Understanding Chicago Building Inspections for Property Owners20 November 2023
If you own property in Chicago, you know that the city has rigorous standards and requirements when it comes to building maintenance and safety. As a property owner, it’s important to understand Chicago’s building inspection process, so you can keep your buildings up to code and avoid potential fines or violations. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about Chicago building inspections for residential and commercial properties in the Windy City.
Overview of Chicago’s Building Inspections
The City of Chicago conducts regular building inspections to ensure properties comply with the Chicago Building Code and other regulations. These inspections cover everything from structural integrity, fire safety, plumbing, electrical systems, ventilation, and more.
The Department of Buildings (DOB) oversees inspections and enforces the building codes. Violations can result in citations and fines until they are addressed and cleared. The city may also conduct spot inspections in response to complaints or after major weather events to check for damage.
Some of the main goals of Chicago’s rigorous inspection system include:
- Ensuring buildings are structurally sound and safe for occupancy
- Preventing electrical fires and faults through proper wiring
- Maintaining healthy air quality and ventilation
- Checking for water leaks, damage, or other plumbing issues
- Requiring functioning fire alarms, sprinklers, and safety exits
- Ensuring buildings are accessible for people with disabilities
- Preserving Chicago’s historic building stock
Thorough inspections benefit owners by identifying issues early, before they become bigger problems. They also give tenants and visitors peace of mind that buildings meet modern life safety standards.
Types of Building Inspections in Chicago
There are a variety of building inspections that Chicago property owners should be aware of:
1. Certificate of Occupancy Inspections
A Certificate of Occupancy (CO) is required before a new building can be occupied or an existing building can have its use or occupancy changed. The CO inspection examines overall life safety issues, fire protection systems, means of egress, structural integrity, and compliance with zoning.
COs must be maintained and updated. The city requires CO inspections whenever:
- A property changes owners
- The building is vacant for more than a year
- Renovations are made that require new building permits
2. Periodic Inspections
Chicago conducts periodic inspections of existing buildings to check for any new code violations. Issues with facades, balconies, exterior walls, and fire escapes are prioritized. High-rise office buildings typically get inspected every 3 years.
3. Complaint Inspections
The city will promptly inspect any property about which a complaint has been made concerning safety or building code violations. Common complaints involve issues like lack of heat, plumbing problems, or pest infestations.
4. Special Inspections
Special inspections may occur:
- After major weather events – Chicago inspects properties after storms, flooding, or other disasters to check for structural damage. This occurred after the February 2022 winter storms.
- Pre-purchase inspections – The city may conduct an inspection for a new owner before the sale of a building closes. This inspection focuses on potential code violations and system defects.
- Spot inspections – Chicago frequently performs random spot inspections to proactively check for violations. These are common in high-density areas like large apartment buildings.
5. Inspections of Construction Work
Several inspections are required for new construction projects or major renovations in Chicago, including:
- Foundation and framing
- Electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems
- Energy code compliance
- Fire protection systems
- Occupancy permit
The number and type will depend on the scope of work. The Department of Buildings will outline the needed inspections when issuing permits.
6. Elevator Inspections
Elevators in Chicago buildings must be annually tested and permitted. The city inspects elevators, escalators, and other conveyances for compliance with safety codes and maintenance requirements.
Chicago Building Inspection Process Explained
So what exactly happens during a Chicago building inspection? Here’s an overview of the process:
Scheduling the Inspection
For city-initiated periodic inspections, the Department of Buildings will contact the property owner by mail to schedule a date. For complaint-driven inspections, the city will reach out to arrange a time after receiving the complaint.
Construction inspections must be scheduled by the contractor or owner through the city’s online permit system. Elevator inspections are also scheduled annually through the Department of Buildings.
Day of Inspection
The inspector will arrive and review all areas of the building related to the type of inspection. For example, an elevator inspection will involve examining equipment, shafts, and machine rooms. A CO inspection may cover more areas.
The inspector will be checking for compliance with the Chicago Building Code and noting any violations or deficiencies. It’s helpful for the owner or manager to accompany them in case any questions arise.
After completing the inspection, the inspector will generate a report listing any code violations observed. Minor issues may just receive a notice, while major violations get classified as citations requiring remedy within a set timeframe (typically 30 days).
