Allegations of lax oversight prompt building code review - Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

Allegations of lax oversight prompt building code review


Massachusetts building officials are taking action after a FOX Undercover investigation exposed what some are calling shoddy construction in a modular home.

The Department of Public Safety, which oversees modular home construction in Massachusetts, is eyeing new laws and regulations after one of the pre-built homes was erected in West Boylston full of code violations.

Ron Chasse thought he was getting a piece of the American dream when he ordered the home.

“It turned out to be the American nightmare,” he said.

But that nightmare is now almost over. Workers are reconstructing his home after the state ordered the manufacturer, Signature Building Systems of Pennsylvania, to gut the house and fix all the problems exposed behind the walls and ceilings. Those problems included wires without fire-proof caulking to stop flames from spreading, electrical boxes stuck into the wall without being attached and corroded plumbing throughout the house.

“Should this situation have been prevented?” asked FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.

“Absolutely. Without a doubt. It could have been. It should have been,” Chasse said.

Unlike houses that are built right on the lot, which require numerous inspections by the city or town, modular homes are examined by private inspectors at the factory where they're built. But the state only requires each section of the house to be inspected once. Those inspections can even happen after construction is finished, so inspectors can't see what's behind the finished walls.

That's exactly what happened with two of the four sections of Ron Chasse's modular home.

“I was outraged at the lack of quality in this house,” Chasse said.

State senator Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, is one of three lawmakers who wrote a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, saying the way the West Boylston home was built "demonstrates a lack of oversight for the safety of residents inside the structure."

“We need to improve the standards of oversight and certification of the construction of those buildings if they're going to come into Massachusetts,” Brewer said in an interview last month.

But Rob Anderson, chief of inspections for the Department of Public Safety, which oversees modular home construction in Massachusetts, says there’s no lack of oversight.

“If there's not a lack of oversight, how did that house make it into Massachusetts?” Beaudet asked.

“We were given the paperwork that indicated that in fact it was in compliance with the code. Turns out that there were some issues with it that are now being addressed,” Anderson said in an interview last month.

Days after a FOX Undercover story last month, Anderson’s boss, public safety Commissioner Thomas Gatzunis, sent a letter to Brewer and his colleagues, writing that,”DPS staff and I have a number of ideas for legislative and regulatory initiatives that could better address, ameliorate, or prevent situations like this in the future."

It's welcome news to Ron Chasse.

“It’s a great step. It needs to be done. Because the consumer who ends up with this house in the end needs to be protected,” Chasse said.

The Department of Public Safety is meeting with lawmakers this week to talk about those new laws and regulations. The president of Signature Building Systems, Victor DePhillips continues to defend his modular homes, saying the reconstruction in West Boylston is in no way an admission of any wrongdoing.

As for any new laws or regulations, DePhillips says, “The industry has always supported a fair and uniform regulatory process, and I am sure we will continue to do the same."

Any changes would be the second time this year the state has addressed modular home construction. In April, the state changed the building code requiring ceilings to be held up with screws or nails, not just glue, after a series of FOX Undercover stories about fire safety in modular homes.

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