Department of Licenses and Inspections Special Investigation of Unsafe and Imminently Dangerous Properties

Audit Date: June 12, 2024
Audit Categories
  • Investigation
Controller: Christy Brady

Executive Summary

Why the Controller’s Office Conducted the Investigation

The Office of the City Controller (City Controller’s Office) has conducted several investigations and audits of the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) since the tragic June 2013 deadly building collapse at 22nd and Market Streets, where six people were killed and another 14 injured. These reviews, along with the current investigation, were performed to assess L&I’s ability to meet public safety standards regarding demolitions and construction repairs of Unsafe and Imminently Dangerous (ID) properties.

On April 10, 2024, while we were conducting our investigation, a partial building collapse occurred at 729 N. 16th Street. According to L&I, the department was on scene and in the process of addressing the issue. The incident was similar to the June 2013 collapse on Market Street, except this property was not determined to be an ID property. The collapse led to the required demolition of the property and a total loss of the resident’s home.

The current investigation was performed to assess L&I’s ability to meet public safety measures regarding demolition and construction standards, and imminently dangerous and unsafe building structures.

What the Controller’s Office Found

City Controller’s Office investigators identified the following significant findings:

  • The average residential demolition costs upward of $30,000, but the city only recovers about 3% of the total costs, leaving taxpayers to cover the millions of dollars spent to maintain dangerous properties.
  • The number of inspectors in the Contractual Services Unit, currently at 15, is not enough to keep up with the demand to inspect 120 imminently dangerous properties waiting for demolition or significant repairs, and another 4,000 properties classified as unsafe.
  • The eCLIPSE database utilized for maintaining all properties does not designate the priority levels of structural deficiencies for demolition and cannot produce a complete listing of all imminently dangerous properties, which L&I manages through a separate tracking system.
  • Long court processing delays leave L&I inspectors unable to reinspect imminently dangerous properties every 10 days due to lack of resources.

What the Controller’s Office Recommends

The City Controller’s Office has developed a number of recommendations to address the findings noted above and in the body of the report. These include:

  • Create an active recruitment program to hire additional inspectors.
  • Dedicate resources to implement a payment collection process that can recover more demolition costs from private property owners.
  • Establish a tracking system within eCLIPSE that includes the stages of imminently dangerous properties, allowing inspectors to prioritize demolitions.
  • Collaborate with the courts to reduce delays and assist inspectors to complete follow-up inspections within the required 10-day timeframe.