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City says fix the leak now, get the permit later

Friday, February 26, 2021 by Jo Clifton

In an effort to assist residents dealing with the aftereffects of prolonged freezing temperatures, heavy snow and freezing rain, City Council approved an ordinance Thursday waiving residential permitting and development fees for repairing or rebuilding structures and removing downed trees.

Fees covered by the waiver include permitting, plan review, inspection, demolition and variance fees for repairing existing structures. The waiver does not include fees for reinspections.

Council also voted unanimously to authorize staff to exempt certain plumbing activities from permit requirements.

For plumbing repairs that do require a permit, Council extended the deadline to submit a permit application for the work from one business day to five days.

“There are many businesses and residences that do not have water currently,” Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t getting in their way.” He advised plumbers and others working on the repairs to do the work and then apply for the permit.

According to a statement from Denise Lucas, director of Development Services, “We understand severe weather caused significant damage to building and plumbing infrastructure in Austin. These quick actions from City Council and the Development Services Department allow the city to respond in real time to the needs of our community.”

In addition to extending the deadline to submit a permit application and exempting certain activities from permit requirements, the city has waived registration requirements for work regulated by the plumbing code. DSD has also established a web page dedicated to emergency repairs and permitting, including a live web chat feature and a hotline (512-974-1500) that operates Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

In addition to the online support, DSD is offering a leave-of-absence program to allow employees with plumbing licenses and certifications to serve the community. The department has worked with the Human Resources Department to allow qualified employees to take an unpaid leave of absence for up to 10 days to work with local contractors.

Council members Alison Alter and Paige Ellis have been working to bring more plumbers to Austin through two groups, Plumbers Without Borders and Water Mission. Alter said she was happy to announce that more plumbers would be arriving on Monday to help residents needing repairs. “They’ll be working through the Austin Disaster Relief Network that has really been a fabulous partner throughout this process,” she said.

DSD notes that the governor’s office has recently issued waivers to allow any plumber’s apprentice who has met all of the qualifications to work temporarily on plumbing repairs without the direct supervision of a licensed plumber. In addition, previously licensed plumbers who have not completed their continuing education for the past two years are being allowed to apply for a Texas state plumber’s license in order to assist those whose homes were damaged by the storm.

Council also voted to waive the fees incurred by residents using Emergency Medical Services between Feb. 12-20.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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