The city's Department of Licenses and Inspections failed to follow new inspection guidelines in more than 80 percent of private demolitions performed over the last nine months, an analysis of agency records shows.
And, people familiar with L&I records say, the agency's database appears to have been altered to show that demolition inspections had occurred when they had not.
In at least one case, records show, the agency's database said five inspections that should have occurred during a demolition were actually conducted four months after the building had been razed.
The new regulations were put in place to improve demolition standards in the aftermath of the Center City building collapse in June 2013, when six people died during a private demolition at 22d and Market Streets.
The demolition contractor, Griffin Campbell, was found guilty Monday of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the collapse. The operator of an excavator on the job previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Twenty civil lawsuits have been filed, with all of them consolidated into a single case scheduled to go to trial next year.
Since the collapse, L&I officials have pledged increased safety and touted improved demolition procedures.
Commissioner Carlton Williams declined to be interviewed for this article, deferring to his chief of staff, Beth Grossman, and Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Nutter.
The Inquirer obtained L&I records of 82 private demolitions for which permits had been issued and finalized between Jan. 1 and Oct. 8, 2015. Of those, 83 percent were not inspected properly, according to two veteran L&I inspectors who examined the records. The inspectors asked not to be identified because they feared reprisal.
Informed of those findings, McDonald said that the inspectors' conclusions were flawed and that they provided "subjective and incomplete information" in an effort to discredit L&I's efforts to improve public safety.
James Dollard, a member of a mayoral commission appointed to examine the agency's handling of the botched demolition that caused the Center City building collapse, decried the missed demolition inspections, saying, "If this occurred in any other city, legal action would have taken place."
Dollard, the safety coordinator for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 98, faulted the agency for what he called its lax oversight of demolitions. "The management mentality of L&I is to bend and break your own rules at will," he said, "and when someone questions it or something goes wrong, just fix it in the computer.
McDonald replied: "If he had concerns regarding the department's operations, those concerns should have been voiced" when he served on the commission.
Asked to comment on the newly discovered problems with demolition inspections, City Controller Alan Butkovitz wrote in an email, "Two years after the deadly collapse, the mayor has not followed through on his promise to put a system in place to make the city safer for demolitions. There are still too many holes and not enough teeth."
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison called Butkovitz's conclusion "superficial." He added that the city is "safer now than ever before," in part because L&I staffing has increased and workers are "holding property owners accountable for blight."
According to the L&I inspectors who reviewed city records for The Inquirer, just 14 demolitions (around 17 percent) were correctly inspected following new guidelines.
Grossman said she disputed those numbers, but she provided no details.
In 41 cases, no inspections were performed during demolitions, the inspectors' analysis showed. In seven cases, they said, only a partial number of required inspections took place.
In 12 cases, demolitions were started before an initial inspection and a review of a site-safety plan, as required by new regulations put in place after the fatal collapse, they said.
Contractors are required to alert L&I before demolition work begins. When that does not happen, L&I is supposed to issue stop-work orders and hold administrative hearings to determine why contractors failed to follow rules, inspectors said. That did not happen, they said.
In eight cases, the inspectors said, records show there were technical violations of new demolition inspection regulations.
In addition, new regulations put in place after the collapse called for photos of inspections to be included in the L&I database. The L&I inspectors said they could find no pictures of any of the work - even among the 14 inspections that were inspected correctly.
Grossman declined to address the missing photos.
She said 90 percent of all city demolitions in 2015 - the bulk of them public - had been inspected in accordance with the new demolition standards in the Philadelphia code. According to L&I inspectors, there were 321 public demolitions during the time the 82 private demolitions occurred. They disputed Grossman's assessment that only 10 percent had not been properly inspected.
For public demolitions, which far outnumber private ones, the city hires contractors to take down buildings using taxpayer funds. In those cases, the buildings being razed are considered unsafe, often from long-term neglect, inspectors said.
The Inquirer examined private demolitions in an effort to determine whether new rules put in place after the fatal 2013 collapse during a private demolition were being followed.
The 82 buildings being demolished ranged from one-story garages to a four-story brownstone in neighborhoods throughout the city, inspectors said.
