Audit of the Department of Buildings’ Permit Inspections Process

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) inspection process for construction work subject to permit requirements. The objective of the audit was to determine whether DOB inspects construction work subject to permit requirements to verify compliance with the Chicago Construction Codes.

DOB relies on requests from permit holders to schedule required inspections. This process complies with the Chicago Construction Codes, but it does not ensure that permit holders request all required inspections. DOB does not have a process to determine which permits require inspections or which inspections remain outstanding. While DOB reliably schedules requested inspections and only issues Certificates of Occupancy (COOs) once inspections are complete, its reactive approach allows for the construction and occupation of some buildings which do not require COOs without the completion of all required inspections.

DOB’s inspection processes allow some permit holders to construct buildings without required inspections. In a review of permits issued between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2019, OIG identified 42 buildings within DOB’s permit and inspection system that did not have all required inspections and found that the associated buildings had nonetheless been fully constructed. These included 35 single-family homes, several of which have already been sold or listed for sale. In these 42 cases—all buildings for which no COO was required—DOB noted that the general contractors had failed to request inspections. While the Department consistently performs requested inspections, it does not use available data to identify situations where permit holders have not requested required inspections. In contrast, DOB does ensure the inspection of buildings that require COOs.

OIG recommends that DOB develop procedures to ensure that it completes required inspections before a building is fully constructed. The Department should also train its staff to maintain data in an effective and consistent manner. Further, DOB should proactively monitor issued permits, and improve its data quality to support thorough and accurate monitoring of those permits and evaluation of program performance. Finally, the Department should consider alternative procedures to ensure that permit holders request inspections, such as requiring that a wider variety of buildings receive COOs.

In response to our audit findings and recommendations, DOB stated that it has developed and implemented new procedures related to building permit inspections. The Department also committed to improving documentation and communication of those procedures to contractors and the public. DOB described limitations of its current permit and inspection data management system and stated that it has worked with the Department of Assets, Information and Services (AIS) “for well over a decade” to replace it. DOB stated that until the system is replaced, it has implemented a daily email that identifies permits over six months old with no inspection requests. DOB will assign the related locations to inspectors to determine the status of construction. Related to the quality of data in its current system, DOB did not describe specific procedures to improve the data quality which would support thorough and accurate monitoring of those permits and evaluation of program performance.