Audit cites inadequate inspections Violations include outdated permits

December 23, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The Howard County auditor said inspectors from the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits have routinely failed to follow up with work site inspections on many projects that have been granted building permits.

"We have not found anything that indicated someone was going to die" because the work was not inspected, County Auditor Ronald S. Weinstein said yesterday.

However, "many permits have never had an inspection and many others have not had an inspection within the past year or even several years," said Brenda Dean, the auditor assigned by Mr. Weinstein to review the department's procedures.

In addition to reviewing original permits, Ms. Dean surveyed a random sample from a list of 3,003 building permit holders who have never had an inspection.

"Responses ranged from 'Thought it was inspected' to 'Permit not used,' " Ms. Dean said. Six of 46 holders of building permits in her sample said they have not started their work yet even though their permits are more than a year old.

According to the county code, building permits legally expire if work is not begun six months after the issuance of the permit or if, once begun, the work is suspended or abandoned for six months or more.

Permits can be extended for one or more six-month periods if the request is in writing and is for "reasonable cause." Permits also expire if an inspection is not requested within six months of the issuance of a permit, Ms. Dean said.

"The oldest open permit found during our review was a commercial building permit dated May 18, 1972," Ms. Dean said. "It is both necessary to resolve the status of old permits and mandatory to be in compliance with the Howard County code."

To do that, Ms. Dean recommends that the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits purchase newspaper advertisements saying that all building permits that are a year or more old will be canceled within 30 days unless the builder has an extension.

The department has agreed to follow her recommendation.

Ms. Dean also chided the department for not following up on three situations in which dwellings were illegally occupied without use and occupancy certificates.

The county should sue property owners in such instances, she said.

Oversight of use and occupancy certificates were not much better, she said.

In a review of 33 properties with use and occupancy certificates, she found that 30 had not had inspections until six to eight months after the work was to have been completed.

Mr. Weinstein said most of the use and occupancy violations were minor infractions, such as a driveway needing paving.

Department officials agreed in their written response to the audit.

"Occasionally, dwellings are allowed to be occupied after satisfactory final inspection without the benefit of a use and occupancy certificate," they wrote. "The department's policy is to allow limited use of a building by the owner, prior to the completion of all work not related to health and safety issues. . . . It is unacceptable for anyone to occupy a building in a manner that is unsafe."

"The [inspection] staff was cut back" because of budget cuts, Mr. Weinstein said. "If no one called for an inspection, the work was not inspected. [The department has] been inspecting the ones that did call. The data base of files [needing inspection] is gigantic and needs cleaning up. It is important to keep inspecting the ones that are current."

Ms. Dean also reviewed grading permit and fire protection permit procedures. Except for an error in calculating a grading permit fee, the required procedures are being followed, she said.

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