Among the list of job sites where inspectors did not check on demolitions while they occurred was 131 Shurs Lane in Manayunk, where a VFW hall and a parking lot were taken apart, the inspectors said.
L&I records show that a permit to demolish the building was issued on Jan. 5. The demolition occurred later that month or in early February, according to William Pecarsky, owner of Gama Wrecking Inc., the Queen Village company that did the work.
Pecarsky said in an interview that he called for inspections and that he believed an inspector had been on the job during some part of the demolition. He said he believed the agency later "switched inspectors and it [the job] got lost somewhere."
According to city records, no L&I inspector recorded an inspection during the demolition, as the new guidelines require. No pictures were available to be examined in the database, as the guidelines require.
The L&I database shows that five demolition inspections are listed as having been done on May 12, however, nearly five months after the demolition was completed, and after new construction started.
"All demolition work was completed by a licensed and insured contractor in compliance with all codes and regulations," one notation reads. "New construction is underway."
These notations were meant to represent that inspections had occurred during demolition - as city regulations require - and not after its completion, inspectors said.
"This is a cleanup," one of the inspectors said. He suggested that the inspector overseeing the project had made those computer entries months after the building was already down to make it appear as if inspections had been done during demolition.
"There is no record of an inspector being there during the demolition," he said.
A former L&I inspector who reviewed the records at The Inquirer's request said that the person assigned to inspect that property, which records show was Shane McNulty, indicated in the record that both the initial inspection and final inspection were done on the same day.
That would not be possible if the inspections were done properly, the former inspector said, since city regulations require an initial inspection to be performed before demolition, and a final inspection to be completed after the building is down.
"When you improperly report that you did an initial inspection the same day as a final, you've falsified the record," he said.
Reached by phone, McNulty declined to comment, saying L&I inspectors are not permitted to speak to reporters.
Asked to comment, Grossman did not respond.
New city regulations require an inspection after every floor of a multi-story building is taken down. There are no notations in the record that floor-by-floor inspections were made during the demolition at the three-story 131 Shurs Lane building.
"I don't believe they did those inspections," Pecarsky, the Shurs Lane contractor, said. He said that was not unusual. As with other projects he has worked on, he said, floor-by-floor inspections were not performed by L&I inspectors, as required. "It doesn't happen," he said.
Asked about 131 Shurs Lane, Grossman wrote that certain demolition inspections, such as checking to see whether a site was graded or a remaining wall stuccoed, are not required when new construction begins immediately after demolition.
While that is true for the few less important inspections, technical safety inspections must still be undertaken while the demolition is in progress to make sure no one gets hurt while walls are coming down, according to five inspectors.
L&I records list McNulty as having performed demolition inspections on other sites, several of them in May, many of them months after the actual demolitions occurred.
For a demolition of a one-story garage at 345 Front St., McNulty wrote four inspection entries on May 5 for a demolition that inspectors said had been done five months earlier. In a comment, records show, McNulty wrote, "All demolition complete. New construction has started. OK to close permit."
That indicates that the initial inspection occurred on the same day demolition was complete, an L&I inspector said.
Without offering specifics, Grossman wrote that the demolition job, like the one on Shurs Lane, was immediately followed by new construction, allowing inspectors to waive certain demolition inspections.
Inspectors familiar with the Front Street demolition said that even the razing of a simple one-story garage requires at least four inspections: the initial, two during demolition, then the final. City records contain no notations showing separate dates for those required inspections, inspectors said.
Other inspectors registered similar patterns. Records show that one inspector, Mike Farley, completed numerous inspections at each of four demolition sites on May 12, the same day McNulty's Shurs Lane demolition inspections are listed as having taken place. Farley indicated that he had inspected 1215 Bainbridge St., 600 N. Fourth St., 613 N. Fifth St., and 1203 S. Clarion St. that day, records show.
Inspectors who examined Farley's records said his notations described a physical impossibility, since the jobs required at least two or more inspections on different days - one before and one after demolition. It would not have been possible, then, for the initial and final inspections to have been done on May 12, they said. And they questioned how he could have done the same inspections at four different sites on May 12.
Farley could not be reached by phone or email for comment. Questioned about his work, Grossman said the properties Farley inspected were one-story buildings, and "this naturally limits the amount of inspections to be performed."
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