Follow-Up on Audit of Delays in Providing Notice of Sanitation Code Violations

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its September 2019 audit of the Department of Law’s (DOL) process for notifying people of sanitation code violations, such as overflowing garbage containers or uncut weeds. Based on the Department’s response, OIG concludes that DOL has not implemented corrective actions related to the audit finding.

The purpose of the 2019 audit was to determine the average length of time it took DOL to notify the property owners of alleged sanitation violations, and why, in some cases, the process took more than a year. Our audit found that for sanitation code violations that occurred in 2016 and 2017, DOL notified property owners an average of 289 days—more than 9 months—after the alleged violation. In 63.2% of the cases, DOL sent notices between six and twelve months after the violation; in another 23.8%, it took the Department a year or more to send the notices. 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.

Based on the results of the audit, OIG recommended 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 and implement performance monitoring. This target could take into consideration public health and safety objectives on the one hand, and procedural fairness considerations for alleged violators on the other. It could also accommodate situations beyond DOL’s control that cause delays. OIG further recommended ways for DOL to address its backlog of violations, including hiring temporary staff or forgiving older violations. In its response to the audit, DOL stated that OIG’s recommendations were “unfeasible” and did not commit to implementing any of them.

In February 2021, OIG inquired about corrective actions taken by DOL in response to the audit. Based on the Department’s follow-up response, OIG concludes that DOL has not implemented any corrective actions. Specifically, DOL has not developed a target or goal for the time to notification and has not implemented performance monitoring. Similar to its response to the audit, DOL again stated that OIG’s recommendations are not feasible. We still urge the Department to implement a target time for notification, to conduct performance monitoring, and to prepare for handling backlogs moving forward to avoid lengthy delays in the notification process.
Despite DOL’s decision not to implement OIG’s recommendations, the Department is improving the notification process in other ways. For example, DOL is implementing a new ownership identification and violation processing system (MET 2.0) that will introduce some operational efficiencies.