, whether it is an email or phone number. If not, we explicitly ask for the information so that we can follow up with any documentation or resolution to provide an adequate level of customer service,” Hudgison said.
Aiming for Mayor Castor’s goal of streamlining and improving services from the city, Tampa has operated a new platform for construction services needs since early July called QUp Tampa.
“[It] allows for virtual conferencing with construction services staff from anywhere, eliminating the need to come to the Development Services Center at 1400 Boulevard to get questions answered regarding your permit,” Hudgison said. “As we continue to evolve the QUp program, we will then move into the next phase which is virtual inspections.”
QUp Tampa allows virtual appointments for permits and plan review consultations right from your web browser. However, in-person appointments for permits, plan review consultations, development coordination, historic preservation and water service are still available.