Twelve years after Lincoln Park porch collapse, Chicagoans warned to check shaky porches

SHARE Twelve years after Lincoln Park porch collapse, Chicagoans warned to check shaky porches

This porch in Lincoln Park collapsed in 2003, and 13 people died. | Associated Press

Chicagoans were warned again Wednesday to check their shaky porches and avoid overloading them – 12 years after the Lincoln Park porch collapse that killed 13 young partygoers.

Although City Hall is no longer conducting a blitzkrieg of inspections, outgoing Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis urged residents to protect themselves by visually inspecting porches, balconies and the stairs leading to them, voluntarily making needed repairs and by using porches and decks responsibly.

Chicagoans were warned to be on the particular look-out for “signs of deterioration” that include: split or rotting wood or evidence of water damage; loose, missing or rusting hardware, bolts or anchors where the porch attaches to a building.

Red flags also include: missing, damaged or loose support beams and planking;excessive movement of the structure when walked on; and wobbly handrails or guardrails, City Hall said.

If any of those problems occur, Chicagoans and their guests were urged to stay off the porch, balcony or stairs. Renters should report the problem to the landlord, property manager or building owner and call 311 to demand an inspection if prompt repairs are not made as required by law.

“Property owners need to be mindful of building maintenance, including checking decks and porches for any wear and tear and immediately addressing unsafe conditions,” outgoing Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis was quoted as saying in a press release.

Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis. | Sun-Times Library

“Safety doesn’t end with an inspection, and we remind residents to properly use decks and porches during the summer and limit the number of people on these structures.”

Thirteen young people died shortly after midnight on June 29, 2003 when a three-story porch pancaked to the ground at 713 W. Wrightwood.

Five annual inspections did not flag the allegedly unpermitted, over-sized porch that collapsed on that fateful night.

Five years later, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that City Hall had quietly scaled back the flurry of porch inspections it had ordered in response to the tragedy.

The task force of 39 inspectors created to scour the city for shaky porches was “folded back” into the Building Department’s Conservation Bureau to maintain the integrity of existing buildings.

No longer were inspectors assigned to specific “territories” run by project managers armed with “Web-enabled phones” that allow them to access up-to-date information on whether permits were issued for a specific address.

Porch inspections took place in only three instances: when they’re newly constructed or rebuilt, in response to 311 complaints, or during the course of annual inspections for residential properties with four units or more.

Then-Buildings Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey denied that the change amounted to the city playing Russian roulette with porch safety.

“The cause for that task force was well-known. There were concerns. After there had been a certain level of compliance, and we spent enough time inspecting porches, we saw that building owners were taking steps to remedy code violations. They knew we were gonna continue to be diligent. So we felt comfortable bringing that team of inspectors back into the normal Conservation Bureau,” McCaffrey said then.

On Wednesday, Davis insisted that the Department of Buildings inspects roughly 5,000 porches every year during the course of annual building inspections. She further noted a drop in 311 complaints about shaky porches “due to greater awareness and stricter code requirements.”

In 2014, there were 1,923 porch-related complaints and 2,405 permits issued to repair, replace or build new porches.

Within days of the tragedy on Wrightwood, the Daley administration filed a lawsuit accusing Restoration Specialists LLC, the general contractor hired by building owner Philip Pappas, of building a porch that collapsed because it was too big, too far away from the wall, improperly supported and illegally constructed without the required permits.

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