Complaints a year ago about shoddy tradesmanship and bad infill practices prompted the city to put an inspection team together to do site visits. It’s paying off with the enforcement team making headway on a long list of properties with building permits dating back to last year.
“We haven’t been seeing too many trends,” said Livia Balone, the city’s director of development and zoning services. “We have a few that have had a number of infractions but they perhaps have been on different sites or with different sub-trades. We’ve only been doing inspections since last July. We haven’t seen alarming numbers with certain builders in the city.”
The approach they’ve taken so far is to fix problems through education, and not enforcement. On 557 inspections, which is 41 percent of the roughly 1,200 locations on file, 189 of them have been because of complaints phoned in by the neighbors while 227 saw staff being proactive.
“It was only about half and half,” observed Bev Zubot with the EFCL, who said we’ll never see the day when inspectors are no longer needed. “Half of the inspections came because of complaints. So we still need the neighbors out there to have an eye on things.”
The report detailing the initial year of inspections said there were 815 infill-related infractions, which saw 493 verbal warnings, 205 written notices putting the property or developer on warning, 114 tickets and only three Municipal Government Act Orders.
The largest percentage of the tickets were for violations for things like blocking the roadway or sidewalk, or driving equipment onto locations they shouldn’t.
The chairman of the urban planning committee, Coun. Andrew Knack said the move to transfer some money within the department to get some clerical help in the office — so inspectors can spend more time visiting work sites and less time back at the computer doing paperwork — should help reach next year’s goal of having 60 percent of sites inspected in person, up from the 41 percent this year.
“That may allow them to actually work their way towards 100 percent in the next year or two anyways because we’ll just see more general compliance, so I’d hate to rush into spending ten times as much today when we might be able to achieve that with clerical support.”
“Potentially, as we see progress being made in the coming years, there may be less and less infractions because the bad builders are going to realize they’re going to get caught,” Knack said.
The big problem the EFCL has highlighted is excavations for foundations. Quite often they’re dug straight down in the four feet between the building and the edge of the property, or deeper — straight down five feet. That might be too close or too deep for the property next door.
“If you dig a vertical face, close to the property line, that excavation is not going to be stable. The ground is going to move and you’re going to lose the fence,” said Stephen Poole, a retired engineer who’s consulting with the EFCL. Other damage can be collapsed sidewalks in the neighbors yard, or in rare occasions, cracks to the foundation in the next-door property.
A city report detailing those problems is coming in June.