Report: L&I Allowed Uncertified Inspectors to Conduct 600 Inspections in One Week

Image via Google Street View

L&I main office on 11th floor of Municipal Services Building | Image via Google Street View

Questionable goings-on in L&I land again? It depends on whom you ask. According to the Inquirer’s Alfred Lubrano, the Department of Licenses and Inspections allowed nine “inexperienced and uncertified inspectors” to conduct “around 600 inspections of unsafe buildings in a single week last month.” Adding to the murky affair, each of the nine newbies “then recorded their work in L&I’s database under the name of another man, an experienced inspector with the agency.”

Could this be a symptom of the department’s desperate attempt to stay on top in an ocean of bureaucraticfinancial and/or managerial issues? Maybe. But the department already has a less than stellar reputation (even City Controller Alan Butkovitz has critiqued L&I as being neglectful when it comes to inspecting unsafe buildings in a timely manner), so why this now? “This story is built on a host of unnamed speakers, who raise a host of safety and legal issues that are completely without merit,” said Commission Carlton Williams in an email to Property. He went on to explain the process:

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Morning Headlines: How Did This Illegal Demolition in Fairmount Happen?

Photo by Bradley Maule from  June 5, 2013 collapse at 22nd and Market.

Photo by Bradley Maule from June 5, 2013 collapse at 22nd and Market.

News of an illegal demolition having taken place on Poplar Street last spring has emerged, the Inquirer‘s Alfred Lubrano reports:

Little more than a year after a botched demolition triggered a Center City building collapse that killed six, a demolition company took down nearly half a block of buildings in Philadelphia’s Fairmount section without obtaining the required permits, an Inquirer investigation has found.

In addition to not having permits for the demolition of the five Fairmount buildings, Lubrano writes, Ashaw Demolition also razed “a house that had been in a family for four generations.” The owner claims in court documents that Ashaw never informed them of the demolition.

Even more bizzare, though? Lubrano reports the company is on the city’s master demolition list, “an exclusive club of companies called on when the city needs to demolish buildings.”

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Why Building Collapses Might Be More Likely in Winter

Last month’s roof collapse at Lululemon on Walnut Street is sure to have rattled most of us who remember the June 2013 building collapse that left six dead.

Fortunately, only minor injuries were reported and the yoga store has since set up a temporary base elsewhere. However, the question remains: What exactly caused our most recent (at least, according to public knowledge) collapse scare?

Billy Penn’s Anna Orso spoke to Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney who specializes in collapse cases, who pointed to winter-weather water as the possible culprit: pointed to

L&I Warns of Fake Inspector Hitting Philly Homes

L&I is warning residents of a fake L&I inspector that has solicited at several Philadelphia homes. L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams says to ask for identification if an L&I inspector shows up at your house.

Several Philadelphians have reported a fake inspector showing up at their door. Yesterday, a fake L&I inspector flashed a badge of some kind, then received a $91 payment from a homeowner he said was necessary.

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Morning Headlines: Advisory Commission Sums Up What’s Wrong with L&I

Photo by Bradley Maule from  June 5, 2013 collapse at 22nd and Market.

Photo by Bradley Maule from June 5, 2013 collapse at 22nd and Market.

Months after the botched demolition that left six people killed in the neighboring Salvation Army store, Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order that created the Special Independent Advisory Commission. The group was tasked with studying the ins and outs of the Department of Licenses and Inspections and presenting recommendations for its improvement. Those findings were finally published last week.

SIAC chairman Glenn Corbett and executive director Peter Vaira spoke with Marty Moss-Cane of WHYY’s Radio Times about the commission’s data yesterday in an interview, which you can listen to here. Below, some snippets:

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Morning Headlines: Nutter and Clarke Propose Opposing Plans For Department of Licenses and Inspections

Photo by Bradley Maule from  June 5, 2013 collapse at 22nd and Market.

Photo by Bradley Maule from June 5, 2013 collapse at 22nd and Market.

