Despite the due diligence of boards and property managers, building code violations can occur during routine inspections—be it a faulty pipe, broken step or rusted fire escape. It is the speed and accuracy of addressing these infractions which is critical, although frequent problems are often overlooked, leading to costly headaches.
“One of the most common building code violations that I see relates to porches,” says Chicago-based attorney Bradford Miller. “Ever since the deadly porch collapse that occurred a few years ago, the city of Chicago has been cracking down on unsafe porches. Other common violations include improper signage—or no signage at all—for management company and owner information, no permits on file for work done, and safety issues related to fire escapes.”
All boards and property managers must adhere to rules and regulations clearly spelled out in the Chicago Building Code, explains Department of Buildings’ spokesperson Susan Bisno Massel. “Department of Building inspectors determine or write up violations. In the case of most condominiums and co-ops, it would likely be one of the department’s Conservation Inspectors who inspect existing buildings versus new construction,” she says. “The vast majority of the complaints investigated are received from city residents who phone them into 311.”
The list of most cited condominium and co-op violations also includes masonry repairs, wall repairs, obstruction to entry and exit ways, working without a permit and failure to comply with the AIG elevator inspection program for properties located in the central business district. “If the city deems a condition hazardous, it will file its case in the Circuit Court as opposed to at an administrative hearing,” says Attorney Michael Shifrin with the Buffalo Grove-based law firm of Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit. “The city also takes violations of the fire code very seriously, such as malfunctioning smoke detectors and exit signs,” he adds. “These fines can be very high.”
The purpose of building code violations, and their enforcement, is not merely to maintain a building in proper working order, but to mitigate risk. “A board may incur liability for failing to remedy a code violation in the event that a person is injured by a condition that is the subject of the code violation,” says Attorney Mark Roth with the firm Orum & Roth. “Take for instance a situation where a building is cited for loose or crumbling masonry. The board ignores the citation or takes no action to correct the condition. A pedestrian is struck by a falling brick,” he continues. “The injured party’s attorney may bring a cause of action against the Board for willful conduct in failing to repair the property in a timely manner.”