Today’s news:

DOB should tighten grip on inspecting developers

After those cranes fell in Manhattan due to undiscovered safety problems, the then-city Department of Buildings commissioner was fired or had to leave and the first deputy commissioner, Robert LiMandri, was made acting DOB commissioner. Commissioners come and go as do inspectors.

LiMandri hired more inspectors. The city always hires more after it lets them go for taking bribes or they quit to make more money in the private sector, which they used to examine. But there never seems to be enough to investigate the construction of new building to insure that those structures are being built accordingly. After serious accidents or enough deaths, the city hires more inspectors.

And Queens keeps complaining.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said LiMandri hired inspectors and auditors to staff new multi-disciplinary investigative teams and crack down on illegal after-hours construction, unsafe demolition to building interiors, dangerous sidewalk sheds and other construction site problems.

City Comptroller William Thompson released an audit which found there is a deadly combination of legal limitations and lax enforcement by the DOB. Sounds like what the Queens civic association leaders who attend the Queens Civic Congress have been saying for years.

We discovered decades ago that the DOB cannot gain entrance to buildings where they were told there are violations. Since buildings are private property, officials cannot enter a building unless the owner consents. Speculators who are building illegally know this and do not let inspectors onto properties.

After three unsuccessful attempts to enter a property to check for illegal construction, a complaint is taken off the record, nothing changes and the speculator changes the quality of life in what was a residential neighborhood.

There have been several proposals to let community board managers certify violations, but there is the danger of a speculator suing. The same problem has faced a neighbor or civic association leader because developers have lawyers on retainer, hoping to make millions of dollars by building something illegal.

Even if an inspector sees from the outside illegal construction and the fine is, say, $10,000, the builder may not pay the fine because it is not a lien against the house, which could lead to foreclosure if not paid.

Even a $10,000 fine on a million-dollar building may be worth it to the builder. Some builders figured out how to stall so a follow-up inspection is never made and a violation continues to remain dangerous. Another fault of the DOB, which the comptroller noted and the civics have been complaining about for years, is that it does not examine enough buildings to see if they are being built properly.

The city has 950,000 buildings. The DOB is supposed to examine the plans to make sure they are legal and make sure they were built properly. The city did not want to hire enough examiners and inspectors, so thousands of buildings were not inspected and could not be issued a certificate of occupancy.

Someone got the idea to let engineers self-certify or professionally certify that plans were legal and buildings were being built legally. They could save money on inspectors even though the filing and other fees made more money for the city. The result is a series of building accidents and deaths that make newspaper headlines and demand enforcement.

Now the Independent Budget Office says that for only $5 million to $7 million, the city could hire enough inspectors to eliminate self-certification. Under the current system, the city was supposed to examine 20 percent of the self-certified buildings, but did not inspect that many. If the city would punish engineers who lied and publish the punishments in newspapers, then perhaps the crooked builders would become more honest.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: It seems the higher cost of gasoline has caused people to drive less. Fewer cars on the road means fewer accidents. This should make the insurance companies happy so they ought to lower insurance costs.

The insurance companies say the higher cost of fuel means higher costs for paint, plastic, steel and other things needed to repair damaged cars. The state Insurance Department must decide if the insurance companies should get rate increases. When someone cheats the insurance company, that cost is passed on to us.

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