Since the June 2013 building collapse (and an unknown number of other crumbling properties), the Department of Licenses and Inspections has been under particular scrutiny. Excuses ranging from a dearth in funds to simply having its hands tied have been heard time and again, which may be why the department will soon get an overhaul.

CBS Philly’s Mike Dunn reports Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke will be presenting their respective proposals for restructuring L&I today, but appear to be going in opposite directions for how to go about it:

Mayor Nutter is expected to release the recommendations of a task force he created after the Market Street tragedy. The chief recommendation will be a restructuring of the city administration, so that the Department of Licenses and Inspections is split in two.

One new department would oversee all demolition and construction in the city. The other would handle L&I’s other functions like permitting.

Meanwhile, Clarke has a different idea… Read more »

Morning Headlines: Roof Collapses At For Pete’s Sake Pub Building

Photo credit: Google Street View

Photo credit: Google Street View

Nobody was hurt, but that was a close one! The building that houses For Pete’s Sake Pub in Queen Village partially collapsed yesterday around 3:30pm. According to Philly.com, L&I is looking into what could have caused the roof of the three-story property (with apartments on the top two floors) to fall through.

Thus far, L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams said “a zoning permit for interior renovations of the second and third floors” was granted to Peterbuilt Construction back in June. That permit was changed a few weeks ago to include floors and stairs, and an L&I inspector paid a visit to the site just last week to go over “building and fire safety with the contractor.”

No violations have been found at the site.

L&I probes partial building collapse in Queen Village [Philly.com]

In other news…

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City Finally Dismantles Boarded Up Frankford Home

frankford home fire 2013

4712 Worth Street (center)
Photo credit: Google Street View.

It’s not even city-owned blight, which begs the question…if it had it been, how much longer would it have taken? After almost a year of neighborhood meeting complaints and 311 calls to the city, the boarded up charred remains of this Frankford home are finally being removed. And at a heavier penny than usual, too.

John Loftus of the Northeast Times reports that after 4712 Worth Street burned down last July, the city stamped it with the ever ubiquitous “imminently dangerous” label and barred its entry. (Although a neighbor says possums and raccoons still managed to settle in.)

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Signs Now Required on Work Sites in Philadelphia

The city passed many new regulations in response to the building collapse last year. Yesterday, it unveiled another one: Detailed signs are now required at demolition and construction sites. The idea is that the detailed information will make it easier for the citizens of Philadelphia to report problems with work sites to the city.

For projects larger than three stories, a 3-by-5-foot sign is required. Smaller projects get a yellow one-pager with the same information.

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Morning Headlines: After Collapse, L&I Warns Homeowners to Check Foundations

Photo prior to collapse courtesy Google Streetview.

Photo prior to collapse courtesy Google Streetview.

The Inquirer has details on what caused Monday’s Cobbs Creek rowhouse collapse. L&I told Jason Grant that the homes at 6015 and 6017 Spruce collapsed because the foundation beneath their shared party wall had been deteriorating over decades.

The culprit, according to L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams, was a foundation that had been made of rubble stone and mortar. Modern construction relies on foundations made of continuous slabs of concrete, but older construction commonly used the same mixture found on Spruce Street.

An ominous warning about how easily deteriorated foundations can lead to structural problems:

Generally, Williams said, even one loose or missing stone in a rubble wall – which can get dislodged as mortar surrounding it gradually deteriorates to dust – may lead to a collapse.

If reading that gave you heart palpitations, Williams has a suggestion:

Williams noted Tuesday that many homes in the Northeastern United States were built with rubble stone and mortar foundations. He and L&I Emergency Services Director Scott Mulderig said anyone with turn-of-the-century or early-1900s homes should check basements at least yearly for loose or missing rubble stone; a dusty or sandlike buildup of deteriorated mortar; or water that could signal a compromised foundation or wall.

Most importantly, no one was hurt in Monday’s collapse. Grant talked to one of the homeowners who was at work when she got the news and raced home to find her two Scottish deerhounds – both safe.

A self-described pragmatist, she said, “Good things happen, bad things happen – you just hope the good ones outweigh the bad ones, but sometimes they don’t.”

More news this way …
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