Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Building code violations need action, audit finds

February 28th, 2014

Paul Moloney

Toronto Star


Councillor Josh Matlow says it's unacceptable that the cases of building without a permit – 56 per cent of the total outstanding violations – could include many instances of health and safety hazards.


Toronto’s buildings division must do a better job of ensuring contractors fix unsafe conditions, the city’s auditor general says.


An audit found that 3,735 building code violations were languishing on the division’s books, including 2,103 cases of building without a permit and 180 orders to rectify unsafe situations.


So-called “unsafe orders” are issued when a building is structurally unsound or is hazardous to the health and safety of its users and passersby.


The auditor general’s report, reviewed Friday by council’s audit committee, recommended immediate evaluation of the unsafe orders and immediate action where appropriate.


The buildings division disagreed that all unsafe orders require immediate action or represent significant risk. Management responded that in some cases, the safety item has been fixed but the file hasn’t been closed.


That explanation wasn’t good enough for Councillor Josh Matlow, vice-chair of the audit committee, who said the bureaucracy seems reluctant to ask for more staff.


“I don’t want our staff to act like they need to be defensive,” Matlow said. “I want them to have the comfort to know if there’s something wrong they can say so and be supported rather than scolded.”


“I think managers need to be honest with council about what resources they need to deal with these violations,” Matlow said. “If they’re understaffed, say so.”


Matlow said the cases of building without a permit — 56 per cent of the total outstanding violations — could include many instances of health and safety hazards.


“What’s amazing is there could be that many violations creating a safety hazard,” he said. “Of course it’s not acceptable.”


Auditor general Jeff Griffiths stressed that buildings division managers have committed to work toward implementing the audit’s 11 recommendations.


On the outstanding violations, the division will carry out a pilot project in one district this year to address the backlog. If successful, the program would be rolled out across the city in 2015.


The buildings division took in about $64.7 million in permit fees in 2012, and spent $40.3 million providing inspection services with a complement of 161 staff of whom 136 are building inspectors.


The unit is responsible for conducting inspections under the Ontario Building Code to ensure buildings are safe, healthy, structurally sound, accessible and environmentally sustainable.


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