The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed an audit of the Department of Law’s (DOL) process for notifying people of sanitation code violations, such as overflowing garbage containers or uncut weeds. The objective of the audit was to determine the average length of time it took to notify the property owner of the alleged violation, and why, in some cases, the process took more than a year.
OIG found that for the 101,729 alleged sanitation code violations in 2016 and 2017, it took DOL an average of 289 days—more than 9 months—after the violation date to issue a notice of violation. DOL sent notice at least six months after the violation in 88,503, or 87.0%, of the cases. This included 24,189 cases—23.8% of the total—where it took DOL a year or more to send notice. Fewer than 2% of notifications were sent within one month of the violation.
During this period, the primary cause for the delay in notification was DOL’s backlog of violations. The process was relatively short once staff began work.
To reduce delays, OIG recommends that DOL work with the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) to set a target for the maximum number of days from violation to notification. DOL should develop, document, and implement processes to meet the agreed upon goal. Because the primary cause of notification delay is the backlog itself, we recommend solutions that address the volume of “untouched” and incoming violations, such as relying on the existing ownership dispute process described on notifications to reduce the number of citations requiring ownership research and hiring temporary or seasonal staff. Finally, DOL management should monitor its performance against the target number of days to notification, making operational adjustments as needed to meet the goal and reduce any backlog.
DOL disagreed with our recommendations and disputed the notion that setting a performance goal related to notification timeliness would be “reasonable, appropriate, or even operationally feasible […].” While we are encouraged that DOL’s timeliness has improved recently, we are discouraged that the Department continues to deny the problem and the recommendations offered to prevent violation notice delays that potentially affect health and safety, take property owners by surprise and make it difficult to rebut allegations about their property, and lead to a loss of revenue for the City.