L&I Cannot Count High Enough to Tally How Many Buildings Have Collapsed in Philadelphia

The Daily News and others have asked, but the city says it does not keep records of how many buildings have collapsed.

Fun story in today’s Daily News from William Bender: The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections literally has no idea how many buildings have collapsed in Philadelphia.

To make things even better worse, the Daily News has been trying to get this data for three months!

As a blue-ribbon commission investigates L&I in the wake of last year’s fatal collapse on Market Street, the beleaguered agency said this week that it cannot determine how many buildings have collapsed in recent years because the descriptions of the incidents to which its staffers respond are buried in an unsearchable database.

For three months, the Daily News has tried to obtain a list of building collapses going back five years. On Dec. 2, Mayor Nutter’s spokesman, Mark McDonald, told the newspaper to file a formal Right-to-Know request. Five weeks later, a city lawyer denied the request, saying that the records do not exist and that the city is not required to compile or organize records in response to a request.

I like when the Daily News chides Mark McDonald a bit, since he used to work there. The DN appealed the ruling, and the city admitted the records could “exist under another spelling, another name, or under another classification.” Then former L&I commissioner Bennett Levin compares L&I to the KGB, because of course he does.

“If they are not giving that information to you, they are just bulls—-ing you,” Levin said. “You’re dealing with the KGB.

“We kept records of not only buildings that have collapsed, but buildings that were identified as imminently dangerous,” Levin said of his tenure at L&I. “Once a building collapsed, you had an incident and there was an inventory of that.”

So maybe the city does know how many buildings collapsed! (Philadelphia contributor Andrew Thompson, who reported this West Philly collapse in October, incidentally, has also asked for this data: “I just wanted the data to analyze on my own, but I got all this pushback.”)

What’s funny is, unless the number is astronomically high — three digits? four digits? — I doubt people would really be up in arms about the number of collapsed buildings in Philly; it’s a concern to many people, certainly, but is it a hot-button issue powerful people will press the city government on? (They live in houses that are unlikely to collapse, you see.)

Bender notes that L&I’s record-keeping is set to improve, so maybe one day we’ll learn how many buildings have collapsed in this city.

[Daily News]