L. Neil Smith's
Number 216, March 24, 2003

Shucks and Aw!

A Day in the Life of a Building Inspector
by Jeff Colonnesi

Special to TLE

'Hmmm, nice weekend,' Mr. Smith thought to himself. 'Warm, but not hot, no likelihood of rain. Perfect for working on the house or in the yard. I'll have to remember to stop and pick up the rosebushes my wife was asking for and plant them tomorrow. But first I have to make the rounds through the neighborhoods.' It never failed to surprise him how many people tried to circumvent building codes on the weekends when they thought no one would notice.

Mr. Smith relaxed behind the wheel of the Taurus the city had assigned to him, and checked the Glock 26 he carried to make sure it was secure. Officially, the department didn't authorize him to carry on the job, but unofficially many of the inspectors did and the department head didn't care. He had carried for years. Even back when CCWs weren't available to the average person, he had never had a problem getting his. The gun board understood how dangerous it could be dealing with an irate contractor or homeowner when he had to shut down work on a house.

About 30 minutes into cruising the neighborhoods, he saw the first violation. A guy installing a window. He pulled to the curb and looked closely. Nope, no permit posted. He casually got out of the car and approached the guy. "Hi. How's it going?" The guy glanced at him and said something about having to waste a day replacing a broken window. "Do you have a permit for that?" The guy started to get annoyed saying that it was his house, he'd like to finish. "Sorry," he cut him off "city code says you have to have a permit and post it. You'll have to stop, I'm red tagging the building and issuing a violation. There will be an inspector out later this week to check out the work. It's a $500 fine for starting without the permit, and if they find you have worked on it any more, it'll be another $500 fine." He got back in his car as the guy began to sputter.

An hour later, he saw the next violation. Two little kids were playing in a tree house in a back yard. How did he miss that one last month? He stopped and knocked on the front door. A young woman answered. "Hello. I'm from the building department. The tree house in your back yard is in violation of the building code. You will have to have it torn down and I'm writing you a violation for it. It's a $500 fine. You'll have to get your kids out of it right now, I'm tagging it as an unsafe structure." By this time the husband had shown up. He started talking about how it was safe, he built it solidly, blah, blah, blah. "Sorry, the zoning in this area doesn't allow structures like that. You will have to have a demolition company tear it down. You won't be able to do it yourself, unless you're qualified to perform demolitions. Don't try; an inspector will be back by here sometime this week to check. If its gone and no permit was pulled, you'll be fined again. Same thing if they see anyone in it. Now get those kids out of it before I have to call social services." He left while the parents were trying to console the kids. 'Too bad,' he thought to himself, 'it really was a nice tree house. Maybe I should build one like it for my son Tim.'

'10:30,' he thought to himself, 'about enough for one day. I'll just cruise past the new construction and check it out before going home.'

Entering the new subdivision, he glanced at the construction. Several partially built houses, but no work actually going on. With the cost of new construction already high, and the economy as low as it was that was no surprise, few builders could afford to pay crews overtime. But he saw a truck parked a ways down the street. Pulling up behind it, he realized it was one of the small time builders. One of those who build one house at a time and do as much as possible themselves. Seeing the permit prominently displayed in the window, he thought to himself: "Why not give him a surprise inspection?"

"Building inspector, mind if I look around?" he said as he approached the two guys cleaning up scrap left behind from the carpenters. Sure, said the older one as he dusted off his hands, but nothing has been finished since the last inspection a week and a half ago. "You're the builder?" said Mr. Smith, "I'll need to see a copy of the drawings."

About 20 minutes later, Mr. Smith finished looking over the site. 'Good construction, well built and quality materials. The site is a bit messy, but I can't cite them for that since they were cleaning it when I pulled up." Walking down the side, he noticed something. It seemed a little closer to the next house than normal. He double-checked the prints; yep Clark signed off the lot survey and foundation. 'Clark always did seem half blind to me. I'll double check his measurements.' Five minutes later, he dusted off his hands and approached the builder. Another guy had arrived and the builder and the new guy were chatting at the back of his truck.

"I'm going to have to issue a stop work order on this site. The building is in the wrong spot. You'll have to move it." But the survey and the foundation inspections are done. There were no problems, stuttered the builder. "They must have missed it. The foundation is 7 inches too far north. That makes it 1 inch closer to the lot line than is allowed." Don't worry, said the new guy, I'll sell you a 2" strip off my lot so it'll meet code. "Not going to happen," said Mr. Smith, "city code doesn't allow for dividing lots into less than a 60 foot wide parcel. You can't sell a 2" wide strip. You'll have to move the foundation." But that'll cost more than my profit, stammered the builder. I can't absorb a loss like that. "Not my problem." said Mr. Smith, " You should have paid closer attention when you put the basement in."

Mr. Smith drove off. '11:00 already.' He thought, 'later than I planned, but I should still have time to plant those rosebushes. Gotta get done by 2 though, I promised Tim I'd take him to the game with the tickets Machivelli Construction gave me. Which reminds me, I should give Machivelli a call, he might want to give that couple a quote to remove their tree house. I wonder if they can remove it pretty much in one piece? Then I wouldn't have to build Tim's from scratch.'

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