Table of Contents


Building Department Policies and Procedures

Reason for Review

An Amador County citizen and property owner filed a complaint with the Grand Jury regarding a notice of violation received from the Land Use Agency, Building Department.  The Grand Jury has jurisdiction to investigate and report on operations, accounts, and records of the officers, departments, or functions of the county pursuant to Section 925 of the Penal Code.

Background

The complainant, co-owner of a rental property, filed a Grand Jury Citizen Complaint Form dated September 15, 2000 complaining about the operating procedures and policies of the Building Department. 

The Building Department had inspected the complainant’s property in response to a complaint from the tenant of the property alleging the dwelling had numerous electrical problems that created a hazard to public safety.  After inspecting the property on August 8, 2000, the Building Department sent a letter of violation dated September 8, 2000 to the owners requiring compliance with building codes.  In addition to electrical code violations, the violation letter noted structural violations and certain permitting failures. 

Upon receipt of the violation letter, the complainant spoke by telephone with the Building Inspector who had made the inspection and written the violation letter.  Not satisfied with the inspector’s responses and being further advised that the department might levy charges of $30.00 for phone calls and $30.00 per hour for additional inspections, the complainant went to the Building Department counter at the Begovich Building.  The complainant spoke in person to the Building Inspector and his supervisor.  During this conversation the Building Official joined the conversation to provide some technical definitions from department procedure manuals. 

After this meeting the complainant filed a complaint with the Grand Jury.

Methodology

The members of the Grand Jury interviewed the following people:

The complaint form contained the following:

Item 2: My Complaint Against the Above (The Building Inspector)

Item 4: Action Requested

The Building Department’s letter of violation contained the following:

Additional pertinent data from the Building Department’s violation letter:

Other sources:

Facts

1.       The complainant’s tenant filed a complaint with the Building Department alleging electrical problems in the dwelling.

2.       Based on the tenant’s description of the electrical problems, a Building Inspector was assigned and an inspection of the building was completed.

3.       The building inspection prompted the Building Department to issue a letter of violation.

4.       The complainant had a personal meeting with Building Department personnel.

5.       The complainant filed a complaint with the Grand Jury.

Findings

As relates to the complaint:

1.       Building Department’s operating policies permit inspection of a property where public safety hazards are suspected without permission of the owner if inspectors are voluntarily admitted onto the property.

2.       The Building Department maintains a set of prerequisites that define experience and education requirements necessary to be a Building Inspector.  The Building Official advised the committee that the inspector assigned to the complainant’s property was qualified to be an Amador County Building Inspector.

3.       The Building Department has a standing policy that the department does not make recommendations regarding specific contractors.

4.       The Uniform Building Code allows a charge of $30.00 per hour for some type of inspections and code interpretations meetings. 

As relates to violation letter:

5.       Land Use Agency and some Building Department personnel judged the violation letter somewhat draconian.  The description of code violations was considered overstated and compliance dates unreasonable.

6.       The choice of phrases regarding the use of contractors for code compliance inferred that only county-approved contractors could be used.

Recommendations

1.       The violation letter, prompting the complaint, was signed by the Building Inspector.  The committee recommended in early meetings with county personnel that violation letters be signed by the Building Official to help ensure that Building Department policies would be followed more closely.

2.       The Building Official should consider publishing a Mission Statement outlining the objectives of the department and the contributions made to public safety through the application of uniform building codes.  Fieldwork guidelines could be set forth for Building Inspectors to use in their daily work, meeting with contractors and the public in the difficult task of administering building codes. 

3.       Because the inspector’s environment is always technically challenging and can easily become an adversarial one, a tempered approach by individual inspectors could defuse difficult situations.

Implementation Status of Recommendations

In a later meeting with the Building Official, the Grand Jury was advised that violation letters are now going out under his signature. 

A new computer system being installed at the time of this report should provide a more consistent content for future letters of violation.  The system also provides a cross reference of all permits for a property, providing the inspector with a complete history when making inspections. 

No further response is necessary