Reposted from the NYTimes
Audit Says Follow-Up on Buildings Is Lacking
By SEWELL CHAN
The city’s Department of Buildings, which has already been the object of intense scrutiny over fatal construction accidents and accusations of corruption, is facing more criticism.
On Tuesday, City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. released an audit finding that the department had repeatedly failed to make sure that hazardous conditions were fixed.
Among the notable findings:
¶The department failed to reinspect 20 percent of the properties due for reinspection as part of its Hazardous Re-inspection Program, because inspectors could not gain access to the properties.
¶The department failed to reinspect 5 of 14 buildings with three or more still-open hazardous violations for more than 11 months. The buildings were selected as part of its Multi-Hazardous Re-Inspection Program.
¶The department has not strengthened its existing programs or used its power to issue building permits as an effective enforcement tool.
“It is simply unacceptable that D.O.B. has permitted buildings with multiple open hazardous violations to go un-inspected for years,” Mr. Thompson, who is expected to run for mayor in 2009, said in a statement. “Even by D.O.B.’s admission, these are the worst cases, yet it has stood by and let the violations go unchecked and put New Yorkers at risk. The Department of Buildings’ violation enforcement is crucial to ensuring that buildings in the city are being constructed safely and pose no risks to area residents.”
The audit found that the department’s efforts to follow up on violations “were less than adequate not only because of deficiencies in the execution of its programs, but also because the agency is limited in its ability to compel property owners to remedy violations on their property.”
For example, in September 2007, the department issued 1,449 hazardous violations citations through an entity known as the Environmental Control Board.
Follow-up inspections found that 845 properties had no new violations, while 312 of the hazardous conditions still existed, resulting in additional citations. For the remaining 292 violations, inspectors could not gain access to the properties.
Mr. Thompson’s office found that inspectors left the required form, requesting that the property owner call the department to reschedule the reinspection, for only 100 of the 292 properties.
Mr. Thompson said the department should ensure that inspectors are leaving the forms and do more to follow up on the buildings in question.
The auditors also looked at the department’s Multi-Hazardous Re-Inspection program.
The audit reviewed 14 buildings that had at least three hazardous violations still open during the time period studied. The citations had been issued from September 2003 to December 2004. Of the 14, eight had corrected the violations, and six had yet to be resolved.
Of those still unresolved, as of March 2008, the department had not taken any action for 11 months since at least April 2007 for five of the six buildings. In one case, the last recorded action was in October 2005 — two and a half years earlier.
Finally, the auditors examined the department’s self-certification audit program, which requires that 10 percent of randomly selected properties be reinspected. The audit found that the department did not check on compliance for one-third of the 1,628 self-certifications randomly selected.
Furthermore, of the 31 cases in which the department did find violations that were not corrected, it “took no further action and did not issue false certification violations against 17,” or 55 percent of the cases.
In a response, the department said it had already begun to carry out the 11 recommendations of Mr. Thompson’s report, saying, “The content of these recommendations has helped the department review and strengthen our procedures."