‘Serious threats’ among massive backlog of Buildings Dept. complaints: inspector

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City Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

A city government watchdog report released Tuesday found that Chicago building inspectors have a backlog of nearly 5,000 complaints, with some dating back nearly five years and almost 200 of them “describing serious threats to life and safety.”

And the Department of Buildings met its three-week deadline to respond to complaints just 36.5 percent of the time in the first five months of 2017, according to the scathing 39-page report from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office.

“Deadlines that fail to meet legal mandates set by the City ordinance, public information that lacks transparency, and unaddressed health and safety hazards pose far too many risks to the residents of Chicago,” Ferguson wrote.

Among the lingering complaints were reports of seniors’ homes without water, a day care center that went a week without water, bricks falling from a building over a sidewalk near a school, as well as mouse, rat, mold and bedbug infestations.

The audit urged the city to address overdue emergency complaints, review staffing needs and improve communication with 311 call centers. Ferguson wrote that city officials agreed with their recommendations.

A Buildings Department spokeswoman said the agency “did inspect every open 311 complaint,” though nothing fell under categories of “dangerous and hazardous” or “life safety.”

“The Department of Buildings takes emergency complaints and public safety very seriously and is always looking for ways to improve its service,” according to an agency statement. “In response to this audit, DOB made several improvements that prioritized emergencies, decreased response times and updated record keeping.”

The city says that “even before the audit,” it has been improving staffing.

Building inspectors have been equipped with tablets, leading to an uptick in inspections this year, according to the department, which says about half of 311 calls are unfounded.

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