Chicago Department of Buildings Takes Steps to Prevent Building Code Violations

Carson P. Kyhl

Posted by Carson P. Kyhl

On December 14, 2016, Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel introduced a proposed ordinance, 02016-8628, that is intended to strengthen the city’s ability to prevent building code violations. The amendments to the Chicago Municipal Code (Code) broaden the enforcement powers of the Building Commissioner (Commissioner), making it easier to take action against construction contractors and others who put building safety at risk.

Chicago_skyline_night_2.jpgResponse to 2015 Fire Tragedy

The need to improve enforcement of the Chicago Building Code provisions was highlighted by the death of Daniel Capuano, a Chicago firefighter, in December 14, 2015. The veteran firefighter fell down an empty elevator shaft during a warehouse fire. The building had numerous code violations, including a failure to obtain the required permit for removing the elevator as well as omitting the placement of a barrier to prevent entry the elevator shaft. In an earlier post, we wrote about legislation introduced at the state level in response to firefighter Capuano’s death.

The City has worked on improving the way it responds to code violations over the past year. We learned in discussions with Chicago Department of Buildings (DOB) that the goal of the proposed ordinance is to help the department be more effective and efficient in taking action against unscrupulous contractors, architects, and others so DOB’s remaining resources can be used to better service stakeholders who are compliant.

Highlights of Proposed Changes

The proposed ordinance amends Code Title 13, the Chicago Building Code, as well as Titles 2 and 4. The amendments introduce a number of new provisions and also consolidates some current provisions.The following are some of the highlights from the proposed ordinance.

New language added to existing Code Section 2-22-040 clarifies that the Commissioner has the authority to “suspend or revoke” permits under several conditions: (1) if issued by mistake, (2) the work is not keeping with the Code, or (3) permit issuance was based on “false information” or the work undertaken is not in keeping with the “permit or approved plans.” The Commissioner may also create rules that implement the process of suspending or revoking permits. See § 2-22-040(2)(b)&(c).

Other additions to Code Section 2-22-240 specify that the Commissioner has regulatory control over professions that play a role in all phases of the construction and building permit process. As part of this authority, the Commissioner may suspend the ability to apply for a building permit or a “license, registration, or certification” due to conditions enumerated in several new sections of Title 13. See § 2-22-040(3).

Two entirely new sections of the Chicago Building Code, Sections 13-8-130 and 13-8-140, describe the conditions under which the Commissioner may revoke someone’s ability to apply for DOB related permits or may “suspend or revoke the license, registration, or certification” of residential real estate developers, permit expediters, crane operators, general contractors, plumbers, sign contractors, and a variety of other persons. The sections make clear that the suspension can apply to either the person performing the work or the person directing the work. These conditions include:

  • Working without a required permit
  • Conducting work that deviates without permission from the approved “drawings, plans or scope of work”
  • Working despite a stop work order or work resulting in a stop work order
  • Failing to schedule the requisite inspection or submit the necessary certification
  • Using someone to perform work who is not properly licensed when such a license is required
  • Improperly using the required identification number of someone required to be licensed or registered
  • Providing false information on a permit application
  • Failing to obtain the requisite certificate of occupancy
  • Work that violates the Code and results in a “substantial defect, error or deficiency” that requires a new inspection or review as well as failure to correct such deficiencies
  • Work that is an “imminent threat to the health and safety of workers or the public”

New Section 13-8-130 also contains the procedures for: (1) providing notice that someone’s ability to apply for permits has been suspended; (2) contesting the suspension; and (3) reinstatement of privileges. The section also defines what constitutes a suspension of permit privileges and includes the suspension of permits that have already been submitted but not issued. The section makes it clear that if the license or certification of an entity is suspended, “no controlling person(s) of that entity” may receive a new license or permit system number during the suspension period. Sections 13-8-140  and 13-8-150 also provide the procedures for reinstating and contesting a suspended license, registration, or certification.

The proposed ordinance adds provisions to Section 13-12-060, the section of the Building Code governing architects, engineers, and others failure to comply with the Code. New Section 13-12-060(b) states that an architect, structural engineer, or expediter who submits “plans, drawings, or calculations” that fail to conform to the Code requirements may have their permit application privileges suspended.

Additionally, new Section 13-32-045 states that the Commissioner may also suspend the permit application privileges of an architect, structural engineer, or expediter if they exhibit a “pattern” of failing to make corrections to “an application, drawings, plans, calculations or supporting materials” requested by DOB in a reasonable time or resubmits such materials without corrections. The section defines “pattern” as five or more times within a 12 month period.

Next Steps

The proposed ordinance was submitted to a Chicago City Council joint committee comprised of the Committee on License and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards (Joint Committee). Currently, the Joint Committee is expected to review the proposed ordinance on February 8, 2017. Following a vote of the Joint Committee, the legislation will be considered by the Chicago City Council, possibly at their next meeting on February 22, 2017. We will provide updates if there are any changes to the proposed ordinance as it is reviewed by the Joint Committee and City Council.

It should also be noted that a companion proposed ordinance, 02016-8687, makes changes to various business and licensing requirements. This proposed legislation amends Section 16 of the Chicago Building Code to eliminate annual inspections for certain types multi-story of buildings. Instead, these buildings will be inspected “as often as deemed necessary.”

Once adopted, the effectiveness of these new provisions will largely rest on the extent to which DOB utilizes them.

This post was updated on February 23, 2017, with the following information:

The Chicago City Council passed ordinances 02016-8627 and 02016-8628 on February 22, 2017. 

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