Butkovitz Questions Validity of Demolition Inspections after Fatal Building Collapse

For Immediate Release
May 22, 2014

Contact:  Brian Dries
215-686-8869

Butkovitz Questions Validity of Demolition Inspections
after Fatal Building Collapse

City Controller says there is little, if any, evidence to demonstrate that demolitions
are being conducted any more safely today than one year ago

Audit of Oversight for Private Property Demolitions

PHILADELPHIA – City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released an audit of the City’s oversight of demolition inspections that found no documentation for almost half of the inspections claimed to have been conducted in the week following the June 5, 2013, fatal building collapse.

In the week following the building collapse, the City’s Administration made public pronouncements that L&I inspectors proactively inspected 300 open demolitions.  When the Controller’s auditors reviewed the records, there were 442 open demolitions, which 210 did not have supporting documentation.

“Beyond the variation in numbers, it is extremely troubling that almost half of the inspections claimed to have been made had no documentation to prove inspectors actually visited these sites,” said Butkovitz.

When questioned by auditors, an L&I official stated that 300 was a ballpark figure thrown out to describe what the City was doing to ease public concern.  Additionally, auditors were informed that L&I visited each of the sites on the list to ensure that work was indeed complete, no new work was started and the site remained safe.

“Public comments about all open demolition sites being inspected were misleading, not only to our auditors but to every Philadelphian,” said Butkovitz.

Along with the hundreds of open inspections claimed to have been conducted in the week following the building collapse, auditors tested 18 completed inspections between June 2013 and January 2014 that were supposed to have fallen under the City’s newly established procedures – Code Bulletin No. B-1302 and CS-1314.

For nearly 15 of the 18 completed demolitions, inspectors routinely failed to perform all six demolition inspections.  Inspectors were waiving the inspections in L&I’s database system without explanation or supervisory approval. 

“Without documentation, there’s no verification as to why the inspections were waived,” said Butkovitz.  “We don’t know if they were waived for a legitimate reason or if the inspector drove by and just didn’t feel like doing the inspection that day.”

Additionally, inspection records were insufficient, often lacking required photographs for demolition site visits and failing to document important details about work performed during inspections.  Some inspectors also lacked required professional certifications to perform the inspections.

“There is little, if any, evidence to demonstrate that private demolitions are being conducted any more safely today than they were one year ago,” said Butkovitz.

“Public safety needs to be priority number one,” said Butkovitz.  “The City of Philadelphia needs to assure its citizens, not just through public comments but verifiable facts, that buildings will be demolished or constructed without the threat of endangering public safety.”

###