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

Commissioner Carlton Williams: "They didn’t do anything illegal or improper. Public safety was in no way compromised."

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:

“The existing properties had permits to repair the conditions. The new inspectors were to check if any work was done under the existing permit. The inspectors then recorded the results in the L & I data system. These were pre existing cases from a certified building inspector and the new trainees performed follow up inspections to determine the status. They were not asked to determine whether any construction work was up to to code. Rather, they simply took note of whether repair work had been done or not and then entered the data into the system.”

Lubrano’s article references that the number of buildings was around 100. Williams said it was actually more: “The inspections were of 203 buildings.”

Not helping L&I’s case were unnamed veteran L&I employees who told Lubrano that “they can’t recall training in which new hires were ordered to assess unsafe buildings, which often present complex and even dangerous problems,” in addition to the department’s computer system not having any mention of the purported ‘training exercise’ that took place. One anonymous employee even claims the whole thing is a “cover-up, pure and simple, so the commissioner could clean up the list of uninspected buildings.”

“This training exercise was the first time they were allowed to perform on site inspections without being paired with a veteran inspector,” said Williams, who called the anonymous quotes misleading amd explained new inspectors are paired with vets throughout the training period. “The trainees did this exercise as part of their preparation to be on the front-line of maintaining public safety.”

According to Williams, all nine of the trainees in question had passed the International Code Council certification – which he called “the main requirement” of becoming a certified building inspector, including in the City of Philadelphia. “The next step was to pay a $50 registration fee to become certified with the [Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code].” Four of the nine inspectors have received their Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code certification, with the remaining five obtaining their certification “by the end of the month.” From Williams:

 “So, these trainees were both qualified and certified to do the work they did. They didn’t do anything illegal or improper. Public safety was in no way compromised. Indeed, they were given real world training in how to use their system, training that complemented their classroom work.”

Butkovitz isn’t buying it and said filing the inspections under one name–Shane McNulty, an experienced inspector– opens up the City to potential lawsuits from contractors or property owners. Lubrano’s report quotes the City Controller as saying, “There’s a very good chance L&I will lose those cases.”

Only Williams said they can track who made the inspection, “The payroll number identifying the employee who performed the inspection is located in either the comment tab or the location box in the City’s data base.”

So was it a misconstrued training exercise or departmental cover up? Either way, it’s another headache for L&I. Let’s cross our fingers the historic investment recently proposed for L&I end these misunderstandings/shenanigans.

Angelly Carrion contributed to this article.  

L&I dodges questions about 600 inspections by 9 rookies in one week [Inquirer]