Texas border building codes: a mostly meaningless and bizarre law

I have been looking into the powers that border counties have to enforce health and safety standards through requiring building permits and inspections of residential homes.

In Subchapter F, of Chapter 233 of the Government Code, the Texas Legislature enacted what mist be one of the most meaningless and bazaar construction requirements to be found anywhere. It applies on to counties within 50 miles of the border with Mexico. I know about this because we watched this unfold at the Legislature in 2009 and tried, largely unsuccessfully, to make it better. To Senator Eddie Lucio’s credit, he tried to make sense of this but was also unsuccessful.

I’ll attempt to paraphrase the law. (Do not rely on this interpretation).

As I understand the law it boils down to this. If you build a home or do a major remodel you are supposed to file a notice with the county. But if you are building your own house and you don’t, nothing happens. You are supposed to get someone to inspect your house — a plumber will do. If you don’t and you are building your own house nothing happens to you. If you don’t pass the inspection, nothing happens to you. If you have a mobile home, no matter how bad it is, you don’t have to get a permit or an inspection.

You should read the code for yourself in the PDF below.

The code applies to a new single family home or duplex, or an addition to a home that increases the square footage by 50% or more. It does not apply to a mobile home.

It only applies when a county within 50 miles of the border elects to enforce it.

It requires new construction to comply with the International Residential Code.

However, the county cannot require “prior approval” before construction begins and the county may not charge a fee to defray the costs of enforcement.

The law does however require a person who builds a home to have it inspected “to ensure compliance” through a minimum of three inspections by contracting with any one of the following:

  • a licensed engineer
  • a registered architect
  • a professional inspector
  • a plumbing inspector
  • a building inspector or
  • a person certified as a “residential combination inspector”.

The county can require prior notice before commencing construction and notice of whether the home complies with building codes according to the inspection.

If a person does not give the county notice of the construction of the house they are subject to a Class C misdemeanor, except if the builder is the owner and the owner intends to live in the house.

The net effect of this law was described in testimony by Eric Morales, El Paso County Attorney before Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.‘s International Relations and Trade Committee earlier this year. I created a video of Morales’ testimony below.