Building Inspections What They’re Looking For, and When

Real estate lore has its share of stories about merciless, if not downright unscrupulous, city inspectors popping in on unaware building owners, conducting unscheduled examinations of all types, and sometimes even demanding payoffs in exchange for passing grades. In reality, however, the image of the shady, corrupt inspector couldn’t be further from the truth. In today’s world of short-staffed city agencies, hair-trigger litigation, and co-op and condo board transparency, inspections, safety, and efficiency rule the day. And in many places, third-party investigation, testing, and confirmation is how it’s done.

The Third-Party Process

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when, in fact, all inspections and its types were done by city agencies. That still happens in some situations today. Take real estate tax assessments, for example. A municipality’s department of real property still employs assessors to determine the valuation of a property for tax purposes. But other agencies – buildings departments, for instance – now defer in many cases to independent third parties to inspect and report on the functions and fitness of many building systems such as elevators, boilers, facades, and water towers. Fees are involved in everything. City agencies may not send out personnel in their employ to do inspections, but they do charge fees from building owners, co-ops, condos or rental owners for the filing and updating of inspections required to protect the safety of residents.

What Gets Inspected?

There are many required inspections, and more and more added every year – so no matter where you live, chances are it’s a long list. A relatively complete but not comprehensive list would include items like elevators, boilers, backflow valves, petroleum bulk storage units, property registration documents, façade condition, energy benchmarking, sprinkler/standpipe status, water towers, and cooling towers—as well as a myriad of notices including, but not limited, to window guards, lead paint, and smoke detectors. Responsibility for the completion and filing of these reports falls on a variety of experts and professionals, including managing agents.


Every building is different, and not every building is subject to the same inspections. Clearly, a walk-up building without an elevator doesn’t have to worry about an elevator inspection. But for those residents who live in elevator buildings, a safe and functioning lift is among the most critical and important systems in the building.

Brian Butler,  Vice President with management company FirstService Residential in Illinois, explains that an annual inspection and test by a third party is required by the City of Chicago. Best practices require that the test be done in conjunction with the elevator maintenance company with which the owner of the property has a contract. 


Related Articles

Facade Restoration

Taking Care of Your Building’s Exterior

Exterior Inspections

How’s Your Facade?

Condo Inspections

Check Yourself