New N.J. law expedites construction inspections

The new law aims to cut down on waiting times for new construction permits.
New townhouses in Wood-Ridge, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Thursday signed a new law aimed at addressing a persistent affordable housing crisis by reducing the time it takes to get permits for new units.

The law changes the state’s construction code to require general contractors to request an inspection in writing. The request must come at least 24 hours before the day and time sought by the contractor for the inspection. The inspection would be performed no later than three days after the request. 

The municipality or local enforcing agency will establish a process to ensure inspections are performed within the three-business day timeframe. That includes the use of shared services agreements with neighboring local governments to contract with private onsite inspection agencies.

The state Department of Community Affairs will also have enhanced authority to hold local officials to the three-day deadline. And localities would retain the final approval of the inspection.

As states face serious housing shortages, the ability to speed up the construction process has become a focal point for legislators from coast to coast.

New Jersey Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (D), who helped lead the effort to pass the measure, said he has spoken to officials in other states about his proposal, though he declined to say which states when asked. 

Karabinchak said that the measure makes New Jersey more competitive with states that have a streamlined construction inspection process, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“We want to be able to bring businesses here,” Karabinchak said “In my opinion, we’re perfectly situated between Philadelphia and New York. It’s a great place to have a business.”

The law will help everyone from individual homeowners making additions to large real estate developers, Karabinchak said, adding that the measure was passed virtually unanimously by both chambers of the Democratic-led legislature.

Karabinchak also said he is exploring ways to expedite the review of plans in the upcoming legislative session. The plan review step, which ensures that they are compliant with building codes, is time-consuming and keeps inspectors from doing more construction inspections. The New Jersey lawmaker cited one possible solution from Texas, where architects are licensed to allow for self-certification. 

That makes the plan review more cursory “not to the details of counting outlets and making sure this is there and that is there and so on,” Karabinchak said.

New Jersey, like other states around the nation, suffers from a lack of affordable housing.

“In New Jersey, we have an affordable home deficit of about 200,000 units,” said Matthew Hersh, director of policy and advocacy for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “So we have a lot of work to do.”

Hersh and other affordable housing advocates praised the law, noting that the measure would help reduce project delays and keep construction costs down by breaking municipal inspection bottlenecks.

Hersh also lauded the governor’s announcement of more than $19 million in affordable housing funds. 

“The administration has very effectively tied this [law] to an incentive for towns to move forward on developing affordable homes,” Hersh said in an interview.

“It’s not only just the funding, it’s all of the machinations that have presented obstacles to not only developing affordable housing but getting access into a home,” Hersh continued. “So this law and tying it to housing is really important.”

The $19 million comes after the state, in its fiscal year 2023 budget, dedicated $300 million of federal pandemic aid to building more than 3,000 new affordable homes across 43 developments statewide through the new Affordable Housing Production Fund.