Homebuilders back bill to limit city ordinances on home aesthetics

DES MOINES — The Home Builders Association of Iowa is urging the legislature to pass new limits on city rules for construction and renovation of residential property. Dan Knoup, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines, says building codes should govern life and safety issues, not aesthetics.

“We’re at a historic crisis right now. Housing has never been less attainable in our lifetimes,” Knoup says. “These codes are being weaponized to increase the cost of housing.”

The group says ordinances that forbid the use of things like vinyl siding or require a certain number of windows drive up the cost of building houses, condos and apartments. Hubbell Homes vice president Rachel Flint oversees construction of the company’s home building operations in central Iowa. She says they’re not asking to get rid of building codes.

“Codes have made homes better and safer and we are all for that,” she says. “The problem we have are the arbitrary codes that are designed to eliminate certain populations from the cities.”

A senate subcommittee has advanced a bill that would limit residential building codes that include design standards. Angela Caulk, a lobbyist for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, says the group has concerns.

“We are kind of worried that some of the language having to do with the abundance of codes, with how broad that is, could produce a race to the bottom where people will are just looking to see if they can make the cheapest residential housing,” she says.

Tom Cope, a lobbyist for the American Planning Association’s Iowa Chapter, says the group hopes senators make some adjustments to the bill. “We do have members that do come from communities with older housing stock that want to be able to have the ability to maybe provide an incentive to developers by saying: ‘If you do a certain design standard you might be able to qualify for tax abatement or those types of opportunities,’” Cope says.

The bill would allow cities to maintain design standards for some historic structures and homeowners’ associations that have rules for roofing, siding or other design elements could stay in effect. The bill does not apply to retail, commercial or industrial properties.