For violations found, owners must make the necessary repairs or corrections. This may involve upgrades like installing handrails, replacing old wiring, removing mold, or other fixes. All violations must be addressed before their compliance deadline.
After completing repairs, owners can contact the city to schedule a re-inspection to clear any outstanding violations once issues are fixed. Fines apply if violations remain unaddressed past compliance deadlines.
If all goes well, the building will pass its inspection once any previous deficiencies get properly corrected. No news is good news when it comes to Chicago inspections!
Chicago Building Inspection Checklists
When an inspection is coming up, use these handy checklists to help prepare your residential or commercial building:
Residential Building Inspection Checklist
- Clear walkways, hallways, and exits
- Test all smoke detectors and CO detectors
- Check fire extinguishers and emergency lighting
- Ensure handrails are installed properly on stairs
- Make sure electrical panels are accessible and wiring is up to code
- Check for leaks, clogs or other plumbing issues
- Ensure all windows and exterior doors are operable and close properly
- Look for any exterior paint chips or cracking paint
- Check for signs of pests and address any issues promptly
- Ensure all units have proper heating
- Clean out under sinks, crawl spaces, and storage areas
- Test elevator emergency phone and inspect shafts if applicable
- Check for mold or water stains indicating leaks
Commercial Building Inspection Checklist
- Maintain clear emergency exit pathways
- Ensure exit signs are properly illuminated
- Test emergency lighting systems and backup power
- Confirm fire extinguishers were inspected recently
- Check sprinkler systems and fire pumps
- Make sure fire doors and barriers are in working order
- Inspect elevators and escalators for any issues
- Check accessibility features like wheelchair ramps, signage, and restrooms
- Repair any leaking pipes, clogged drains, or other plumbing problems
- Address any exposed wiring, open junction boxes, or electrical hazards
- Look for cracked glass, broken windows, or faulty security systems
- Clear roof and gutters of debris
- Ensure dumpsters and compactors are working properly
Tips for Passing Chicago Building Inspections
Here are some top tips for commercial and residential building owners to help pass Chicago inspections with flying colors:
- Thoroughly read all inspection notices and guidelines from the city
- Ask your property manager when the last inspection occurred to prepare accordingly
- Schedule a professional inspection 1-2 months ahead if concerned about potential violations
- Make all necessary repairs before the city inspection
- Have your most recent inspection reports, permits, and Certificates of Occupancy ready
- Accompany inspectors during the walkthrough in case any issues come up
- Keep properties well-maintained year-round – don’t just scramble before inspections!
- Document all repairs made to show the work was completed
- Follow up promptly if any violations are found to avoid compounding fines
- Consider hiring a qualified Chicago property attorney if disputes about violations arise
Staying organized, fixing problems quickly, and keeping maintenance up-to-date will ensure your buildings pass Chicago inspections successfully!
Working with Chicago Building Inspectors
Building inspections protect your investment by ensuring properties meet occupancy and safety standards. So how can owners develop good relationships with Chicago inspectors?
- Be present and walk through the inspection to gain firsthand insights
- Don’t take violations personally – inspectors are just doing their job
- Ask questions if you don’t understand why a citation was issued
- Treat inspectors with courtesy and respect
- Have repair records and past inspections reports available
- Follow instructions and comply with deadlines
- Don’t argue with inspectors onsite – appeal later if needed
- Make sure violations get corrected properly
- Reach out about any concerns over citations you feel are unfounded
- Set reminders to schedule periodic maintenance to avoid repeat violations
Following these tips will go a long way towards building goodwill with Chicago building inspectors so that inspections go smoothly.
Regular Chicago building inspections are comprehensive and rigorous, but essential for maintaining safe, legally occupied properties. Now that you understand Chicago’s inspection process from start to finish, you can keep your buildings up to code and avoid civic headaches. Stay organized, conduct preventive maintenance, and complete repairs in a timely fashion. If issues do arise during an inspection, collaborate with inspectors and address them promptly. With this blueprint, you can confidently uphold building standards and provide safe, high-quality housing that exceeds Chicago’s standards. Your tenants will be grateful, and you may avoid thousands in potential fines. Don’t wait until you get an inspection notice – be proactive year-round in maintaining your properties to be inspection-ready at all times.