OIG Finds That the Department of Buildings’ Process for Inspecting Construction Work Allows Some Permit Holders to Construct and Occupy Uninspected Buildings

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) inspection process for construction work subject to permit requirements. OIG concluded that DOB does not have a process in place to determine which permits require inspections or which inspections remain outstanding. Rather, DOB relies on requests from permit holders to schedule required inspections. Although this process complies with the Chicago Construction Codes, it does not ensure that permit holders request all required inspections. In fact, DOB’s inspection processes allow some permit holders to construct and occupy buildings without required inspections. OIG also concluded that operational inconsistencies and a lack of monitoring tools prevent DOB from tracking its permit inspection performance.

The objective of OIG’s audit was to determine whether DOB inspects construction work subject to permit requirements to verify compliance with the Chicago Construction Codes. To administer and enforce the Construction Codes, DOB reviews construction plans, issues building permits, performs inspections in response to requests or complaints, and issues citations for code violations.

OIG found that except in situations where DOB requires a Certificate of Occupancy (COO), its inspection processes allow some permit holders to construct and occupy buildings which have not passed required inspections. DOB issued 5,351 construction permits that did not require a COO between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2019. As of April 27, 2021, DOB had conducted all related inspections for only 16.7% of those permits. In a review of 80 permits issued during that time period, OIG identified 42 buildings that did not have all required inspections and found the associated buildings to nonetheless be fully constructed. 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 does not ensure that all permit holders request required inspections, DOB did schedule inspections for 91.5% of those requested. And for buildings that required COOs, DOB completed 98.9% of the required inspections for 1,236 permits issued between 2017 – 2019.

OIG made several recommendations to help DOB ensure that it completes required inspections before a building is fully constructed, including:

  • DOB should develop and implement procedures to identify required inspections and ensure it completes those inspections.
  • DOB should proactively monitor permits with no requests for required inspections and develop monitoring tools and procedures to determine the construction status of buildings.
  • To facilitate proactive monitoring, DOB should ensure that inspectors and supervisors use the Department’s data management system in a more effective and consistent manner.
  • DOB should consider alternative procedures to ensure permit holders request inspections, such as requiring that a wider variety of buildings receive COOs.

In response to OIG’s audit, DOB stated that the Department is committed to improving documentation and communication of its procedures to contractors and the public. Specifically, DOB stated that it “has developed and implemented procedures for when inspections are required for building permits and will better document and communicate those procedures with the contractors and the public.” Furthermore, DOB indicated that it has clear limitations regarding its current permit and inspection data management system, which it has worked with the Department of Assets, Information and Services (AIS) for “well over a decade” to replace. 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; and 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.

“DOB’s construction inspections are imperative to ensuring that Chicago’s buildings are safe to use and in compliance with Construction Codes. With safety at issue, DOB should take a more proactive role in making sure that buildings are properly and thoroughly inspected before occupation and use,” said Inspector General Deborah Witzburg. “DOB agreed with the majority of our findings, acknowledging that it needs to better document and communicate its procedures and committing to devoting additional resources; we hope that they move swiftly to implement our recommendations in the interest of enhancing the safety and quality of life of Chicagoans.”

The full report can be found online at OIG’s website:  bit.ly/DOBinspectionprocess.

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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.